Thursday, February 5, 2009

Cake or Death!

Two cakes enter, only one will leave! Ironically, this is about angel food cake. I was quite conflicted on a recipe to go with. On one hand, I had a tried and true recipe from Alton Brown that my mom has made and was quite good. On the other, I had a recipe from Cook's Illustrated that seemed to go together quite well. What to do? Why make both, of course.

Angel food cake is pretty similar no matter how you make it. Beat egg whites, add flour and sugar and various other components, bake, let rest, and eat. It has two main attributes going for it, one being its pretty easy (if you have an electric stand or handheld mixer, if not, good luck beating those white to medium peaks before your arm falls off), and the other being that it is ridiculously healthy. The one aspect of this cake that might set people off is the need for a special pan. An angel food cake pan is a unitasker and that kind of stinks. However, I have started making this cake pretty often and that makes it worth it. When you do purchase one, get one with the feet on it or you will play heck trying to get it to balance upside down.

First up was the Cook's Illustrated cake. Calling for a dozen egg whites, some sugar, some cake flour, almond and vanilla extract, and cream of tarter, the cake had some pros and cons. The pros were it tasted delicious, hands down the better of the two. The cons were the texture, it was a bit rubbery, and the fact that they had me line the pan with parchment paper was a bit silly. Next through our gauntlet is the AB cake. Fantastic in texture, this recipe called for super fine sugar and less extract then the other. The results were quite different. It was much lighter and fluffier but the taste was not quite there. Hmmm, a difficult choice.

In the end, I choose both. Yep, a cop out after all of this. But my reasoning is good. For the most part, I prefer the Cook's taste but AB's texture. Therefore I decided to go with the first recipe’s flavor, but use superfine sugar and forget about fussing with parchment paper.

Angel Food Cake

12 egg whites
1 ½ cups sugar (see note below to make it superfine)
1 ½ t cream of tartar
¼ t salt
1 ½ t vanilla extract
½ t almond extract
1 ½ t lemon juice
¼ cup warm water
1 cup cake flour

Preheat oven to 350°F. To make superfine sugar, place the desired amount of sugar in your food processor and buzz for about 2 minutes. Sift half of the sugar with the salt and the cake flour, setting the remaining sugar aside (sifting is important; it will help avoid pockets of flour). In a large bowl or stand mixer, add egg whites, water, extracts, and cream of tartar. Beat for about 3 minutes or until eggs are foamy. Slowly sift iun the reserved sugar, beating continuously at medium speed. Once you have achieved medium peaks, add the lemon juice, and then sift enough of the flour mixture in to dust the top of the foam. Using a spatula, fold in the flour mixture gently. Continue until all of the flour mixture is incorporated.

Carefully add mixture into an ungreased tube pan. Bake for 35 minutes before checking for doneness with a wooden skewer. (When inserted halfway between the inner and outer wall, the skewer should come out dry).

Cool upside down on cooling rack for at least 2 hours before removing from pan. Remove the cake from the pan by slicing around the outside to loosen the cake from the pan. Serve with berries or whipped cream (or both).


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