My friend Naomi always serves excellent desserts. One night after dinner, much to the delight of her guests -- myself included -- she produced a gorgeous chocolate layer cake. But it was the unusual-looking instrument she subsequently wielded that really caught my attention. It looked like a large steel comb with about twenty long, sharp tines and a silver handle. When I asked about it, she said it was a "cake breaker," designed specifically for angel food cake; the comb doesn't compromise the delicate, airy texture of angel food the way a regular knife can, although it does leave even vertical streaks running throughout each slice of cake, kind of like a rake in sand. Naomi explained that although the slicer is meant for angel food, she finds that it works well for any sort of cake.
Then, at my bridal shower, Naomi gave me a cake breaker of my very own! Not only that, but mine has a fabulous kelly green Bakelite handle. (She found it on eBay, clever girl.) Inspired by my new cake breaker, I remembered one of my favorite recipes for angel food, from The Joy of Cooking (adapted below), with a simple toffee-laced whipped cream icing my mother used to make. —Merrill Stubbs
For the cake
sifted cake flour
1 1/3 cups
1 1/2 cups
egg whites (from about a dozen large eggs)
Heat the oven to 350 degrees. Sift together the cake flour, 2/3 cup sugar and the salt. Repeat.
In the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with a whisk attachment, beat the egg whites with 1 tablespoon cold water, the lemon juice, cream of tartar and vanilla on low speed for one minute. Increase the mixer speed to medium and beat until the whites just hold very soft peaks, one to three minutes. Gradually beat in the remaining 2/3 cup sugar, one tablespoon at a time, on medium speed. At this point, you should have soft, glossy peaks -- do not beat until completely stiff.
Gently fold the dry ingredients into the whites in small increments (about an eighth at a time), making sure there are no streaks of flour at the end, but being careful not to over-mix. Pour the batter into an ungreased tube pan and gently spread to level the batter. Bake for 35 to 40 minutes, until a toothpick or cake tester inserted into the middle of the cake comes out clean. Let the cake cool upside down in the pan (set on a bottle or suspended over 4 glasses) for an hour and half or so. Slide a thin, sharp knife around the edges of the pan to loosen the cake and unmold onto a rack. Invert the cake and cool completely.
To make the icing, whip the cream with the sugar until it forms soft peaks and fold in the chopped toffee. Ice the cake and refrigerate until read to serve.