Celebrating the ‘Unique’ Angel Food Cake

Unbeknown to me, October 10 is National Angel Food Cake Day, a day to celebrate the light and fluffy textured foam cake made primarily of egg whites.  October seems like an unlikely month to celebrate angel food; I think of it as a springtime dessert served with fresh berries or fruit.

Since I enjoy history, I set out to learn the origins of the cake but found very little.  It is thought to be an American dessert perhaps originating with the Pennsylvania Dutch. The first recipe for the cake appeared in The Home Book of Tested Recipes in 1878.  In 1880 the New York Times published a recipe for angel food cake and the 1884 Boston Cooking School Cook Book also included an angel food cake recipe.  In a Martha Stewart article, the author writes “some food historians trace the widespread popularity of angel food cake to the advent of the rotary eggbeater in the mid- to late 19th century. What was once an arduous task became much more homemaker-friendly, and recipes began to appear in earnest.”

Regardless of how it originated, angel food cake is a unique cake in several ways–ingredients, pan, and cooling. It is made entirely of stiffly beaten egg whites, flour, sugar, and usually cream of tartar; unlike other cakes, no leavening or fat.  Steam and air incorporated into the eggs whites by beating are the main sources of leavening.  Flour adds structure and sugar brings sweetness.  Cream of tartar, an acid, helps to stabilize the egg whites.  (Lemon juice was once used to keep the beaten egg whites stiff, but today cream of tartar is the stabilizer of choice.) A special ungreased pan, known as a tube pan, is used for baking as the central tube and high sides of the pan support the delicate foam as it expands during baking; the hollow tube also allows for even heat distribution. Angel food cakes are cooled upside down. The elevation provides sufficient air flow to insure proper cooling which is needed to maintain the stability of its lofty structure.

Traditionally an angel food cake is made from stiffly beaten egg whites followed by carefully folding the dry ingredients into the delicate foamy egg whites.  Many recipes require a dozen egg whites or more. (The Pioneer Woman site offers a typical angel food recipe with tips and pictures.) Other options in today’s world include 1-step and 2-step box mixes.  A 1-step mix combines dehydrated egg whites, sugar, flour, flavorings, surfactants, stabilizers, and leavening agents in one package; water is added to the mix and beaten for a given amount of time.  Most major brands no longer offer the 2-step mix but some store-brand labels still offer this option.  The 2-step option is similar to traditional in that there are two packages in the mix—dehydrated egg whites and dry ingredients (sugar, flour, flavorings, stabilizers, and leavening agents).  First the dehydrated whites are whipped with water until stiff and then the dry ingredients are carefully folded into the egg white batter.  Purchasing a ready-made cake from the bakery is also an option.

Angel food cake is a low-guilt dessert with no cholesterol or fat.  One slice of cake typically contains 129 calories from 15 grams of sugar and 3.1 grams of protein.  Different recipes, box mixes or commercially prepared cakes may differ on calorie count and nutrition.

Angel food cake is not limited to just the traditional white. Angel food can be many flavors and colors. Since it is fall, it might be fun to celebrate National Angel Food Cake day by also celebrating a flavor of the season with a Pumpkin Angel Food Cake!  Taste of Home offers an easy recipe and the pumpkin will add additional vitamins and fiber!  Here’s to National Angel Food Day!

Marlene Geiger

Marlene Geiger

I am a graduate of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln with a BS in Home Economics Education and Extension and from Colorado State University with a MS in Textiles and Clothing. I enjoy spending time with family and friends, gardening, quilting, cooking, sewing, and sharing knowledge and experience with others.

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