Well travelers, it’s been a long time. As it turns out, planning a wedding, traveling to your home town to plan said wedding, moving to a new apartment , cooking in your beautiful new kitchen, and working as always is NOT conducive to food history blogging. But our venue is secured, my dress is picked and our registry of amazing kitchen things is underway. And next week we may even finally get our new couch delivered!
We just celebrated Valentine’s Day, which has always been one of my favorite baking holidays as it is always an excuse for making chocolate/fruit desserts. Despite my fiancé’s many positive attributes, he has one big flaw…he hates rich, decadent desserts (one of my primary food groups of course), and prefers light desserts such as sponge and angel food cakes.
Angel food cake is a relative newcomer to the confectionary world, likely invented in America in the mid 19th century. One of the earliest recipes was written by a former slave, Abby Fisher, who included a recipe for “silver cake” in her book, What Mrs. Fisher Knows About Old Southern Cooking, Soups, Pickles, Preserves, Etc. Fannie Farmer was the first to print the name “angel food cake” in her version of the Boston-Cooking School Cook Book in 1896. Some historians say the name came about because the light, heavenly texture. This is of course in contrast to angel food’s counterpart, devil’s food cake.
One of the main reasons why angel food cake took so long to develop was the necessity of whipped egged whites in the batter. Prior to the invention of hand and stand mixers, cooks would have needed to whisk the egg whites by hand—an incredibly labor-intensive task. It is very likely that the first angel food cakes were made by slaves for this very reason. With the improvement of kitchen tools and equipment during and after the Industrial Revolution, housewives and servants could make more luxurious cakes.
Angel food cakes are traditionally bakes in tube pans, with have a whole in the center to allow for even heat circulation. Historically, many of specialty cake molds in America were produced by the Pennsylvania Dutch, and therefore some historians argue that the cake must have originated in Pennsylvania.
Angel food cakes became increasingly popular in the mid-20th century, when companies like Betty Crocker and Pillsbury began producing angel food cake mixes. With artificial stabilizers and powdered egg whites already inside the box, the home cook needed not even bother with the hassle of whipping egg whites. Cooks aiming to impress might hollow out the cake and fill it with a fruit compote, mousse, or instant gelatin mixture.
Today, angel food cake is widely popular as a low-fat dessert available for as little as $3 per cake at the local grocery stores. It is sometimes used as a base for fruit sauce or ice cream, or as a dipper in chocolate fondue. While the grocery store version is perfectly fine for the above uses, it is no replacement for a light and airy homemade cake.
For further reading:
Stanton’s Birthday Strawberry Angel Food Cake
Stanton requested a strawberry angel food cake for his birthday last May. The bright pink color is an added bonus perfect for Valentine’s Day and Cherry Blossom Festival. I also make a key lime version for St. Patrick’s Day.
1 3/4 cups superfine sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup cake flour
12 eggs (room temperature, they’ll separate better)
1/3 cup warm water
1 teaspoon raspberry or vanilla extract
1 1/2 teaspoons cream of tartar
3-4 drops red food coloring
1 1/2 tablespoons powdered dehydrated strawberry (I buy dehydrated strawberries at Trader Joe’s and smash in a plastic bag. Raspberries work too!)
- Sift together cake flour, salt, and 1 cup sugar.
- Separate eggs. We only need the whites for this recipe, so save the yolks for French toast, ice cream, or omelets! Follow these directions to freeze yolks for future use.
- Combine egg whites, water, extract, and cream of tartar in mixer. Slowly add remaining sugar. Beat at medium speed until peaks form.
- Use a spatula to carefully fold dry ingredients into egg white mixture. Don’t over mix or eggs will deflate!
- Carefully pour batter into an ungreased tube pan. Bake at 350 degrees for 35 minutes or until toothpick comes out clean.
- Now comes the scary part. It’s going to sound crazy, but trust me on this. Turn your cake upside down and allow the tube of pan to rest over a bottle of soda. Cool completely.
- Once cool, gently run knife around edges of pan. If your pan does not have a removable bottom, very gently lift cake out of pan. I’ll sometimes use a thin spatula.
- Serve with whipped cream, ice cream and/or berries!