Hello. My name is Lindsay and I’m an angel food cake addict.
Have you ever done one of those silly personality quizzes in which one of the questions is, “If you could only eat one food for the rest of your life, what would it be?”? My answer is, and always has been, angel food cake, hands down, no questions asked. Though in a pinch, store-bought stuff suffices, nothing can replace the glory of homemade angel food cake. And do you know what makes this cake even more magical? It’s so easy to make.
All the magic stems from meringue (I’m also a meringue addict…the two addictions often go hand in hand…), that magical mechanical leavener that makes baked goods lighter than a cloud.
Baking is essentially trying your hardest to be precise, then hoping the averages work out in your favor in the end. That’s why measuring your ingredients properly is so important; there will be so many little variables not fully in your control* that are working against the ideal situation for a perfect baked good that you need to get a lockdown on what you can control.
*Think: the temperature and humidity of your kitchen, all the flour that doesn’t make it into the batter thanks to spillage or getting stuck to the side of the bowl, the protein content of your flour, the horsepower of your mixer, the freshness and size of your eggs, the temperatures of your ingredients…the list goes on and on
Not that I’m trying to scare you, of course. Most recipes are fairly forgiving of all the little variances and will succeed most of the time. The fewer ingredients there are in a recipe, however, the more important it is to use the optimal ingredients in the right amounts.
When there are a fewer ingredients in a recipe, each ingredient is pulling more weight, especially in terms of leavening. For example, have you ever noticed that chocolate cakes seem to be easier to make from scratch than white or yellow cakes? The cocoa powder (and often another acid, such as buttermilk or sour cream) conspire with a base (like baking soda) to add chemical leavening in addition to any mechanical leavening (i.e., creaming butter and sugar) that may be called for in a recipe. Whereas in a white or yellow cake, there isn’t that extra boost from multiple sources, and it becomes much more important to do your mechanical leavening properly (lest you end up with a sad, flat cake with the consistency of cornbread).
With angel food cake, it gets all of its rise (and boy is there a lot of it!) through mechanical leavening, specifically from the meringue. So your focus should be setting yourself up for meringue success! There are a few factors that will give you the perfect meringue. Having most of these factors lined up will all but guarantee you’ll make a lovely, shiny meringue:
- Eggs at cool room temperature. No need to measure these with a thermometer, but if you did, you would want them to be somewhere in the neighborhood of 65 F |18 C, give or take one or two degrees. Some folks swear by cold eggs for meringue, but I’ve had the most consistent results at room temperature (it’s also how my grandmother made hers!)
- The right amount of eggs. You might notice that this recipe gives both weight and volume for the eggs (not just to use X number of eggs). For most recipes, eggs aren’t the star of the show, so the variance between egg size is no big deal. That’s not the case here. It’s vitally important that you have the right ratio of egg to sugar to create a stable meringue that can withstand the weight (really, the protein) of your flour
- Eggs that are as fresh as possible. If you have access to farm-fresh chicken eggs, that’s obviously the most optimal solution here, but isn’t the only one. Store-bought eggs have always worked perfectly well for me. The main reason I bring it up is because one can now buy pourable egg whites in a carton, which seems like a tempting solution (no yolks wasted!), but I would proceed with caution using those—it’s hard to tell how fresh the egg whites are.
- Adding ingredients at the right time. Making meringue is a process of breaking down the protein in eggs whites (think of it as a coiled ball of yarn), reshaping it, then fixing it in that new, aerated shape. That’s a slightly delicate process, so adding the ingredients when the egg whites are most likely to incorporate them well is key
- Mixing for the right amount of time. Get out your phone’s stopwatch—it’s your bestie for consistent baking results. Now, horsepower will vary considerably between mixers, so hand mixers will take a bit longer to get to the right stages than stand mixers, but that’s why I’ve put in the time ranges in the recipe. Meringue is a visual sport, so make sure to keep an eye on both the meringue and the clock
Okay, so that’s what you need to know to get the foundation of you angel food cake right. But one more note: the cake flour. Ya gotta use it in this recipe, and it needs to be bleached. My own experience has shown the bleached cake flour works best in most recipes*, and while you can often get away with substitutes, in this angel food cake, you need the least protein-dense flour possible.
*I never knew why, until reading this article by my idol, the fabulous Stella Parks
As far as baked goods go, angel food cake is among the lightest out there. Because it doesn’t have egg yolks or butter, it’s naturally fat and cholesterol free. It’s also pretty light on calories, which leaves room for a world of delicious toppings.
Delicate, airy and simply sweet, this classic angel food cake recipe is sure to make your taste buds sing with joy.
Prep Time: 15 minutes
Cook Time: 30 minutes
Total Time: ~2 hours (includes cooling time)
275 g (8-10 eggs, 1 cup + 2 Tablespoons) Egg Whites, room temperature*
250 g (1 and ¼ cups) Granulated Sugar
1 and 1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar
1 Tablespoon Vanilla extract
¼ teaspoon Kosher Salt (1/8 teaspoon table salt)
A little sprinkle of ground Nutmeg (optional)
95 g (3/4 cup) Bleached Cake Flour, sifted**
*Separate egg yolks from the whites while the eggs are still cool from the refrigerator; cold yolks don’t break as easily. Also, to minimize yolk breaking, tap the eggs on a counter or flat surface instead of the edge of a bowl to crack the shells
**Unfortunately, angel food cake is so delicate that only bleached cake flour will work well with this recipe. Use any substitutes or unbleached versions at your own risk. Cheat at sifting by nixing the sifter and using a fork or whisk to fluff flour in bowl; just make sure to stir vigorously
Metal, glass or copper mixing bowl*
10” (26 cm) Aluminum tube pan, preferably with legs
*Plastic not recommended as it retains oils that can cause your meringue to fail. If using a copper bowl, you can omit the cream of tartar
- Set oven to 350 F | 180 C to preheat.
In metal, glass or copper mixing bowl, whisk egg whites on medium high (6 on stand mixer) or high if using hand mixer until frothy, about 1 minute.
Add the 1 and ¼ teaspoon cream of tartar and continue beating until soft peaks form, about 2 to 3 more minutes
With the mixer still running, gradually add the 250 g of granulated sugar.
Add the 1 Tablespoon vanilla extract and ¼ teaspoon kosher salt.
Continue mixing until stiff peaks have formed, 1 to 3 minutes more
- Turn mixer off. Sprinkle the 95 g (3/4 cup) of cake flour over top of the meringue in multiple parts (3 or 4), gently folding and mixing it in after each incorporation.
Continue the folding process until the mixture is mostly uniform. You don’t want to over mix it, but pockets of flour aren’t good, either.
- Scrape batter into ungreased tube pan, mixing in pockets of flour as you find them.
Bake for 30 to 35 minutes, or until golden brown on top and cake springs back when gently pressed
Invert pan on wire cooling rack, neck of a bottle or on legs if using a tube pan that has them and allow to cool completely.
Once cake is totally cooled, run a knife around the outside of it to loosen. Invert onto cake stand
Store angel food cake in an air-tight container at room temperature, where it will keep for up to 5 days.