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
Test Kitchen Notes
Bake It Up a Notch is a column by Resident Baking BFF Erin Jeanne McDowell. Each month, she'll help take our baking game to the next level, teaching us all the need-to-know tips and techniques and pointing out all the mistakes to avoid along the way. —The Editors
- Prep time 25 minutes
- Cook time 40 minutes
- makes one 9-inch cake
large (425 g) egg whites
(30 g) water
(2 g) cream of tartar
1 1/4 cups
(250 g) granulated sugar
(2 g) fine salt
(4 g) lemon zest (about one large lemon)
1 1/2 teaspoons
(7 g) vanilla extract
(113 g) cake flour, sifted
Whipped cream and berries, for serving
- Preheat the oven to 350°F. Place an ungreased 10 inch tube pan on a baking sheet. 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 mixer bowl and whip on low speed until foamy, 1-2 minutes. In a small bowl, whisk the sugar, salt, and cream of tartar to combine.
- Raise the mixer speed to medium, and begin to add the sugar mixture gradually. Once it’s all incorporated, raise the speed to medium-high and whip to medium peaks, 8-10 minutes. The egg whites should look soft and smooth, not clumpy or dry - don’t overwhip.
- Add the vanilla extract and mix to combine. Remove the bowl from the mixer, and sprinkle about ⅓ of the flour over the egg whites. Fold this in to combine - this first addition can be mixed slightly more vigorously to help temper the batter.
- Add the remaining flour in 2-3 additions, folding gently to incorporate. Make sure there are no “pockets” of flour hiding in the batter.
- Pour the batter into the ungreased pan and smooth it gently into an even layer using an offset spatula (take a bit of care here - this cake won’t even out in the oven the way some butter/oil cakes do).
- Bake until the top is golden brown and the structure is set, 35-40 minutes. It should spring back gently when touched in the center.
- Invert the cake onto cooling rack and cool completely. To unmold, run an offset spatula around the outer edge and release the outer portion of the pan. Run the spatula around the base and carefully around the center tube, then gently unmold the cake from the tube. Serve with powdered sugar, or serve slices with whipped cream and berries.