Can a home-made cake be fat-free and flavourful? The cocoa angel food cake proves it is possible, capped off with a fluffy seven-minute-style icing (I used the same frosting as on the chocolate-malt-buttercream cupcakes).
I enjoy a challenge when it comes to baking. As with the oaty-almond crisps (dairy- and gluten-free), I like to find recipes which suit the dietary requirements without resorting to “fake” baked goods. Thus, I decided to try my hand at baking an appropriately significant cake for a friend’s landmark birthday, one which required a low-fat dessert.
On my island, we have a “free store”, called the “redirectory”. Essentially, the “redirectory” – sounds much more high fallutin’ than “free store – is like a thrift shop or second-hand store without any costs. The Gulf Islands do not have municipal garbage pick-up, so people try to recycle, compost, and donate useful items as much as possible, more than in places where there is weekly or daily garbage (and it provides income to the entrepreneurs who haul garbage, off-island, at $5 a large sack). The theory is that people will donate items in good condition, other than clothes (the one church-run thrift store does that), and those who need something will take it, saving used goods from garbage dumps.
So I found an angel food cake pan more than a year ago at the “redirectory”. I put off making angel food cake, with all the other cakes vying for attention – not to mention the sheer number of eggs and care needed for making angel food cakes. However, I have made sponge cakes and génoise cakes before, and I decided that I should give it a try.
I also had found an antique angel-food-cake slicer, at a vintage shop on a trip to Vachon Island, Washington, last September. It is an elegant implement, used for angel food or chiffon cakes exclusively, though it is somewhat reminiscent of afro-picks from the 1970s, as a guest pointed out. What other implement can have such disparate associations and represent fundamentally oppositional eras? There is the prim-and-proper ladies’ tea – think of the 1920s-1950s heydey of angel food cakes and the newcomer, the chiffon cake. In the 1920s, the angel food’s richer sister, the chiffon cake, had its official coming out as a sassy debutante. For these two desserts, I picture: white gloves, white bread sandwiches, white cake, and white ladies, on the one hand. On the other, the Afro-pick connotes, for me, big-curly hair, free-love, sex, and drugs and rock-and-roll – from the Summer of Love through the disco era of the 1970s.
For the cake review – and the recipe…
The angel food cake is not difficult to make, though it requires attention, e.g., mise-en-place and care in measuring, aerating/whipping egg whites, folding, and baking until it is just done, not over-baked. My redirectory pan was an old one-piecer, that is, no removable bottom, so I took the added precaution of tracing a round of parchment paper for the bottom ring of the pan (i.e., where the top of the cake would go). I had no trouble releasing the cake with the side-by-side motion, as suggested by the cake maven herself, Rose Levy Barenbaum; I loved her in-depth methodical approach to freeing the angel food cake from captivity, while preserving its chaste beauty.
From the cocoa, there is a subtle flavour of chocolate, discernible but not overpowering. The texture is very light and airy, delicate but with enough body that the cake has an enticing chewiness. To make it more of a celebratory cake, I added the marshmallow-meringue icing in addition to blackberry sauce I had canned, using local blackberries.
What I like about the cake, too, is that it would complement gelato or sorbet, fresh berries, ice cream and hot fudge – for a decidedly not-so-low fat dessert. However you choose to dress it up or not, this cake is a delightful taste of angel food goodness.
Cocoa Angel Food Cake, adapted from Nick Malgieri’s Chocolate: From Simple Cookies to Extravagant Showstoppers
Makes one 10-inch tube cake, about 12 generous servings
- 1 1/2 cups sugar, divided
- 1 cup cake flour (spoon flour into dry-measure cup and level off)
- 1/3 cup natural cocoa (sifted into measuring cup)
- 1 1/2 cups egg whites (from about 12 large eggs)
- 3/4 teaspoon salt
- 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
One 10-inch tube pan (not non-stick) with removable bottom (if possible), ungreased; a narrow-necked bottle on which to place the cake after it is baked
1. Place rack in the middle level of the oven and preheat to 325 F.
2. Measure the sugar in two 3/4 cup measuring cups, if you have them, putting one aside for later. Stir the remaining 3/4 cup sugar and the flour together in a bowl and sift them once onto a piece of wax paper.
3. Combine the egg whites and salt in the bowl of an electric mixer. Use the whisk to whip the egg whites on medium speed until they are foamy. Add the vanilla and continue whipping until the egg whites just are starting to hold their shape. Increase the speed to medium-high and whip in the reserved 3/4 cup of sugar in a very slow, steady rain of granules. Continue to whip the egg whites until they hold a soft, glossy peak BUT NOT DRY FIRM PEAKS!
4. Remove the bowl from the mixer and quickly sift a third of the flour and sugar mixture over them. Gently fold in with a rubber spatula. Repeat with another third of the flour mixture, and fold it in, then end with the remaining flour mixture, folding it in.
5. Spoon the batter into the pan and smooth the top.
6. Bake the cake for 45 to 55 minutes, or until it is well risen, a medium cocoa-colour, and finger inprint bounces back slowly (firm to the touch) but not dry.
7. Remove the baked cake from the oven and invert the pan onto the neck of the bottle. Cool the cake completely.
8. Unmold the cake.
9. Ice with meringue icing and serve with blackberry sauce, raspberry coulis, sorbet, gelato, ice milk, or whatever makes you feel more angelic.
Storage: Keep the cake under a cake dome or loosely wrapped in plastic, for a day or so. The cake can be frozen