Tuesday, September 6, 2011

The easiest and yummiest Angel Food Cake. Period.

Apparently I'm known for making cheesecakes. Don't get me wrong. I love making cheesecakes and I like to live dangerously by never, ever ever, never ever ever using a water bath. The crust never stays crusty with a water bath, no matter how many layers of tin foil you wrap the springform in. The cake never tastes done. I don't care if it's the "only way" or the "professional" way. I'd much rather bake it at a lower temperature right on the damn rack. And I've figured out a way to avoid the crack.

But we're not here to talk about cheesecake. I haven't blogged since the Fall about my culinary creations. Not that I haven't made any. I've just been busy with the holidays and obsessing about the weight I gained before and after the holidays to blog about all the food I've made.

At least once a month we have our friends over for a UFC Fight Night. My male companion usually BBQs, even in the depths of winter, and I usually make the accompaniments, including (and always) the dessert. It's usually cheesecake, but on occasion, I have made the most awesome Vanilla Bean Ice Cream and Strawberry Shortcake and other things which I should have probably blogged about (and I might later, and when I do, I'll put links in this blog to take you to those ones).

But last weekend, since we're all on the "let's try not to kill ourselves with saturated trans fats before we turn 50" diet, and because I don't want to be known as "The Cheesecake Lady Junior" (my mom being the Cheesecake Lady Senior in her heyday), I gave my guests a choice for dessert. Thankfully, the majority chose an Angel Food Cake. Thankfully because (a) for the aforementioned reasons and (b) I had about 24 frozen egg whites that were taking up precious room for homemade ice cream (I went through a bit of a hollandaise obsession over the holidays - perfected my  method, but many egg yolks sacrificed their never-to-be-a-baby-chick lives for the privilege of being poured over salmon and asparagus twice a week).

I searched high and low for a good Angel Food Cake technique (I know the recipe - egg whites, cake flour, sugar, and lots of freakin' air). Surprisingly, Rose Levy Berenbaum's book only had a Chocolate Angel Food Cake recipe. Since I found out one of my friends wasn't a big chocolate fan (the hard way after making double chocolate almond cheesecake for her anniversary), that was out. But I didn't want it to be just plain.

So I picked up a book I had always looked at but thought would be too hard for me to use: Regan Dailey's In The Sweet Kitchen. She had a lovely recipe for Poppyseed Angel Food Cake. Except after a rib dinner, the last thing people want to do for dessert is spend the entire time picking seeds out of their teeth. So I hemmed and hawed, and opened my spice cupboard to reveal: cinnamon (no, too strong), nutmeg (maybe, but a bit too savoury), cloves (WAY too strong), and cardamom. Cardamom, eh? Hmmm...

The picture says it all. I nearly forgot to take a picture for this blog, so it's the last piece left. Here's the entire recipe, with Regan Dailey's awesome mixing technique. I actually made a big mistake, but somehow it worked out. Once you try it, you'll never make an Angel Food Cake any other way again:

Cardamom Angel Food Cake

1 cup (unsifted) Cake & Pastry Flour (or just Cake Flour if you happen to have it). Do NOT use self-rising Cake & Pastry Flour. (why would you anyways?)

1 1/2 cups granulated or caster white sugar

1 tsp ground cardamom

1 1/2 liquid cups egg whites at ROOM temperature (you will NOT die)

2 Tbsp lukewarm water (tap is fine)

3/4 tsp cream of tartar

2 tsp vanilla extract

First things first - turn on your oven to 350 degrees F. Then clean your kitchen like you've never cleaned before. Make sure you can perform open heart surgery in the area where you will be making your cake.

Once your kitchen is clean, if you need to, separate your eggs (remember I took mine out of the freezer the night before and they were ready to be used by 11AM the next day. Yes THAT long!). Make sure that there is no speck of yolk, brown thingy, shell, or fetal chicken in your white, and for God's sake make sure you've used sterilized equipment for the whole process. (OK maybe not sterilized, as heated metal bowls may cook your egg whites, but make sure your mixing bowls are clean enough to use during your open heart surgery procedure.) If you don't know how to separate eggs, here's a trick I learned from a kid's cookbook: take a CLEAN teacup and saucer (like the fancy ones, yes.). Crack the egg onto the saucer, making sure the yolk stays whole and that no shell falls into the egg (use a piece of shell to take out other pieces of shell. It does work!). Then put the teacup over the yolk and tip the saucer over your clean bowl so the white falls out. When the white stops dripping, put the plate back on the counter, and voila - separated egg! 1 1/2 liquid cups of egg whites are about 10 - 12 egg whites. Make sure you leave them out to get to room temperature. If you stick your (clean) finger in the cup and you still feel a chill, wait. Trust me. Don't coddle them or use the microwave. Just wait. Go surf the web, update your Facebook status, have a couple glasses of wine, anything. Let nature take its course.

While you're waiting for your eggs to warm up, measure the flour, the cardamom, and all but 1/4 cup of the sugar into a sifter or large mesh strainer. Sift this mix three times. Yes, three times. Leave aside.

Take out your 10" aluminum tube pan, ungreased (don't use no-stick, you don't need to, but if you do, please turn down the temperature 25 degrees F), and keep it handy. Also, grab an empty wine bottle and make sure it is empty by overturning it in the sink to get the last drops out. Do NOT use a champagne bottle. Do NOT use a full bottle. It has to be empty. If you don't drink, then get yourself one of those empty bottles from Ikea. If you are waiting for your egg whites to warm up, then drive over to Ikea, buy a bottle out of the Marketplace, and come home. Your eggs should be warm by the time you get back (because nobody lives next door to Ikea. Nobody.).

Set up your stand or hand mixer and make sure the bowl is clean. Put your egg whites in the bowl, and put your mixer on HIGH/10/ultimate speed. When you start to see foam add the 2 Tbsp of water, and then put it back on HIGH until it turns to soft peaks (about 30 seconds in a stand mixer). Add the cream of tartar and then beat the mixture on HIGH again for another 20 seconds, then add the 1/4 cup of sugar. Beat until the egg whites are almost cardboard stiff (hard peaks).

Now here comes the fun part. Go wash your hands and dry them with a clean towel. Make sure you use warmish water. Remove the egg whites from the stand and sprinkle 1/4 of the flour mixture over the egg whites. Stick your hand in (DO IT) and gently but quickly fold the flour into the whites. It feels like you're folding a cloud. When you don't feel any more lumps, add the next 1/4 of flour, and continue by 1/4s until all the flour's been mixed in. If you're gentle enough, you will hardly deflate the whites. NOW use your hand to put the batter into the cake pan. Works way better than a rubber scraper.

Once you have scraped all the batter out of the bowl and into the pan, and off of your hands and into the pan, gently swirl a butter knife in the batter to get out any air pockets. DO NOT BANG THE PAN TO GET RID OF AIR BUBBLES. This ain't a pound cake or a cheesecake. You bang an angel food cake and it will fall faster than an anvil on the coyote's head.

Rinse your hands quickly and put the pan in the middle of the oven. Set your timer for 40 - 45 min, and leave the kitchen for at least 30 of those. Don't let anyone else in the kitchen. No dogs, no cats, no running children, no teenagers or spouses foraging for snacks. Don't run your dishwasher. Don't clean up yet. Just. Leave. Why? Because any slight and sudden vibration will MAKE THE CAKE FALL. You may think you're being gentle and quiet by washing the dishes, but unless your sink is at least 20 feet away from your oven, then just wait. Barracade the kitchen. If people go in, don't yell at them, just gently guide them out. Yelling can also make the cake fall (bad karma, loud noise). Think of the cake as a newborn baby that has cried for 72 hours straight and then finally fell asleep.

After 30 minutes, go turn on your oven light and take a look. The cake should have doubled in size and started to crack on the top a bit. It might even be browning. But DON'T OPEN THE DOOR. Tiptoe away from the oven for at least another 10 minutes.

Come back after those 10 minutes are up. If the top is golden brown and lovely, take a toothpick in one hand and, very carefully, open the door. If your kitchen is near a door or window that leads outside and it's winter when you make this cake, make sure that nobody opens the goddamn door while you do this. Firstly, lightly touch the top of the cake. If it springs back, just for insurance sake, stick the toothpick in and make sure it comes out clean. If it does, you're done. If the cake does NOT spring back, wait another 5 minutes and try again until it does.

Now here's the tricky part. Take your empty bottle and put it near the stove. Take the cake pan out of the oven. Tilt it on its side and stick the bottle in the hole in the tube pan. Invert the cake onto the bottle (it will hold) and leave it to cool upside down until the cake is room temperature.

Now you're looking at this page and saying, "Shit. I don't have a bottle. I forgot to get one, or I'm still drinking my wine." Well, you can use a colander. But it's not as much fun and it may take longer to cool your cake. Plus it won't freak people out the way a cake pan on a bottle does.

While the cake is cooling, make sure that nobody OPENS THE OUTSIDE DOOR OR WINDOWS. A draft will demolish all your hard work in the blink of an eye. If it's summer, you might be OK, but then you risk bees, flies, and other woodland creatures coming in and stealing your cake off the counter.

While your cake is cooling, you can make icing if you want. I used a whipped cream icing. Clean up all the stuff you used to make your cake, rinsing with very cold water. Fix the bowl and whisk attachment back onto your stand mixer. Take 2 cups of very cold whipping cream (35% cream) and pour it into the bowl. Add 2 Tbsp white sugar and 1 tsp of vanilla (if you want). Put it on HIGH/10 again. Watch it go. When it's just a little less firmer than the egg whites, stop the machine and put the bowl into the fridge until you're ready to ice your cake.

Once you can touch your cake pan with your bare hands and there is no warmth whatsoever (so about an hour), take it off the bottle. Take a sharp, thin knife (I use a boning knife - yes I know butchers and chefs. Get over it.) and run it along the side of the pan, and along the tube in the middle (between the tube and the cake). Turn the pan over, above a plate, and push down on the springform bottom. (Your tube pan isn't springform? Then you used a Bundt pan. You can still take it out, but you'll have to hit it very hard or get a scraper into the bowels of the pan to push the cake out.) Once the cake falls out onto the plate, run the same knife between the bottom of the tube and the cake. Lift up the bottom. There's your masterpiece! It should have about tripled in size.

If you have any problems with the cake, send me an email and let me know. If you have any successes, let me know too. Especially let me know your best techniques for chasing people quietly out of the kitchen while the cake was baking, because I could use some of those...

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