In a food processor or blender, pulse the sugar until fine and powdery. Remove 1 cup and set aside to use in step 3; keep the rest inside the food processor. Add the cake flour and salt to the food processor. Pulse 5-10 times until sugar/flour/salt mixture is aerated and light.
Mostly, I love baking. Yellow cake with chocolate frosting. Banana bread. Chocolate chip cookies, with and without hazelnuts. Peach pie. Blackberry tart. Cherry clafouti. Sourdough bread. Marmalade rolls. Buttermilk biscuits. During the pandemic, I even made my own English muffins.
But there is one thing I can’t really make anymore.
In a large bowl using a hand mixer or a stand mixer fitted with a whisk attachment, whip egg whites and cream of tartar together on medium-low until foamy, about 1 minute. Switch to medium-high and slowly add the 1 cup of sugar you set aside. Whip until soft peaks form, about 5-6 minutes. Add the vanilla extract, then beat just until incorporated. In 3 additions, slowly sift the flour mixture into the egg white mixture using a fine mesh strainer, gently folding with a rubber spatula after each addition. To avoid deflating or a dense cake, don’t add the flour mixture all at once.
I don’t particularly like angel food cake. The texture is weird. The flavor is not all that interesting. And it’s so persnickety. The slightest bit of extra dampness, a moderately hot kitchen, a subpar mixer – any or all of these can make the whites not whip up stiff enough or make the end product sticky, tacky, moisture beading up on the surface. Plus, it goes stale nearly overnight.
Sift and very slowly fold in several additions. This is important! Pour and spread batter into an ungreased 9 or 10 inch tube pan. Shimmy the pan on the counter to smooth down the surface.
The entire process is a pain in the butt, and then you’re left with all of these egg yolks! And for what? While I wouldn’t bat an eye at using a full dozen eggs for a good cause, somehow I am horrified at the idea of using a dozen egg whites and throwing away a dozen egg yolks. So instead, every time I’d make it, I would dutifully store a dozen egg yolks in my refrigerator, intending to maybe make lemon curd … and then I would inevitably throw out a dozen egg yolks a week or so later.
Bake the cake until a toothpick inserted comes out clean, about 40-45 minutes. Rotate the pan halfway through baking. The cake will rise up very tall while baking. Remove from the oven, then cool the cake completely upside-down set on a wire rack, about 3 hours. (Upside-down so the bottom of the tube pan is right-side up, see photo and video above.) Once cooled, run a thin knife around the edges and gently tap the pan on the counter until the cake releases.
I would only ever make it once a year, for my mom’s birthday, because it was her favorite cake. For her, I would do it. But, as it turns out, only for her. Without her to appreciate it, I just can’t muster up the initiative to do it.
Two years ago, on her first birthday since her death, I had it vaguely in my mind to make an angel food cake, but when the actual day came, we were evacuated to a house in rural Tennessee, having fled the aftermath of Hurricane Ida. The house was lovely, but they didn’t have a KitchenAid or a tube pan, and I didn’t really have the will to do it anyway.
Last year, I was at least in my own home with the required equipment, but I still couldn’t quite bring myself to do it.
If desired, dust with confectioners’ sugar. Slice the cake with a sharp serrated knife. Regular knives can easily squish the cake. Serve with whipped cream and fresh berries.
And this year, on her birthday, on Sunday, I was with my mother-in-law and her family in Amite, and once again, I had zero desire to separate eggs or try to rustle up a tube pan.
Instead, I made brownies, and served those with berries and ice cream.
It seemed like a fitting tribute, even if it was something of a compromise. We all thought about her. We all held her in our hearts. I don’t think I need to waste a dozen eggs and a few hours to remember her fondly.
Happy birthday, Mom. I hope wherever you are, you’re having some angel food cake with all the trimmings. And maybe one day, I can make it again.