Welcome to the first post in our 2018 cake making series! This series was inspired by a Food & Wine article (yes, I read a lot of Food & Wine) written by a pastry chef about her time in culinary school and the sheer amount of information she learned while there, even though she had already been a very proficient baker prior to culinary school. Her recommendation to becoming a master baker is to bake a cake every month to learn new techniques and to get practice baking. So that’s what we’re going to do! Each month, we’ll be featuring one cake from the list of recipes provided in the article. Here’s the link. While I won’t be sharing the recipe in the post (that’s what the link is for), I will share tips to help ensure your success as well as pairing suggestions (because why would you bake a cake and not have a glass of wine with it?). Sound good? Great! Let’s get baking!
The first cake we’re doing is actually the 4th on the list because the article starts in October, but we’re starting in January. Don’t worry, though; we’ll get to the October-December cakes this year. January is a Citrusy Angel Food Cake, which is light and delicious. I’m a big fan of angel food cake and this one does not disappoint. It’s light, fluffy, and sweet but not overwhelming with a touch of lemon. And better yet- it’s not at all hard to make! The most complicated part is whipping the egg whites, but I’ll get you through that part.
First, let’s talk a little about angel food cake. It is a light, airy sponge cake that really defies everything most people know about cake. First, there’s no butter or oil in the cake. None. And there’s very little liquid outside of the egg whites, which give the cake its structure and texture. Don’t run away screaming here; I don’t like whipping egg whites either. However, it’s worth the effort and isn’t horribly difficult. Another crazy characteristic of angel food cakes is that you don’t grease the pan. Unlike most cakes that will be ruined if you don’t grease the pan, angel food cake needs an ungreased surface to help the cake “climb” the sides of the pan. Grease will make it too slippery and your cake will wind up flat and dense. It can’t rise by itself because there is no leavening agent like baking soda, baking powder, or yeast. The cake also has to cool upside-down. Yep. You flip it over on a wine bottle to cool it, and spend an hour or so in abject fear that it’s going to fall out of the pan. But it doesn’t because the pan isn’t greased- brilliant, right?
Now let’s get to work. The first thing to do is pull the eggs out of the refrigerator and separate them right away. Eggs are a lot easier to separate when they’re cold, so go ahead and get that part over with. Be very careful not to get yolk in the white bowl because this will make your cake slightly less white and it will make life much more difficult when you start whipping the eggs. Once you’re done leave the whites on the counter to come to room temperature and pat yourself on the back for getting that part done. As for the yolks, you can incorporate them into another recipe (I made an egg casserole), or toss them out.
Once the eggs are at room temperature, follow step 1 in the recipe to preheat the oven and prep the dry ingredients. One thing to note- the recipe calls for cake flour. If you don’t have any and don’t want to buy a whole package for one cake, you can make it by measuring out 1 cup of flour and then removing 2 tablespoons of it. Then add 2 tablespoons of cornstarch and whisk the flour and cornstarch together really well.
Now you get to start whipping the egg whites. The first step is to whip them until they’re foamy. This just means that you turn the mixer on to medium speed and leave it in the bowl for a minute or so, whipping up the egg whites. You’ll know when the eggs are foamy.
Then you add some of the remaining ingredients (water, cream of tartar, vanilla, and lemon juice) and beat the egg whites until soft peaks form. To do this, turn the mixer to medium-high and move it gently around the bowl for several minutes. Make sure all of the egg whites are getting beaten evenly. You’ll notice the egg whites start to look a little more opaque and will start gelling together. To test for soft peaks, stop the mixer and pull it straight up out of the egg whites. If you have soft peaks, the egg whites will stand up slightly and the tops of them will fold over gently.
Once you have soft peaks, finish adding the ingredients (gently and slowly) and continue beating the egg whites at medium-high until stiff peaks form. These are like soft peaks but they will stand straight up when the mixer is stopped and removed. You do need to pay attention to this part because it will take several minutes to obtain stiff peaks, but once they reach that point the eggs can be overbeaten and you cake will not be light and fluffy like it should be.
To fold in the flour mixture, add about 1/3 of the flour to the egg white pan. Using a rubber spatula, slice down into the center of the bowl and scoop the egg whites toward the side of the bowl, up, and over. Turn the bowl a quarter turn and repeat. This is not a time to get your frustrations out because you can deflate the beautiful eggs you worked so hard on if you start just stirring and beating everything together. Don’t be afraid of the egg whites, but don’t act like they’re your enemy either. Continue folding the flour in until it is just incorporated, then repeat two more times with the remaining flour.
Once the batter is all mixed together, gently spoon it into an angel food cake pan and pop it in the oven.
Once the cake is finished, you’ll need to flip it over without burning yourself. Use two pot holders to do this, not your bare hands. You can use a wine bottle (just not with wine in it because then you’ll overheat the wine and ruin it) or you can flip the pan over onto a cooling rack. Some pans come with little feet to sit on; my pan’s center was a little higher than the outside so it balanced on the center once I couldn’t handle the stress of having it on a wine bottle any longer.
To remove the cake from the pan, run a knife gently around the outside of the pan and around the center section. It might take several tries, but be patient- the cake really will come out of the pan eventually.
Once the cake is completely cool you can add a glaze if you want. The cake is great on its own but the glaze adds a little more sweetness and lemon flavor. To make the glaze, whisk powdered sugar, lemon juice, and heavy whipping cream together. You can add a little milk if the mixture is too thick or more whipping cream and powdered sugar if you want more than the recipe makes. This is very forgiving so play with it until you have the flavor and consistency you like best.
In terms of wine pairing, this cake is perfect for a bright, slightly citrusy wine like sauvignon blanc. The citrus in the wine pairs really well with the citrus in the cake and the cake isn’t overly sweet or dense to overwhelm a lighter wine. It’s also great with pinot gris and champagne, so don’t be afraid to try it with the Pol Roger champagne that was on the blog recently!
Make sure to let me know how you did with the cake- was it a huge success or a bit of a flop? Just remember- when there’s sugar and wine involved, everyone wins so don’t be afraid to try something new!