How come my guardian angels didn’t show up for Angel Food Cake?

Posted on April 26, 2011


Some angel hit me good with that love arrow. I love my husband dearly, and to show my love for him, I wanted to bake him a cake for his birthday.

This is somewhat strange. My husband doesn’t like sweets.

But you see, while birthday cake is certainly an American tradition, i.e. “I knew you were coming so I baked a cake…”, I think this food tradition also has a lot to do with relationships.  Birthday cake means that someone cares that you have made it another year, wants to celebrate with you, and has taken the time to prepare a special treat just for you to enjoy. I wanted put on my apron, make a mess in the kitchen, and produce something delectable because he is my husband, and I wanted him to know how much I care about him.

In addition to that, I think a big part of relationships is not only pleasing your partner, but feeling that you are capable of pleasing them. Now, for my husband, it has been somewhat of a quest to come up with a birthday cake that he would actually eat! Last year, my friend and her mom made the discovery: Angel Food Cake. He absolutely loved it! It is the perfect cake for him; naturally low fat, not too sweet, goes great with fresh fruit (his usual dessert alternative)… yet it probably could not be more of a challenging cake for me. Yet, in my way of showing that I love him as well as that I am worthy of his love, I wanted to make his (one and only) favorite birthday cake!

Unfortunately, my kitchen and I were rather ill equipped for such a special needs cake… I did not have that special angel food cake pan, nor an electric mixer or a sifter, and of course I don’t keep a stock of cake flour or cream of tartar, and lo and behold, I was also out of vanilla extract and down to only 10 eggs — what in the world would I do with 12 left over egg yolks anyway?!

I took care of the missing ingredients at the grocery store, where I also purchased a bundt pan on hopes it could suffice, but decided to go without the other equipment items. Then I spent a whole morning reading horror stories about how it’s impossible to get an angel food cake out of a bundt pan and that my batter would probably overflow, how I shouldn’t have gotten a non-stick pan because the cake needs to “climb” and be flipped upside down on the “legs” of that special angel food cake pan to cool. Every single recipe uses an electric mixer, and most describe sifting as imperative.

I went at it anyway — it’s his one and only favorite after all! I had purchased pre-sifted cake flour, but for good measure, I hand sifted the flour and confectioner’s sugar together by gently shaking it from a measuring cup into a bowl, then set to whisking it a few minutes or so. Then I separated the eggs oh so carefully using three bowls in the process; crack over one, yolk in another, inspected egg whites in the third — just to make sure I didn’t get any tiny bit of yolk in the whites. (Now that’s love.)

Then I whipped those egg whites like something! They got foamy and soft peaks formed, I added the sugar, and increased my whipping speed (yes, my wrist is a three speed mixer)… after a good 10 minutes I decided that if they didn’t whip up to stiff peaks like in the picture after another 10 minutes, something was wrong — and it wasn’t my old-fashioned mixing technique (or maybe do you think it was?). I made it only another 3 minutes before I went to Google which promptly pointed out the likely culprit: the mixing bowl! I was using my biggest glass mixing bowl, which I had washed and dried, but maybe not as thoroughly as I should have, and apparently any small amount of water or grease residue can prevent the egg whites from peaking.

I still kept whipping just in case another few minutes, then decided to let them sit and maybe come a little closer to room temperature. After whipping some more, I could see through the glass bowl that runny egg whites were still sitting at the bottom. Since my oven had long preheated, I went ahead and folded in the flour, poured the batter into the bundt pan, and left it to bake. I was curious to see if anything would happen at all.

I got a half cake. It didn’t rise, and the bottom wasn’t really baked. It looked like this:

Half a cake is better than no cake, and I am happy to report that I was able to get the cake out of the bundt pan in one piece! I inverted it over a soy sauce bottle and cooled for about 45 minutes, then ran a small plastic spatula along each rim of the pan. Only small bits of the outer crust were left in the pan here and there… if only my guardian angels had shown up a little bit earlier to help it fully bake (or remind me to dry the bowl)!

Nevertheless, I cut off the unbaked bottom, and though it was a little heavier than it probably should be, I still got to sing my husband “Happy Birthday” and bring him a (half) slice of birthday cake. Good thing he is no cake boss and that he seems to love me no matter what, too!

Here is the recipe I used for the Angel Food Cake, which comes from the Good Housekeeping Cook Book. If I could completely mess up the batter and still get half a cake, I think this recipe passes, just make sure to take care with every step, and if you have the heart, try it out the old fashioned way and let me know how it goes!

Are you wondering what I did with those 12 left over egg yolks? Stay tuned because my guardian angels apparently love lemon curd…

Angel Food Cake

1 cup cake flour (not self-rising)
1/2 cup confectioners’ sugar
1 2/3 cups egg whites (from 12 to 14 large eggs)
1 1/2 teaspoons cream of tartar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/4 cups granulated sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon almond extract

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Sift flour and confectioners’ sugar through a sieve set over a small bowl. (Or hand sift by gently shaking out of a measuring cup into a bowl or whisking briskly for about a minute).

In a large bowl, with mixer at medium speed (or using a wire whisk or fork), beat egg whites, cream of tartar, and salt until foamy. Increase speed to medium-high; beat until soft peaks form when beaters are lifted. Sprinkle in granulated sugar, 2 tablespoons at a time, beating until sugar has dissolved and egg whites stand in stiff, glossy peaks when beaters are lifted. Beat in vanilla and almond extracts.

Sift flour mixture, one third at a time, over beaten egg whites; fold in with rubber spatula just until flour mixture is no longer visible. Do not overmix.

Scrape batter into ungreased 9- to 10-inch tube pan (or use a bundt pan at your disgression!); spread evenly. Bake until cake springs back when lightly pressed, 35 to 40 minutes. Invert cake in pan onto large metal funnel or bottle. Cool completely in pan. Run thin knife around cake to loosen from side and center of pan. Remove from pan and place on a plate. Serve with fresh fruit. Makes 16 servings.