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Angel Food Cake

By Catherine S. Vodrey, free-lance food writer

Aside from the fact that this recipe makes, hands down, the BEST angel food cake in the world, I chose it for the "Best of 2000" because it's thought that angel food cake is of Pennsylvania Dutch origin. The name came about because the cake is light and airy enough to be the dessert of choice for angels.

Recipes for angel food cake were first recorded in America in the 1870s. Angel food cake has not a single speck of fat, which is why the sugar content in most recipes is so high -- sugar is needed both for its tenderizing properties AND to help keep the egg whites lofty and structurally sound.

This superb recipe comes from "The Best Recipe," a cookbook recently published by the editors of Cook's Illustrated magazine. It is snowy white and tender, without being overly sweet like so many angel food cakes are.

The crust is subtly reminiscent of almond macaroons in both taste and texture. Angel food cake is best served the same day it's made, but if you have leftovers, it is delicious the next day for breakfast -- lightly toast it and serve warm.

Angel Food Cake

1 cup sifted cake flour
1 1/2 cups sifted sugar, divided
1 1/2 cups (about 12 large) egg whites
1 teaspoon cream of tartar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1 1/2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon almond extract

Adjust the oven rack to the lower-middle position and preheat the oven to325 degrees. Have ready an ungreased large tube pan (9-inch diameter and 16-cup capacity), preferably with a removable bottom. If pan bottom is not removable, you must line it with parchment or waxed paper, but DO NOT GREASE or the batter won't be able to climb the sides of the pan and you will have a very flat angel food cake.

Whisk together the flour and half the sugar in a small bowl. Place the remaining sugar in another small bowl near the mixer.

Beat the egg whites with an electric mixer at medium-low speed until just broken up and beginning to froth. Add cream of tartar and salt and beat at medium speed until whites form very soft, billowy mounds, 2 to 3 minutes.

With the mixer still at medium speed, beat in half the sugar, about 1 tablespoon at a time, until all the sugar is added and the whites are shiny and form soft peaks, another 2 to 3 minutes.

Add vanilla extract, lemon juice and almond extract and beat for about 30 seconds at highest speed.

Resift the flour/sugar mixture and spoon it over the egg whites, about 3 tablespoons at a time, folding in gently with a large spatula.

Gently scrape batter into pan, smooth top with spatula, and give the pan a couple of gentle raps on the counter to release any large air bubbles in the batter.

Bake on lower-middle rack at 325 degrees for 50 to 60 minutes, until cake is golden brown and top springs back when pressed firmly.

If cake pan has feet, invert pan onto them. If not, invert tube of pan over neck of bottle (or two stacked wire cookie cooling racks) so air can circulate all around it. Allow cake to cool completely for 2 to 3 hours.

To unmold, run a thin serrated knife around the edges, being careful to dislodge as little of the crust as possible. Pull cake out of pan and use the same technique on the bottom, or peel off parchment or waxed paper if using. Place cake, bottom side up, on a platter. Cut slices by sawing gently with a serrated knife. Serves 10 to 12.

Thursday, January 04, 2001

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