Baking 101: Classic Angel Food Cake

I’ll admit it: I’m not a huge fan of chocolate (anyone else out there feel the same?). Yes, I’m the one at the dessert table who passes by the brownies, blackout cakes and “chocolate fountains”, in search of a shortbread cookie, a slice of pound cake or a vanilla doughnut.

So it will come as no surprise to hear that angel food cake ranks as one of my favorite desserts. I love it. And I had to learn how to make it myself because it is very hard to find in your average bakery, or on the dessert menu at a restaurant.  I’ve perfected this recipe over many years and am thrilled to share it with you all today!

classic angel food cake

Angel food cake is one of those simple-yet-complex desserts that many bakers avoid – mainly because it involves beating egg whites, which seems to be one of the more stress-inducing baking techniques. True, it takes a little finesse to find your sense of timing, mixer speed and appearance, but with practice (and my helpful tips!) you’ll find success comes quickly.

This cake is a great way to hone your egg-white-beating skills as it is more forgiving than say, a meringue or souffle. So roll up your sleeves and let’s (gently) break some eggs!

  • Angel Food Cake Pan 1 of 10
    angel food cake, angel food cake pan

    There are two distinguishing features of an angel food cake pan. You'll notice that is has three "feet" - which, when the pan is turned upside down after the cake bakes, allow for air to evenly circulate all around. The pan also has a removable bottom, so that the cake releases evenly and cleanly from the sides of the pan. You can substitute a regular bundt or tube pan; just be sure to put a parchment circle at the bottom.

  • Sift. And Sift Again. 2 of 10
    angel food cake, sifting flour and sugar

    I typically don't use cake flour - even if the recipe calls for it. All purpose is just fine in most recipes. But because it has a lower protein content, cakes baked with cake flour will be lighter and softer. This is an important difference in delicate cakes like angel food, so I always use cake flour in this recipe.

    I'm also pretty lazy about sifting - and again, for most cakes it doesn't make a meaningful difference. But you definitely want to sift - twice - for the lightest, most tender angel food cake.

  • Watch "The Hole" 3 of 10
    angel food cake, beating egg whites

    The most important factor in beating egg whites? Patience. Starting at a low speed - and waiting until the entire surface is covered in tiny, uniform bubbles - will result in a strong, sturdy egg white base that won't deflate when the cake bakes. 

    You'll know when the whites are thoroughly mixed when the "hole" in the center of the mixer (where the whisk attachment is) is no longer visible.

  • "Tiny Bubbles" 4 of 10
    angel food cake, beating egg whites

    This is what you want to see when the whites are thoroughly mixed - small, evenly sized bubbles. This can only be achieved at a low speed. High speeds create large, unstable bubbles that weaken the whites' structure, causing them to collapse when you fold in the flour-sugar mixture. 

  • "Firm" vs. "Stiff" Egg Whites 5 of 10
    angel food cake, firm egg whites

    What's the difference between "firm" versus "stiff" egg whites? "Firm" means that the tip will bend over slightly, as in the above photo. "Stiff" would mean that the tip is straight up (which you'd prepare for a meringue).

  • Using a Whisk 6 of 10
    angel food cake, whisk in flour

    Another trick to getting the lightest, airiest angel food cake? Incorporate the flour-sugar mixture using a whisk - not a spatula.

    The whisk allows the batter to fall through, which avoids crushing the air bubbles and causing deflation. Use a quick but gentle motion, turning the bowl as you fold, and stopping as soon as the dry ingredients are mixed in.

  • Get Rid of Those Bubbles! 7 of 10
    angel food cake, swirling a knife

    Once the batter has been poured into the pan, gently run a knife through it, to remove any large air bubbles. The cake is now ready to bake!

  • Flip It! 8 of 10
    angel food cake, cake cooling upside down

    As soon as the cake comes out of the oven, invert it onto its legs (making sure that the cake isn't touching the counter). This will keep the top from sinking. 

    If you're using a tube or bundt pan, place the pan  - upside down - on the neck of a wine bottle.

    Let the cake cool completely before removing from the pan - about 2 hours. 

  • Simply Served 9 of 10
    angel food cake

    In addition to being low in fat, large enough to serve a crowd, and absolutely delicious, angel food cake needs little to no adornment. A dusting of powdered sugar and some fresh fruit, and dessert is served!

  • Perfect Any Time! 10 of 10
    angel food cake, fresh raspberries

    Because this cake is so simple and light, it's perfect for almost every occasion - after a hearty dinner, for a friend's baby shower, or simply with a cup of afternoon tea.

    And the toasted slices are a perfect "base" for a scoop of coffee ice cream!

Classic Angel Food Cake

adapted from Martha Stewart

1 c. sifted cake flour

1 1/2 c. sugar, divided

12 large egg whites, room temperature

1 t. cream of tartar

1 T. lemon juice

2 t. vanilla

1/4 t. salt

Pre-heat your oven to 325; place the rack in the lower third. Cut a parchment circle to fit the bottom of an angel food cake pan; set aside.

Sift flour and 1/2 c. sugar onto a piece of parchment paper. Set the sieve over a bowl and pour the mixture back into the sieve; sift again and set aside.

Beat the egg whites on low speed in a large mixer bowl. When the entire surface is covered in tiny, uniform bubbles, increase the speed to medium and beat for one minute. Add the cream of tartar, lemon juice, vanilla and salt – beat until you see “tracks” form, about 2-3 minutes. Add the remaining 1 c. of sugar and beat for one minute.

Increase speed to medium-high and beat till firm (not stiff) peaks form – the tip of the peak will bend slightly when the beater is lifted. Using a large rubber spatula, gently transfer the egg white mixture to a large, wide bowl. Sprinkle one third of the flour-sugar mixture over the egg whites. Using a wire whisk, gently combine, allowing the flour to fall through the whisk. Add the remaining flour in two more additions, and fold until just combined.

Using your rubber spatula, transfer the batter to your prepared pan. Run a knife gently through to deflate any large bubbles. Bake till a cake tester comes out clean and the cake is springy to the touch, 45-50 minutes.

Remove pan from the oven and invert, making sure that the cake clears the counter surface. Let cool completely, about 2 hours. To remove cake from pan, re-invert the pan and run a thin knife around the inner and outer edges. Push the cake up from the bottom and remove the parchment paper. Dust with powdered sugar.

To serve, cut slices with a serrated knife, using a gentle sawing motion.

Cake keeps well for up to two days at room temperature, wrapped in plastic.

Read more from Sheri on Donuts, Dresses and Dirt

Follow Donuts, Dresses and Dirt on Facebook and Twitter for updates

Tagged as: ,

Use a Facebook account to add a comment, subject to Facebook's Terms of Service and Privacy Policy. Your Facebook name, profile photo and other personal information you make public on Facebook (e.g., school, work, current city, age) will appear with your comment. Learn More.