Thursday, June 14, 2007

Retro Angel Food Cake


Nobody ever bakes a cake for their neighbors anymore. Why is that? Cakes are just as easy--easier, if you count box cake (and I do)--to make today as in 1950. I'm sure there are many complex sociological reasons having to do with the increased presence of women in the workforce, commute time, the falling price of prepared foods, the fact that no one uses their kitchens anymore, and that we bowl alone. But all of that social science added up to my enormous delight when Mr. and Mrs. ToastFriend came over for dinner recently with a cake in tow. And not just any cake: a genuine, homemade coconut angel food cake on a polka-dotted cake stand. Did you get that? It was on an actual cake stand, people!

The recipe, as emailed from Mrs. ToastFriend below, seems seductively easy with the help of an electric mixer. But I recommend my method: Wait until someone shows up at your door with one.

***
Angel Food Cake: Many Possible Variations
From page 705 in the 75th anniversary edition of the Joy of Cooking

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Use an UNgreased 10-inch tube pan (this cake is BIG, a smaller pan won't cut it; I'd wash the pan right before use, there can be no grease or oily residue otherwise the cake will collapse b/c it is so light and airy it needs to "stick" to the sides of the pan for support. The first time I made this cake I didn't pay attention to this instruction and it was about half as tall as the cake I brought to your house. And lopsided. Tube pan is clutch for the same reason.)

Sift together:
1 cup cake flour (if you don't use cake flour, sift the all purpose flour a few extra times to try to simulate cake flour for the fluff factor)
3/4 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt

Combine in large bowl and beat on low speed for 1 minute:
1 1/2 cups egg whites (about 11 or 12 large whites)
1 tbsp water
1 tbsp lemon juice
1 teaspoon cream of tartar
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/4 teaspoon almond extract (optional, be careful b/c it is very easy to overdose on the almond extract, a tiny bit goes a really long way) for coconut flavor: add 1/2 teaspoon coconut extract

Increase speed to medium-high and beat until the mixture increases to 5 times in volume and resembles a bowl of soft foam (3-5 minutes). On medium-high speed, beat in another 3/4 cup of sugar, 1 tbsp at a time, taking 2-3 minutes

When all the sugar has been added, the foam will be creamy white and hold soft, moist, glossy peaks that bend over at the points; do not beat until stiff.

Sift a fine layer of the flour mixture (about 1/4 cup) evenly over the batter and fold gently with a rubber spatula only until the flour is almost incorporated. Do not stir or mix. Repeat 7-8 more times until flour mixture is used.

If you're going for coconut cake, fold 1/2 cup of shredded coconut in with the last addition of flour (the sweetened dried kind works the best I think, of course!)

Pour batter into UNgreased pan. Bake at 350 for 35-40 minutes (I actually only baked it for about 28 minutes last time.)

Quick icing
Just beat 4 cups (1 lb, usually one box) of confectioners' sugar with 1/2 cup of butter (softened). Then add in 2 teaspoons of vanilla extract, a pinch of salt, and 5 tbsp of a liquid--not water but milk, sherry or schnapps, or even coffee works (coffee aesthetically makes the cake look a little dumpy unless you cover the outside with shredded coconut for a brown and white ensemble.)

Note: I bet you could do a really tasty orange or lemon version of this, too. I'd fold in the zest of one or two lemons or oranges instead of the coconut in that final stage. And substitute a tbsp of freshly squeezed oj for the lemon juice.

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