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Mom’s Favorite 0

Posted on April 30, 2012 by Sahar

Angel Food Cake has always reminded me of my Mom.  Why?  Because it’s her favorite.  Because it’s something that makes her happy. Because it’s something seemingly delicate yet strong.

Her mother made it for her birthday every year with chocolate sauce.  If I happen to be with  Mom on her birthday, I always make Angel Food Cake.

I also like it because it’s delicious.  It tastes a little like toasted marshmallows to me.


Some food historians believe that the Angel Food Cakes were likely baked by African-American slaves in the early to mid 19th Century, since making this cake required a strong beating arm and lots of labor to whip the air into the whites.  Angel Food Cakes are also a traditional African-American favorite at post-funeral meals.

In “Mrs. Porter’s New Southern Cookery Book, and Companion for Frugal and Economical“, published in 1871, has a recipe for “Snow-Drift Cake”. A similar recipe appears in 1881 in a book by Abby Fisher, the first Black American woman and a former slave from Mobile, Alabama, who recorded her recipes in a cookbook called “What Mrs. Fisher Knows About Old Southern Cooking, Soups, Pickles, Preserves, Etc.”. Her book has a cake recipe named “Silver Cake”.

The Original Boston Cooking School Cook Book” by Mrs.D.A. Lincoln published in 1884 had a recipe for “Angel Cake” mentioning the name for the first time. In Fannie Merritt Farmer’s 1896 updated version of the “Boston Cooking School Cook Book“, she uses the same recipe and calls the cake “Angel Food Cake.”

(some historical information from Wikipedia)


There is the school of thought that Angel Food Cake was so named because of it’s lighter color and texture.  It is suitable for the Angels to eat.  On the other hand, it’s slightly more decadent counterpart, Devil’s Food Cake, is darker, richer, and is considered more sinful. Exactly what the Devil would eat.

It reminds me of Muhammad Ali’s statement, ” Angel food cake is the white cake, but the devils food cake is chocolate. When are we going to wake up as a people and end the lie that white is better than black?”

I just had to add that.  It’s always stuck with me.


Once again, now to the recipe:

Now, to be honest, an Angel Food Cake isn’t for the cake-making novice.  There are so many things that could, can, and will go wrong if you don’t have the confidence and expertise when you bake.

Hell, things could still go wrong even if you do have plenty of baking experience.  I can tell you that with all sincerity.


Angel Food Cake Ingredients


1/2 c. 10x, or Confectioners, sugar

1 c. Pastry Flour (I admittedly use bleached in this recipe.  Just this recipe)

10 ea. Egg Whites (be sure they’re room temperature)

1/2 tsp. Cream of Tartar

2 tsp. Vanilla or Almond Extract (be sure to get pure extract, not imitation flavoring)

1 c. Granulated Sugar


1.  Preheat the oven to 350F.

2.  Sift together the 10x sugar and the pastry flour.  Set aside.

The sifted 10x sugar & pastry flour


When you measure out the pastry flour and 10x sugar, be sure to use the scoop & sweep method of measuring (see “Baking the Perfect Biscuit”, 12/18/11).  Otherwise, your cake runs the risk of having too much dry ingredient weight and you’ll deflate the whites and end up with a heavy cake that won’t rise.

2.  In a large mixer bowl, pour in the egg whites.

The 3-Bowl method of separating eggs.


There is a kind of art to separating eggs.  When you want egg whites, that’s all you want, egg whites.  Any additional fat (i.e. yolks) in the whites will keep them from potentially reaching full volume. Hence the 3-bowl method for separating egg whites.

You break the egg into one bowl.  If the yolk isn’t broken, you carefully lift it out of the bowl  and place it in the second bowl.  Then you pour the white into the third bowl.  If the yolk breaks, you pour the whole egg in with the yolks.  If there is any yolk left in the first bowl, wash it out or get a clean bowl.

By using this method, you’ll always have pure egg whites ready for your cake.

Cover the yolks and use them for something else.  Like a very rich omelet or lemon curd.


3.  The next thing you want are for your egg whites to be at room temperature.  This allows for the proteins in the whites to relax and allow the strands to be broken so they will incorporate more air as you whip them.

Add the whip attachment to your mixer (or break out your hand mixer).  Add the cream of tartar to the whites (this helps with the stabilization of the whites as you whip them).  Begin beating the whites at medium-high speed until they form soft peaks. Add the extract.

Just starting to whip the egg whites.


Frothy stage.


Almost to soft peak stage. Notice how the whites are becoming shinier and the bubbles are getting smaller.


Egg whites at soft peak stage. When you pull the whisk or beaters out of the whites, there will be a distinct peak, but it will bend a bit. And the egg whites are still soft.


4.  Continue whisking the whites until they form stiff peaks.

Egg whites beaten to stiff peaks. The whites will have a bit of a shine and the peaks will stand straight when you pull the whisk or beaters out. The whites will also feel almost heavy.


When you get to still peak stage, you want to be sure not to over beat the whites.  If you do that, the whites will begin to separate.  The whites will dry and the liquid will seep out.  There is no saving it.  You have to start over if this happens.


5.  Lower the speed of the mixer to low and slowly pour in the granulated sugar.  You don’t want to put all the sugar in at once because you want to give the whites a chance to dissolve the sugar and mix in more evenly.

Incorporating the sugar.


Raise the speed again to medium-high and continue beating the whites until they become stiff and shiny.  Again, take care not to over beat.

The beaten, sweetened egg whites. Just lovely.


6.  Carefully turn the whites out into a large, shallow bowl.

The egg whites in the bowl. You have to be careful when transferring because you don't want to deflate the whites.


Sift the reserved flour and 10x sugar mixture in 1/3rd’s over the whites and fold the dry ingredients into the whites.

Folding is a method of mixing that is much more gentle (if done properly) that will keep the deflation of the whites to a minimum.  Because the millions of air bubbles in the whites are what make the cake rise (hot air rises), you want to deflate them as little as possible.



Folding: Step 1


To fold the dry ingredients into the whites, Step 1:  Take a rubber spatula and put it into the center of the whites.

Folding: Step 2


Step 2: Slide the spatula underneath the whites and begin to bring it up the side.


Folding: Step 3


Step 3: Bring the spatula up over the tops of the whites and fold the whites back down into the center.  Turn the bowl a 1/4 turn and repeat until you have all of the dry ingredients incorporated.  Try not to over mix. Be as gentle as possible.



After the dry ingredient have been folded into the whites.


7.  Carefully move the batter into an ungreased Angel Food Cake Pan:

2 pieces of an Angel Food Cake pan: The Bowl and Chimney/Base.


The pan together. The chimney is to help with more even baking of the cake. This cake pan belonged to my Great Aunt Arlene.


There are two main reasons you don’t want to grease the pan: a) because you don’t want any fat to impede the rising of the whites; and b) the whites will use the dry pan to hold on to and even use it to climb up the sides of the pan during baking.


The cake ready for the oven


8.  Bake the cake for 35 minutes, or until the cake springs back when touched on top.

Cake fresh from the oven. The top will have a slightly crispy texture.


9.  As soon as possible after the cake is taken from the oven, invert the cake pan onto a narrow-necked bottle (a wine bottle is perfect).  This will help keep the deflation of the cake to a minimum (by keeping it it from collapsing under it’s own weight).  There will be some deflation as the cake cools no matter what because as the air in the cake cools, the lighter hot air dissipates and the heavier cool air takes its place.


Cooling the cake over a rather nice merlot.


Leave the cake in this position until it is completely cooled.


10.  When the cake is completely cooled, run a knife around the outer edge of the cake to help release it from the bowl of the pan.  Pull, carefully, on the chimney and pull the cake out.



At this point, you can do one of two things to finish releasing the cake: a) Run a knife around the chimney and around the base to release the cake; or, do what I do, and, b) simply run a knife around the center and cut pieces off as needed.  Then I store the uncut cake in the pan and cover it.

Wish Mom was here right now.


Sorry about the lighting. My bulbs seem to be a little yellow.  I swear the cake is white.

This cake, by the way, is excellent with chocolate sauce and strawberries.  Mmm…











Happiness is Cake! 0

Posted on March 04, 2012 by Sahar

Cake.  The very word softens even the most sour of dispositions.   Cake is a constant in our lives.  We eat it for celebrations, holidays, and for after dinner dessert.  It’s the treat we give ourselves when we reach a goal in life.  It just makes us happy.

During Antiquity, the first known cakes were more bread-like and sweetened with honey, nuts, and dried fruits.  According to food historians, the ancient Egyptians were the first people to show evidence of advanced baking skills. The round cakes we know today descended from these ancient cakes. Breads and cakes were made by hand and typically shaped into round balls and baked on hearthstones or in low shallow pans. The dough naturally relaxed into rounded shapes.

Ancient breads and cakes were usually used in religious rites. They were formed into special shapes, according to the ceremony. The rounded shape typically symbolized the cyclical nature of the seasons, life, the sun & moon.

The English word cake can be traced back to the 13th century. The word cake comes form ‘kaka‘, an Old Norse word. (Norsemen [Vikings] were rather frequent, if unwelcome, guests to Brittania from the 8th through 11th Centuries.  They took a lot, but the left a lot behind as well.  Language and food being two of those things.) Medieval European bakers made fruitcakes and gingerbread that could last for many months.  A necessity due to the lack of refrigeration and the purely seasonal nature of cooking and available ingredients.

The precursors of modern cakes (round ones with icing) were first baked in Europe during the 17th Century. This primarily due to better & more reliable ovens and ingredients, such as white sugar and spices, were easier to obtain (at least for the upper classes). At that time cake hoops–round molds for shaping cakes that were placed on flat baking trays–were popular. They could be made of metal, wood or paper.  As time progressed, baking pans in various shapes and sizes, became readily available to the general public.

The term “icing the cake” comes from the first icing recipes. These were usually made with the finest available sugar, egg whites and flavorings that were boiled together. The icing was poured over the cake then returned to the oven. When the cake was removed from the oven, the icing cooled quickly to form a hard, glossy (ice-like) covering. Many cakes made then still contained dried fruits (raisins, currants, citrons). It was not until the Victorian era that the cake as we now know it (made with white flour and baking powder instead of yeast) became popular.

(Some historical information from

Commercial cake mixes have been around in one form or another since the 1920’s.  But, they reached the height of popularity in the 1950’s when quick & instant foods became popular with housewives.  Cake mixes are easy, mostly foolproof, and inexpensive.

However, there’s really nothing like making a cake from scratch.  If you simply follow a few guidelines, there’s nothing that can stop you from making a delicious show-stopper.

To begin with, you must use quality ingredients.  If your ingredients aren’t quality, all your work will be for nothing.

Flour: For cakes, cake flour is best.  It’s what’s called a “soft wheat” flour that has a low gluten content (about 8%).  Using cake flour creates a much lighter, moist cake.  It is generally available in 2-pound boxes and comes in both bleached (i.e. Swan’s Down) and unbleached (i.e. King Arthur).  Because cake flour has a tendency to clump during storage, you must always sift it before using it in a recipe.

I prefer to use unbleached because, well, it hasn’t been treated with bleach.

You can use all-purpose flour in a cake recipe, but because it is a heavier flour, your final cake may not be as moist.  If you must use all-purpose flour, one trick to making the cake lighter is to sift the flour 3 times and then use the scoop & sweep method to measure it (see recipe).

 Butter: Unless a recipe specifies otherwise, always use unsalted butter.  If you can, use European or European-style butter.  Commercially available American butters must have a minimum of 80% butterfat, while European and American made European-style butters have a minimum of 88% butterfat.  The amount of butterfat does make a difference.  It results in a richer, more flavorful cake.

Do not substitute margarine or light butter in a cake recipe.  Margarine can be unreliable in a recipe and is completely lacking in flavor.  Because it’s not a natural product, it is in many ways, less healthy than butter.  Light butter contains only about 50% butterfat, with the rest made up with moisture, gums, stabilizers, and emulsifiers.  It is not recommended for cooking or baking.

Eggs:  Unless a recipe specifies otherwise, the eggs called for are always going to be large eggs.  A large egg is exactly ¼-cup.   And, like with any ingredient, fresher is better.  Check the expiration date on the carton.  It makes no difference whether you use white or brown eggs.

Salt:  I generally use kosher or sea salt in my recipes.  They are minimally processed and have no additivesTable salt (i.e. Morton’s) has additives that help to keep it from clumping.  These additives can add a bitter flavor to what you’re cooking, however.  So, save table salt for the table.

Baking Powder:  Be sure it’s fresh.  (See my previous post on how to test baking powder.)

Extracts:  Always use pure extracts.  These are distilled from the essential flavors of vanilla beans, flowers, nuts, and coffee.  Artificial, or imitation, extracts are usually made with ingredients like petroleum and coal tar.  Not very appetizing.  Plus, imitation extracts have a fake approximation of the flavor you’re trying to enhance in your baked goods and can potentially ruin the flavor of your recipe.


A Few Cake Troubleshooting Tips:

1.  Be sure all your ingredients are at room temperature.  This will help your cake batter blend into a more even mixture.  However, when it comes to butter, do not use melted unless specified in a recipe.  Melted butter separates and can make your cake greasy.

2.  When you cream together the butter and sugar, be sure that it becomes a light, fluffy mixture.  The added air helps to make the cake lighter, and produces a less dense cake.

3.  Be sure that the eggs are added one at a time and the batter is thoroughly blended after each egg.  Otherwise, your cake will be dense and flat.

4.  Be sure you use the correct size pan for your recipe.  Too much batter in the pan, the outsides of the cake overcook before the middle is done.  Too little batter, your cake can overcook and have a crispy crust.

5.  Make sure you adjust your oven temperature so your cake will cook evenly and thoroughly.  *Remember, oven temperatures in recipes are for the ovens used to test the recipe.  Everyone’s ovens cook differently.  You know whether your oven cooks hot or cold.

6.  If you have more than one cake pan in the oven at a time, be sure the pans are not too close together.  Otherwise, they will bake unevenly because there’s not enough hot air circulating around the pans.

7.  If your oven cooks unevenly, and most ovens do, about half way through the baking time, rotate the baking pans, and/or, if you have more than one pan, switch racks.

8.  Always let the cake cool completely before adding any frosting or decoration.


(Some of the above information comes from In The Sweet Kitchen by Regan Daley)


Now, on to the recipe.

In this cake recipe, I have a rather unusual ingredient, coconut milk.  Since this is a coconut cake, I wanted to take the flavor to the next level, so to speak.  Since coconut milk is heavier, viscosity-wise, than whole (sweet) milk, this does result in a slightly denser cake.

Coconut Cake

The Ingredients


2 c. cake flour (preferably unbleached – it can be found everywhere now)

1 tbsp. baking powder

½ tsp. salt (use sea or kosher salt, not table salt)

3 eggs

½ c. butter, softened (unsalted., please If you can use European style butter, even better)

1 ½ tsp. coconut or vanilla extract (use pure extract, not imitation)

1 ½ c. unsweetened coconut milk (not coconut water or Coco Lopez)



3 c. sweetened flake coconut (if you want a little less sugar, use unsweetened flake coconut)

8 oz. cream cheese, softened (do not use low- or non-fat, please)

2 tbsp. butter, softened (see above)

1 c. powdered sugar, sifted

1 tbsp. unsweetened coconut milk (see above)

1 tsp. coconut or vanilla extract (again, see above)



Make the Cake:

1.  Preheat the oven to 350F.  Grease and flour either 2 9-inch round cake pans or 1 12 x 18-inch baking pan.  Set aside.


The prepared pan. I opted for a single layer cake because it's easier.


Note: My Preferred way to measure the flour for cake is to pour some flour (not necessarily measured) into a bowl.  I aerate the flour and then scoop the flour into a dry measure (looks like a scoop or dipper).  Do not tap the measuring cup to pack the flour. This will make a heavy, dry cake. Once I have filled the cup with flour, I simply sweep the excess off the top.

Scooping the aerated flour into the dry measuring cup.


When scooping the flour into the cup, do not pack it down. If you do, it will result in a heavy, dry cake.


After measuring the flour, simply sweep off the excess flour. Do not tap or shake the cup to pack it down.


2.  Sift together the flour, baking powder, and salt.  Set aside.

3. In a large bowl or mixer bowl, beat together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy.

Butter and sugar creamed together.


4. Add the eggs to the butter & sugar, one at a time, mixing thoroughly after each one. (The best way to accomplish this is to break the eggs, one at a time, into a small bowl and then pouring the egg into the butter & sugar.  This will prevent the risk of dropping eggshells into the batter.)

After the eggs have been added to the butter and sugar.


5. Add the flour mixture and coconut milk, alternating between each addition, to the butter mixture.  (Alternating the wet & dry ingredients makes a more thoroughly mixed batter.) Be sure to scrape down the sides of the bowl often.

The finished batter.


6.  Pour the batter into the prepared pan(s).

Batter in the prepared pan. Be sure it is evenly distributed.


Bake the cake for 30 – 35 minutes or until a tester inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean.  Let the cake cool in the pan(s) for 10 minutes, then turn the cake out onto a rack and let it (them) cool completely before frosting.

The finished cake. The holes in the top are where I tested it for doneness.


7. Make the Frosting: In the same 350F oven, toast the coconut in the oven on a large sheet pan until it is golden brown, about 10-12 minutes.  Stir every 2 – 3 minutes to be sure the coconut browns evenly.  Remove the coconut from the oven and immediately take it off the sheet pan and place it on a cool surface.

Mmm... Toasted coconut.

8.  In a mixer bowl, beat together the butter and cream cheese until smooth and creamy.  Mix in the powdered sugar, coconut milk, and extract.  Mix well.

Finished frosting right before the coconut is added.


Stir in 2 cups of the toasted coconut.

 9.     Spread the coconut frosting on the cooled cake. Take the remaining 1 cup of toasted coconut and press it into the top and sides of the cake.

The final, frosted cake. I put the cooled cake back into the same baking dish.


Cake, Anyone?


By the way, this cake would be excellent with some tropical fruit salad on the side or some chocolate drizzled over the top.  Or, just eat it as is.





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