The Enigma Dessert – Angel Food Cake

To be honest until today I have never made/cooked/baked an angel food cake; never even considered doing it.  In fact I have a hard time actually slicing an angel food cake without smushing it from a light fluffy concoction to something resembling a pancake.

There are many questions surrounding this enigma known as Angel Food cake.

First:  why do I have an angel food pan taking up space on my limited kitchen shelving?  A gift? Part of an inheritance from some culinary minded relative? An impulse purchase at a yard sale?  I don’t know where it came from but there it sits, taunting me about my lack of baking skills.  If a pan could smirk this pan would be on the one.

When I was a child for family birthdays my mother always prepared homemade angel food cake.  That was our standard birthday cake; frosted with swirls of white and pink Royal icing.  There were no choices.  We knew exactly what the cake would look and taste like.  As an adult and reflecting on my youth I have begun to wonder why angel food was the birthday choice.  After all, today angel food cake seems rather an anemic relative in the bakery department.  Something you buy as an afterthought to slice and cover with strawberries or a chocolate sauce.  Today, an angel food cake offered as a birthday treat would be met with scorn.  Where’s the theme or fancy fondant decorations?  Is it a multilayer concoction created by a baking superstar?  No one oohs and ahhs if you show up with a smile and an angel food cake.

 A Bit of History

It’s time for a bit of historical culinary sleuthing.  I found several theories on the name; the most promising being that the name came about because it was so white and delicate, like angel’s wings.  I consider that one mystery answered to my satisfaction.

Since I have now discovered that other people’s mothers also made angel food cake for birthdays the 2nd mystery would be why it was a popular birthday cake.  That answer was easier to find than I anticipated.  Angel food cakes from scratch take 10 – 12 egg whites.  You have to love someone to put that much effort into a cake so it would have been a very special cake indeed; but by the mid-century (1950s) there were angel food cake mixes on the market.  A housewife could show off her mastery of what was considered a difficult cake to make by just adding water to the mix.

The Elephant in the dangling pan – the Real Enigma

What makes angel food cake an enigma though is what happens after you bake the cake.  Like baking a soufflé once it’s in the oven you have to creep about the kitchen so the final product will not collapse and will be light and fluffy.  Then the timer goes off and you grab this pampered dessert and hang the pan upside down; just dangling like a criminal in noose.  With any other cake that would be instant disaster. Miraculously this coddled confection stays in the pan for hours while it cools.  Who thought of that trick? Really, who thought that up? The cake just hangs around, tempting everyone who dares to walk by.  The secret: call it cake pan au natural.  It’s counterintuitive to everything taught in home ec and on cooking shows: you do not grease/spray or even flour the pan before the batter goes in.

My First Attempt at an Angel Food Cake

 I considered baking an Angel Food cake from scratch; even found the best directions ever at the Hungry Mouse’s website,  but as intriguing as that sugar cloud photo was it seemed like a lot of work so I settled for using my mother’s method; Angel Food Cake mix.  Apparently I still lack cooking skills.  I’m guessing that one side that semi-collapsed was because either my oven does not heat evenly or when I put the batter in the cake pan I somehow left an air pocket.  Oh well it does still taste great; even without my mother’s traditional Royal icing. Another change from my mother’s method was in the cooling method.  My mother used a Coke bottle; I substituted what was available in my kitchen.

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