Angel food cake has always been my cake of choice for birthdays…. I guess it’s the tallness of it, the pillowy-ness that intrigues me. And you have to love the name, right? As a kid I imagined angels riding around on puffy white clouds eating their cake with silver forks. Given that I have an August birthday and grew up in San Francisco, my birthday memories are mostly of fogged out swimming parties, misty picnics at the park, and receiving back to school supplies as gifts (ack!). But the angel food cake was always a high point.
My fondness for this cake makes sense given my general tastes in sweets. It really is the perfect dessert for us marshmallow fans and those of us who happily skip both the chocolate and the frosting. It turns out that angel food cake actually has a lot in common with a marshmallow. Both start with a base of whipped egg whites — for the cake you fold in flour, sugar and a few other bits and for the marshmallow you whip in sugar syrup. So there you go! As an adult, I can also now fully appreciate that angel food cake is a not-too-guilty dessert. With no yolks, oil or butter, it’s virtually fat free.
The angel food cakes of my youth probably came from a boxed mix, but it really is quite easy to make one from scratch. Once the egg whites are whipped with sugar, cream of tartar and vanilla, all that’s left to do is to fold in flour that you’ve sifted with salt. That’s it. I still think it’s magical how whipping plain old egg whites can transform them into gorgeous, glossy mini mountain tops and it’s this culinary magic trick that makes angel food cake-making so fun to do with kids. I bet your young bakers will be rather impressed (plus they get to use the mixer which is always fun). And once you’ve mastered the art of the egg white in this recipe it’s only a short journey to souffles, meringues, baked alaska and French macarons. Go for the souffle, Luca!
But let’s first start with a super pretty, no-cook, easy peasy berry sauce to drizzle on top. Along with some fresh fruit, this is all you need to serve your cake in style. This berry sauce, however, goes way beyond cake. Make a batch and I promise you will have no trouble thinking of things to swirl it on. We like to enjoy it with our oatmeal, pancakes, ice cream and fruit salad and this berry sauce is right at home in two of our favorite snacks, Luca’s favorite Pink Milk and Ria’s Granola Towers.
Fresh Berry Sauce
- 2 cups fresh berries of your choice , washed and stems removed. (You can substitute other fruit like peaches, pineapple, mango. Frozen fruit is fine too)
- pinch of salt
- 1 tablespoon or more of your favorite jam
- seeds scraped from 1 vanilla pod (optional)
- Puree your berries, a tablespoon of water and a pinch of salt together in a blender or food processor. If needed, add another tablespoon of water to help get your puree started.
- Taste for sweetness, stirring in jam a spoonful at a time until the flavor works for you. Blend again for a few seconds to incorporate everything.
- Push the sauce through a fine mesh sieve into a bowl using a rubber spatula. This step is not necessary but will give you a fabulously smooth and seed-free sauce. If you want to splurge stir in some seeds scraped from a vanilla bean pod.
- Use a funnel to transfer sauce into a squeeze bottle and refrigerate until ready to use. It will keep several days. You can freeze sauce you are not using in the next week in an airtight container.
Classic Angel Food Cake
Our go-to for angel food cakes is Martha Stewart, so here’s a link to the full recipe and the how-to. But in the meantime these are the ingredients you will need as well as a few of our notes.
- 1 cup flour
- 1/4 tsp salt
- 12 egg whites (room temperature)
- 1 teaspoon cream of tartar
- 1 1/4 cups sugar
- 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
- Separating your eggs: To avoid any shells or yolks in your cake, separate your eggs one by one into a small bowl before transferring the whites to the large bowl you will use for the recipe. Even a bit of yolk can keep your whites from beating properly.
- Soft vs. Stiff Peaks: Soft peaks will only sort of hold their shape when you dip a spoon into them and will be kind of floppy. For stiff peaks, when you dip a spoon into the egg white you should get a little peak that holds it shape well even when you turn your spoon upside down.
- Don’t overbeat your egg whites: If your egg whites start to look dry instead of glossy stop immediately — overbeaten egg whites will not hold the air and will break down when you cook with them.
- Using a tube pan: The cake gets it’s height because it is able to stick to the sides and center cone of the tube pan. The best option is a tube pan with a removable bottom (vs. a bundt pan or other shape). The straight sides will allow you run a knife along all the edges to release the cake.
- Cooling the cake upside down: I always wondered about this. It turns out the inversion will keep your cake from shrinking and will keep it lighter. If your tube pan doesn’t have feet, you can invert it over a wine bottle.