What makes angel food cake different from pound cake, sponge cake or other yellow cake?
First of all, angel food cake is not a yellow cake. It's a white cake. That is, it only contains egg whites (and lots of them) but no egg yolks. The egg whites help give angel food cake its foamy meringue-type lift. In fact, one way you can look at angel food cake is as a combination of meringue and cake in one.
Additionally, all angel food cakes tend to have the same shape: round with a hole in the center, like a giant doughnut, rounded on top and flat on the bottom.
As many cakes do, angel food cake contains flour, eggs whites and sugar. But certain details about these ingredients make all the difference in how perfect your angel food cake turns out. For one, cake flour is best; far better than all-purpose flour.
Most angel food cake recipes call for using either superfine sugar or spinning granulated sugar in a food processor until it turns "superfine." Similarly, sifting the sugar and flour both is a major factor in producing the light and airy texture of a perfect angel food cake.
Angel food cake also contains cream of tartar and this is an important ingredient not to leave out. The cream of tartar provides an acidity that helps produce the light airiness in texture. Angel food cake is an unleavened and unshortened cake. The cream of tartar is how it "rises."
Vanilla extract is the other common ingredient in angel food cake, though some recipes will infuse another flavor into the cake besides the vanilla (or in addition to it), such as with almond extract or peppermint extract. Other variations on the basic angel food cake recipe include a citrus or chocolate glaze or a chocolate malted batter, or with nuts or pumpkin pie spices added.
Preparing the Batter
The process of preparing an angel food cake batter can be broken down into two basic parts. First you make a meringue and then you fill it out into a cake with flour.
The key to the first part, making the meringue, is too stop before the peaks get too stiff. Soft peaks that look like waves which descend back into the bowl when you lift the whisk or beaters are ideal.
The key to the second part, mixing in the flour/sugar mix, is to do it slowly and patiently, taking care not to deflate the foamy egg white mixture as you fold it in.
Baking the Cake
To get the classic angel food cake shape, pour the batter into a tube pan, a kind of baking pan specially made for this kind of cake.
Depending on the recipe, angel food cake can take from about 30 minutes to an hour to bake at 350 degrees. You'll know that it's done when you press lightly on the top of the cake and it springs back.
Before removing the cake from the pan, let it cool completely with the pan inverted. Then to prevent sticking when you do remove it, run a butter knife around the outer edge first.
For an added bit of decadence, serve your angel food cake with ice cream.
If you think you're ready to try your hand at this sweet and delicious desert, here are some great recipes to try out:
Rainbow Angel Birthday Cake
Strawberry-Cream Angel Food Cake
Fruit and Cream Cake
Orange Cream Angel Food Cake