Today is Tony's birthday. He's very (very) low-key about birthdays, so let's just keep this between you and me.
I'm still going to bake him a cake though because it's his birthday and I love birthdays.
Ever since I've known him, Tony has mused that he was sent to me as an angel. In our 20-year marriage there have been days that have definitely put that theory to the test, but we're still married - to each other - so who knows? If Tony really is an angel, then there's only one dessert that can rise to this occasion: Angel Food Cake.
Most people shy away from making angel food cake from scratch, wrongly believing that they are not up to the task. Sifting flour and separating egg whites might be a little fussy, but I find that angel food cake is much easier to make than sponge cake. You just need the right equipment, a little advance preparation, and patience.
Before getting started, carefully review the recipe and prepare all of your ingredients and equipment. For this recipe, you will need a 10-inch tube pan, four inches deep, with a removable base. It is possible to make angel food cake without this special pan, but if you're going to take the time to make it from scratch, it's worth the investment (about $12 to $15 dollars).
If you need to buy a pan, look for one that is aluminum, not non-stick. Angel food is a foam cake which receives most of its body from egg whites, and it needs to be able to climb up the walls of the pan. I have used both types, and my grandmother's old aluminum pan produces a much higher cake than my non-stick version. Your pan should also have little legs which swing out from the side so that once you remove the cake from the oven the pan can stand upside down until completely cool.
After testing several different recipes over the years, my favorite is from the classic "Betty Crocker Picture Cookbook." I have my grandmother's copy from 1950, and the recipe differs from the one available today on the Betty Crocker website, which I have not made.
Betty doesn't call for superfine sugar in her recipe, but she does refer to angel food cake as "light as air ... fluffy as a cloud," and I think superfine sugar makes all the difference. I make my own (per celebrity chef Alton Brown's advice) by blending the sugar in a food processor for two minutes.
Egg whites are the main ingredient in angel food cake, and they won't whip properly if there is any bit of yolk mixed in. As the sugar is being processed, separate the egg whites, one at a time, into a small bowl. Check to make sure there is no yolk, or shell, in the white before pouring into a measuring cup.
Sifting is the next step before combining the ingredients together, and you can use a sifter or a mesh sieve to mix the (sifted) cake flour and sugar together, three times. Don't skip this step, as the sifting will give the cake air and help it rise better.
To serve, we keep it simple with real whipped cream and fresh berries. While not difficult to make, angel food cake is a labor of love. If you use these tips and follow the recipe's instructions, the result should be a heavenly dessert for the angel in your life. Happy Birthday, Tony!
Home with the Lost Italian is a weekly column written by Sarah Nasello featuring recipes by her husband, Tony Nasello. The couple owns Sarello's restaurant in Moorhead and lives in Fargo with their 9-year-old son, Giovanni. Readers can reach them at email@example.com. All previous recipes can be found at http://thelostitalian.areavoices.com
Betty Crocker's Angel Food Cake
1 cup sifted SOFTASILK cake flour
7/8, cups granulated sugar (200 grams), processed for 2 minutes until superfine
1½ cups egg whites (12)
1½ teaspoons cream of tartar
¼ teaspoon salt
1½ teaspoon vanilla
½ teaspoon almond extract
¾ cups granulated sugar (160 grams), processed for 2 minutes until superfine
Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Set out, but do not grease, a 10-inch tube pan, 4-inch deep.
Sift the cup of cake flour first, then sift it three times, with M, cups (200 grams) of the superfine sugar. Set aside.
Measure into a large mixing bowl the egg whites, cream of tartar, salt, vanilla and almond extract. Beat with a wire whip on high until foamy, then gradually add the ¾ cups of superfine sugar, 2 tablespoons at a time.
Continue beating until the meringue holds stiff, straight peaks when the wire whip is pulled up. Sift the flour-sugar mixture, 3 tablespoons at a time, over the meringue. Use a rubber spatula to cut and fold the flour in gently, until it disappears each time.
Carefully push with rubber scraper into deep tube pan, and even up surface of batter. Pull a table knife gently through the batter, in widening circles, to break any air bubbles.
Bake for 30 to 35 minutes until cake is golden brown and no imprint remains when finger lightly touches top of cake. Immediately invert the cake and let hang until cold, or overnight.
To remove from pan, use a serrated or very sharp knife and gently scrape along the sides, and then the base. Serve with real whipped cream and fresh berries.
Adapted from the 1950 Betty Crocker Picture Cookbook