Lemon Juice

Effortless Angel's Food Cake

July 29, 2017
5 Ratings
Photo by Julia Gartland
  • Makes one 10-inch cake; 10 to 12 servings
Author Notes

This is probably the easiest meringue you’ll ever make. Just put some cold egg whites and sugar in a bowl, start whipping, and then stop before they’re stiff. With a squeeze of lemon for stability, this seemingly underwhipped meringue puffs the angel’s food until it’s as light as cotton candy. The lemon disappears in the oven, leaving behind a soft, tender vanilla cake.

Aside from my unusual treatment of the meringue, the success of this angel’s food hinges on bleached cake flour. It has a super-low protein content that can’t be faked with cornstarch or replaced by pastry flour. Look for brands like Swans Down or Softasilk in the baking aisle, and avoid anything marked self-rising or unbleached.

Because this recipe may present a couple of new techniques for the uninitiated, give yourself room to learn. Like a kiss, angel’s food only gets better with experience. That’s not to say your first time won’t be deliciously sweet, only that half the fun is in perfecting your technique.

Excerpt from BraveTart: Iconic American Desserts by Stella Parks. Copyright © 2017 by Stella Parks. Reprinted with permission of W.W. Norton & Company, Inc. All rights reserved. —Stella Parks

What You'll Need
  • 1 cup plus 2 tablespoons (5 ounces) bleached caked flour, such as Swans Down
  • 2 cups (15 ounces) egg whites (from a dozen large eggs), straight from the fridge
  • 2 cups (15 ounces) sugar
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
  • 2 tablespoons (1 ounce) freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • 1/4 teaspoon Diamond Crystal kosher salt (half as much if iodized)
  1. Key Point: The unique behavior of bleached cake flour is vital to this recipe’s success; unbleached cake flour will cause the angel’s food cake to collapse.
  2. Adjust oven rack to middle position and preheat to 350°F . Have ready an aluminum tube pan with a removable bottom, roughly 10 inches across and 4 inches deep. Nonstick pans will not work. If the pan doesn’t have stilts, set out a bottle with a slender neck that will fit into the mouth of the tube.
  3. Sift flour (if using a cup measure, spoon into the cup and level with a knife before sifting).
  4. Make the cake: Combine egg whites, sugar, and vanilla in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment. Mix on low speed to moisten, about 1 minute, then increase to medium-low (4 on a KitchenAid) and whip for 3 minutes; the whites will look very dense, and dark from the vanilla. Add the lemon juice and salt, increase speed to medium (6 on a KitchenAid), and whip for 3 minutes; the meringue will be light but thin, not foamy. Increase to medium-high (8 on a KitchenAid), and continue whipping until the wires leave a distinct vortex pattern in the thick, glossy meringue, another 3 minutes or so, depending on the freshness of the whites. To check the meringue, detach the whisk; when whipped to very soft peaks, the meringue will run off the wires but retain enough body to pile up on itself in a soft mound.
  5. Sprinkle cake flour over the meringue and stir gently with a flexible spatula to disperse. Switch to a folding motion and work from the bottom up, cutting through the middle, until no pockets of flour remain. Pour the batter into the pan; if you notice a small patch of unmixed flour as you pour, incorporate it into the surrounding batter with a gentle wiggle of your spatula. The pan should be about two-thirds full.
  6. Bake until the cake has risen well above the rim of the pan, with a firm, golden blonde crust, about 45 minutes (206° F). Immediately invert the pan on its stilts, or over the neck of the bottle, and cool upside down until no trace of warmth remains, at least 2 hours.
  7. Serve: Turn the cooled cake right side up and loosen the outer edges with a metal spatula. Lift the center tube to remove the cake, then loosen it from the bottom too. Invert onto a serving plate; the cake will slide right off the tube. With a chef’s knife or serrated bread knife, cut into 10 or 12 servings with a gentle sawing motion, applying very little downward pressure. Angel’s food is mostly air, so the big slices will be less filling than they look.
  8. Wrapped tightly in plastic, leftovers will keep for up to a week at room temperature. You can also drop thin slices of angel’s food into a toaster to crisp like a campfire marshmallow.
  9. Troubleshooting:

    - If a speck of yolk slips into the whites, fish it out with an eggshell. If the yolk can’t be removed, save those whites for Tahitian Vanilla Pudding or White Mountain Layer Cake and start fresh.

    - Extracts like peppermint and orange, made from essential oils, may cause the meringue to collapse; take care when experimenting with flavorings.

    - In a kitchen below 68° F, cold air may cause the cake to contract and fall from the pan before its crumb has set. As a workaround, open the oven door and place the inverted cake on the stovetop, where drafts of warm air will stabilize its temperature.

    - Through trial and error, I’ve discovered that the highly polished sides of stainless steel angel’s food cake pans may cause the cake to fall from the pan as it cools. For best results, use an untreated aluminum tube pan.
  10. Mix it up!

    - Brown Sugar Cinnamon: A cozy flavor for fall, or to end a heavy holiday meal. Sift the cake flour with 4 teaspoons ground cinnamon, and replace the sugar with an equal amount of light brown sugar (dark will not work as well).

    - Chocolate: However angelic its texture, this variation turns out as dark as devil’s food. Reduce the cake flour to 3 ounces (2/3 cup), sifted with 2 ounces (2/3 cup) Dutch-process cocoa powder, such as Cacao Barry Extra Brute. After cooling the cake, use a slender knife or bamboo skewer to loosen it from the center tube too, as this version tends to stick.

    - Creamsicle: Pulse the cake flour with 2 tablespoons orange zest in a food processor for 1 minute. Replace the vanilla extract with 2 teaspoons orange flower water and the seeds from 1 Tahitian vanilla bean (split and scraped). Trade the lemon juice for 11/2 ounces (3 tablespoons) freshly squeezed orange juice.

    - Green Tea: The sweetness of angel’s food mellows the bitterness of Japanese matcha, for a mossy-green cake with an earthy but aromatic flavor. Sift the cake flour with 2 tablespoons matcha. I love to serve slices alongside Whipped Chocolate Crémeux with a scattering of Cocoa Nib Crunch.

    - Lemonade: Grinding lemon zest into the flour helps release its essential oil, making this variation particularly aromatic. Pulse the cake flour with 2 tablespoons lemon zest in a food processor for about 1 minute. Omit the vanilla extract and salt. Increase the lemon juice to 11/2 ounces (3 tablespoons). Also lovely with lime juice and zest instead.

    - Roasted Sugar and Vanilla Bean: This is, without a doubt, my favorite way to make Angel’s Food. It’s not my “basic” recipe, because the process of roasting sugar is time-consuming, and not everyone keeps a vanilla bean on hand, but these two upgrades make the cake even more extraordinary. Replace the sugar with 15 ounces (2 cups) Roasted Sugar. Along with the vanilla extract, use the seeds from 1 Mexican vanilla bean, split and scraped.

    - Gluten-Free: Sift 2 ounces (1/2 cup) arrowroot, 11/2 ounces (1/3 cup) white rice flour, 11/2 ounces (1/3 cup) cornstarch, 1 ounce (1/4 cup) coconut flour, and 1 teaspoon baking powder into a medium bowl, then whisk to combine.

See what other Food52ers are saying.

  • Kathleen
  • Bonnie
  • Paige Inglis
    Paige Inglis
  • Picholine
  • miamineymo

15 Reviews

Kathleen April 4, 2021
I made the cake per the recipe and it turned out lovely. I did find it to be much too sweet for my taste. I plan to remake it today with less sugar and hope that change will not affect the final product. More to come!
Bonnie March 13, 2021
What a delicious cake! And easy as promised. I too look thru the oven windows about 10 mins before time was up and it had risen slightly above the rim and was getting a beautiful golden crust. At the end of baking time, I took it out but it was already collapsing back into the pan. Wondering what might have caused this. I’m wondering if I may have whipped the mixture too long. I definitely had a pan that was more than 2/3 full before baking.
Paige I. June 15, 2020
Made this cake yesterday and it turned out beautifully. So fluffy and marshmallowy. I used self-raising cake and pastry flour because that was what I had, and worked just fine, just didn't add the salt. Served it with fresh, local strawberries and whipped cream and it was a delight!
Laura K. July 15, 2019
Frowny face: cake fell out of the pan 2 minutes after coming out of the oven as I was hanging it upside down. I have a regular aluminum pan (not nonstick). And I was making it for my son's birthday today! But also, I've tasted the cake from the chunks, and it leaves a cloyingly sweet taste in my mouth. Weighed all ingredients, appreciated the technique, and it baked up gorgeously.
Picholine June 4, 2019
Could you use the egg white from a refrigerated carton?
Jr0717 May 31, 2019
Can angel food cakes be baked in pans other than tube pans, like a spring form pan?
Rachael October 6, 2018
Hi, just to confirm: preheat the oven at 350 F then down to 206 F when putting the cake to bake. appreciate your confirmation. Thanks
Stella P. October 6, 2018
No, not at all! The oven should remain at 350F for the duration of the bake. 206 is the internal temperature the cake itself will reach when properly baked, and can be gauged with a digital thermometer.
Ardyth E. September 4, 2017
The cake just came out of the oven. It's beautiful and smells even better. Two prep notes: it took 16 extra large eggs to produce two cups of whites. And, be sure to use an instant read thermometer to test the doneness. A pick came out clean when the temperature was only 195 degrees instead of 206. I left the cake in the oven until I got the right temperatur.
miamineymo August 24, 2017
I went and bought the right pan, since mine was nonstick. Made a version with roasted sugar and vanilla bean. Total hit–everybody loved it!
Sipa August 10, 2017
Could you replace the traditional sugar in this recipe with toasted sugar to create a less sweet cake?
Sarah J. August 11, 2017
Yes! See the second to last variation (in the final step of the recipe).
Stella P. August 12, 2017
Toasted sugar is absolutely my favorite way to make angel food! I typically use a very light shade, just a 90 minute or 2 hour roast, so the overall profile of the cake stays pretty classic, but you can really change things up with a dark, 5 hour roasted sugar if you're craving a more pronounced caramel flavor.
Stephanie G. August 10, 2017
I love Stella!
I can't wait for my book to arrive!
Stella P. August 12, 2017
Hope you love it!