This angel food cake recipe yields a snow-white, crazy airy treat so tender it melts in your mouth (especially when topped with tons of fresh berries and homemade whipped cream).
What makes this cake so fantastically fluffy? After all, there’s just a small amount of flour in it, and no chemical leavening agent like baking powder to help it rise. There’s also no fat in the mix—no butter, oil, yolk, or milk to speak of. The key is egg whites, perfectly beaten to medium peaks (just stiff enough to stand up firmly on their own), which keep the batter moist enough while baking to retain the air that fluffs it up in the oven.
This is done with the assistance of cream of tartar, an ingredient you may have in your pantry but don’t use very often. If you don’t use it often, there’s a good chance the cream of tartar you have is expired, which can substantially reduce its ability to lower the pH and stabilize the beaten egg whites, robbing you of that tight yet airy crumb angel food cake is famous for. Cream of tartar expires six months from the date you open it, so if it’s been a while since you busted it out for a batch of snickerdoodles or extra-smooth frosting, buy a new jar (and label it with the date it was opened).
You may have to remind yourself a couple of times not to grease the tube pan before pouring in the batter, because unlike most cakes, angel food cake relies on fully sticking to the sides of the pan in order to create its signature thin, crisp, lightly chewy crust. Any fat will prevent this crucial element from forming, so if you have to tape a note to the pan to ensure you don’t butter or spray it out of sheer habit, go for it.
Finally, don’t worry too much about getting the cake out of the pan—it will naturally pull away from the sides and bottom as it cools while inverted. You should be able to easily loosen and slide it out after running a sharp knife around the edge of the pan. Any leftovers can be stored at room temperature in an airtight container for up to two days. —Erin Jeanne McDowell
- Prep time 25 minutes
- Cook time 40 minutes
- makes one 9-inch cake
large egg whites
1 1/4 cups
1 1/2 teaspoons
cream of tartar
lemon zest (about one large lemon)
1 1/2 teaspoons
cake flour, sifted
Whipped cream and berries, for serving
- Preheat the oven to 350º F. Clean the bowl and whisk of an electric stand mixer or a large glass bowl and the beaters of a hand mixer with white vinegar, and wipe dry.
- Place the egg whites and water in the prepared bowl and whip on low speed until foamy, 1 to 2 minutes. In a small bowl, whisk the sugar, salt, and cream of tartar to combine.
- Raise the speed to medium, and begin to add the sugar mixture gradually, whipping to medium peaks. With such a large amount of egg whites, this may take longer than you think, 8 to 10 minutes. Do not over-whip—the egg whites should look soft and smooth, not clumpy or dry.
- Add the lemon zest and vanilla extract, and beat until just combined.
- Add about a third of the flour, and fold to combine. This fold can be slightly more vigorous, as you’re “tempering” the batter.
- Add the remaining flour in 2 to 3 additions, folding very gently to incorporate. Make sure there are no “pockets” of flour.
- Pour the batter into an ungreased tube pan and smooth gently with a small offset spatula, since the batter won't have enough weight to even out on its own in the oven like many cake batters do.
- Bake until the top is golden brown and the structure is set, 35 to 40 minutes. When the cake is done, it will spring back lightly when touched.
- Invert the cake onto a cooling rack, and cool completely.
- When the cake has cooled, turn it back upright, run a sharp knife gently around the cake to loosen it. Do the same for the tube in the center. Turn the cake over again, and it should release onto the cooling rack.
- Serve with fresh berries and lots of whipped cream.