Angel food cake, or angel cake, is a type of sponge cake made with egg whites, flour, and sugar. A whipping agent, such as cream of tartar, is commonly added. It differs from other cakes because it uses no butter. Its structure comes from whipped egg whites known as a protein foam. Angel food cake originated in the United States and first became popular in the late 19th century. It gained its unique reputation along with its name due to its light and fluffy texture, said to resemble the “food of the angels”.
Angel food cake requires egg whites whipped until they are stiff; cream of tartar is added to the mixture to stabilize the egg whites. Remaining ingredients are gently folded into the egg white mixture. For this method of leavening to work well, it is useful to have flour that has been made of softer wheat; cake flour is generally used because of its light texture. The softer wheat and the lack of fat causes angel food cake to have a very light texture and taste.
Angel food cake should be cut with a serrated knife, as a straight-edged blade tends to compress the cake rather than slice it. Forks, electric serrated knives, special tined cutters or a strong thread should be used instead.
Angel food cake is usually baked in a tube pan, a tall, round pan with a tube up the center that leaves a hole in the middle of the cake. A bundt pan may also be used, but the fluted sides can make releasing the cake more difficult. The center tube allows the cake batter to rise higher by ‘clinging’ to all sides of the pan. The angel food cake pan should not be greased, unlike pans used to prepare other cakes, this allows the cake to have a surface upon which to crawl up helping it to rise. After baking, the cake pan is inverted while cooling to prevent the cake from falling in on itself. Angel food cake is sometimes frosted but more often has some sort of sauce, such as a sweet fruit sauce, drizzled over it. A simple glaze is also popular. Recently, many chefs (Alton Brown in particular) have popularized the idea of adding aromatic spices such as mace and cloves to the cake.
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