Musings about Food & the Politics of Food.

TartQueen's Kitchen

Archive for the ‘leaveners’

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…











Baking Soda & Baking Powder. A Primer. 1

Posted on February 22, 2012 by Sahar

A friend asked me over the weekend if I knew the real difference between baking soda and baking powder.  I replied that it was a very good question.  I know that they both react with liquid, acid, and heat to cause whatever baked goods they’re in to rise.  I also know that if you use too much baking soda in a recipe, your food will taste like soap.

But beyond that, I must admit, I never gave the difference much thought.

Well, now I have and I’ll share the answers to this question.

As always, I have turned to one of my all-time favorite books on baking, In The Sweet Kitchen, by Regan Daley (Artisan Books, 2001).  If you don’t own this book and you enjoy or even simply interested in baking and making desserts, then, by all means,  buy a copy.  The first half of the book talks about method, ingredients, equipment, method, and technique.  The second half is all about recipes.  And they are wonderful.

All the following (paraphrased) information is from Ms. Daley’s book (pp. 194-7).

Baking Powder & Baking Soda


Baking powder and baking soda are what are known as “chemical leaveners”.  These are used when the recipe isn’t suitable for a natural leavener (i.e. yeast) or mechanical methods (i.e. creaming, beating or whipping).  Chemical leaveners (when fresh) also provide a much more reliable method of leavening.  Many recipes with chemical leaveners also use some form of mechanical leavening, to ensure a lighter, more tender result.

Baking Soda: Baking soda is commonly used as a leavener in baked goods such as cakes, quick breads, and cookies.  It has no leavening power on its own and must be activated by the presence of acid and liquid.  These elements together help the baking soda release carbon dioxide in the form of air bubbles which helps the baked goods to rise.

Acids with the power to activate baking soda include cream of tartar, buttermilk, yogurt or sour cream, molasses, dark brown sugar, maple syrup, citrus juices, or even non-alkalized cocoa powder (not Dutch-processed).  In some cases, although there is a moderately acidic ingredient in a recipe, it may not be acidic enough or a large enough quantity to provide the necessary leavening.  Honey, light brown sugar, and cocoa may sometimes fall into this category.  If this is the case, then baking powder is added to the recipe as well to provide the necessary leavening.

Baking soda releases carbon dioxide quickly once it is mixed with a liquid in the presence of an acid.  So, be sure that the baking soda is mixed thoroughly with the dry ingredients before the liquid is added, pour the batter into the prepared pan and bake immediately.  If too much time elapses, the carbon dioxide will dissipate and your recipe may not rise fully at all or not at all.

If you replace a non- or low- acid ingredient for an acidic ingredient in a recipe, you must replace introduce another acid (i.e. lemon juice or vinegar in sweet milk) or add baking powder to the recipe to achieve leavening.

A secondary function of baking soda is to neutralize acidic ingredients.  For this reason it is sometimes used in recipes with a high proportion if ingredients like buttermilk, lemon juice, or other sour flavors. If you replace sugar with a large amount of an acidic sweetener, such as honey, molasses, or barley syrup, add an additional 1/2 teaspoon of baking soda to the recipe, even if it is the principal leavener.

The substitution ratio for baking soda to baking powder is 1:4.  This means, for every 1 teaspoon of baking soda substituted, you use 4 teaspoons baking powder.  However, baking powder will not neutralize the acidic flavor of some ingredients.  So, the final product may taste more acidic than you like.

Baking soda will last 9 to 12 months when properly stored in a cool, dry place and in an airtight container (especially if you’re going to use it for baking).  To test the potency of baking soda, combine equal quantities of soda and vinegar.  If it bubbles vigorously, it’s good.

Be sure not to use the baking soda you use to neutralize the odors in your refrigerator or freezer.  Since baking soda absorbs odors, it could be a rather rude surprise.

Testing the baking soda. Equal parts baking soda & lemon juice


Baking Powder:  Baking powder was originally a mix of baking soda (sodium bicarbonate), a moisture absorbing starch (usually cornstarch),  and tartaric acid (cream of tartar).  When introduced to liquid, the mixture releases carbon dioxide that produces air bubbles which leaven your baked goods.  However this mixture, called “single action” baking powder, releases its carbon dioxide as soon as it is mixed with liquid.  Unless you move quickly, the baking powder will lose its potency and your recipe won’t rise properly or at all.

Almost all commercially available baking powder now is called “double acting”.  This means that the baking powder reacts both with liquid and the heat of the oven. This type of baking powder gives the baker a little more time without compromising the finished product.  However, it is still best to get the recipe in the oven as quickly as possible.

The tartaric acid in the original baking powder has been replaced with two different acid salts; most commonly monocalcium phosphate and sodium aluminum sulphate.  However, adding aluminum to baking soda is controversial.  it is best thought to be avoided as a foodstuff and some people feel that recipes that use large amounts of baking powder, like biscuits, can have a metallic taste.  Additionally, there are some who cannot tolerate any amount of sulphates.  Many bakers also feel commercial baking powders don’t produce as delicate a product.  You can find in some health-food and specialty stores aluminum-free (or non-alum) baking powder.  However, it tends to be expensive and doesn’t keep well.  But, many bakers prefer it.

Ms. Daley has a recipe for a make it yourself at home baking powder: for every teaspoon of baking powder called for in a recipe, combine 1/4 teaspoon baking soda, 1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar, and 1/2 teaspoon cornstarch.  Blend well and use immediately.  It loses potency with prolonged storage.


Ingredients for homemade baking powder. Many serious bakers prefer homemade baking powder to the commercial brands.

testing the homemade baking powder. Equal parts powder mix and warm water.


Baking powder, when stored properly, will last up to a year.  Keep it in a cool, dry place.  To test the potency of baking powder, place 1/2 teaspoon in a small amount of warm water.  If it fizzes and bubbles away, it’s good.

Testing the commercial baking powder. Equal parts baking powder and warm water.


Hope this helps.  Happy baking!


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