For this year's birthday cake, Dad requested angel food cake, and, to be honest, I cringed. I don't really like it. I'm not head over heels in love with cake to begin with, except as a creative medium (haha), and there's just something…well, icky – to me…about angel food cake. But – that's what he wanted, so that's what he would get. I asked if there were any other flavors he'd like incorporated in the overall dessert, and he said chocolate and orange. Okay, well that's a great combination, so I had something to work with.
For the recipe I consulted the Cake Bible. As in Rose Levy Beranbaum's The Cake Bible. THE Cake Bible. I remember wanting this book SO MUCH a long time ago. I'd go to the book store and just look at the pages, in awe. (I don't know why I didn't just buy the book…it's not like I was broke at the time of my awestruck page staring. Maybe I felt unworthy.) Anyway, at some point I decided to be a grown-up, and I bought it. I also have, by this point in time, added The Pie and Pastry Bible and The Bread Bible to the shelf. Ooh. I'm really a grown-up now.
Anyway, I looked up angel food cake and lo and behold, Ms. Berenbaum had a recipe for Chocolate Lover's Angel Food Cake right there on pages 160-162.
"I find white angel food overpoweringly sweet but cocoa does wonders to temper the sweetness in this version."
Perfect! Two out of the three criteria for the birthday cake were out of the way. Now for something orange.
I thought an orange curd would go nicely with the cake. Lucky for me, there's a curd recipe in The Cake Bible with instructions for lemon, lime OR orange curd variations. Bingo!
I was all set.
Now, if you look past my whining, angel food cake is actually kind of interesting to make. There's not a smidge of fat in the recipe, for one thing, and this recipe uses a whopping 16 egg whites. (Ten of the yolks ended up in the curd, too. Curd + angel food = Meant To Be. (Sorry. I don't know what's gotten into me today.) Another interesting thing about angel food cakes is that you don't grease the pan, and to cool the cake, you prop it upside-down on a bottle or something and let it cool that way. It's a bit nerve-wracking if you've never done it before – you keep waiting for the cake to fall out onto the counter in big airy blobs. But it doesn't.
An angel food cake is basically a souffle – the whipped whites provide structure, and as they heat up, the air in all the little bubbles expands, resulting in a glorious puffed up golden-brown creation. As souffles do, this will collapse in on itself after it comes out of the oven, and part of the purpose of cooling it upside-down is to prevent too much collapse from taking place.
Shall we get to the cake now? Good idea.
You'll need the following:
1/4 cup plus 1 T unsweetened cocoa powder
1/4 cup boiling water
2 tsp vanilla
1 3/4 cups sugar
1 cup of sifted cake flour
1/4 tsp salt
16 large egg whites
2 tsp cream of tartar
* When you're separating eggs, you need to be absolutely scrupulous about making sure none of the yolk gets into the whites. The best way to do this is to crack the eggs and separate them in one cup or bowl, and if the yolk breaks while still in contact with the white, DON'T USE THAT WHITE. Cook it up and make a sandwich out of it or something, but don't put it with the other yolk-free whites. The "good" whites can go in a second bowl, once you've determined that they are clean.ee
Why this obsessiveness? The fat in the yolk will prevent the whites from whipping properly, and if you're going to go to all the trouble of cracking 16 eggs to make a cake, you certainly don't want to risk yolky sabotage. You'll also, in the same spirit, want to be sure your bowl and whip are fat-free, too.
Okay. Once you've got everything assembled, including a 10 " two-piece tube pan – UNgreased, remember – you can get going on the cake.
Per Ms. Beranbaum:
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
In a medium bowl combine the cocoa and boiling water and whisk until smooth. Whisk in vanilla.
In another medium bowl combine 3/4 cup sugar, the flour, and salt and whisk to blend.
In a large mixing bowl beat the egg whites until frothy, add the cream of tartar, and beat until soft peaks form when the beater is raised.
Gradually beat in the remaining 1 cup sugar, beating until very stiff peaks form when the beater is raised slowly. Remove 1 heaping cup of egg whites and place it onto the cocoa mixture.
Dust the flour mixture over the remaining whites, 1/4 cup at a time, and fold in quickly but gently. It is not necessary to incorporate every speck until the last addition. The ideal implement was designed in England especially for this type of cake, but a large balloon wire whisk or slotted skimmer also works well.
Whisk together the egg white and cocoa mixture and fold into the batter until uniform.
Pour into the tube pan (the batter will come to 3/4" from the top), run a small metal spatula or knife through the batter to prevent air pockets, and bake for 40 minutes or until a cake tester inserted in the center comes out clean and the cake springs back when lightly pressed. (The center will rise above the pan while baking and sink slightly when done. The surface will have deep cracks like a souffle.)
Invert the pan, placing the tube opening over the neck of a soda or wine bottle to suspend it well above the counter, and cool the cake completely in the pan (this takes about 1 1/2 hours.)
(It's also a good idea to test your bottle and angel food pan compatability BEFORE you need to do this. Otherwise you'll be looking around frantically for something that FITS, not like the wine bottle you THOUGHT would fit, and finally your husband will run downstairs and find an empty liter-size beer bottle for you which, thank goodness, will fit great.)
Loosen the sides with a long metal spatula and remove the center core of the pan. Dislodge the bottom and center core with a metal spatula or thin, sharp knife. (A wire cake tester works well around the core. To keep the sides attractive, press the spatula against the sides of the pan and avoid any up-and-down motion.)
(As you can see, it's also possible to opt NOT to keep the sides attractive. That's the route I chose. Kind of looks like my son's hair when he gets out of bed in the morning. Except his is lighter.)
Invert onto a serving plate. Wrap airtight.
To decorate, all I did (besides trim – and eat – the shaggy bits around the edges) was melt some bittersweet chocolate and drizzle it over the cake. If I'd thought about it smarter, I'd have made a ganache, which would have been softer than the hardened drizzle.
I also made an orange curd to serve alongside the cake. That recipe will be posted separately.
The cake was a hit, even with me, the non-lover of Angel Food Cake. The cocoa powder does wonders for the icky sweetness, in my book. And in Rose Levy Beranbaum's book, too, obviously.