Cooking Through Ratio: Doughs and Batters – Angel Food Cake
Is it weird that I pondered the ratio for making angel food cake while sealing a driveway at one of my parents’ rental properties? Is it strange that I thought about making it while driving home from work for a week, wondering if I would have time to make it each night and was frustrated when I didn’t? Why was this one ratio all-consuming? Why did I dread it so much? Perhaps it was because I actually found it difficult to buy cake flour since many of the food shops around me didn’t have any or were simply out of it. It could be the fact that I kept forgetting the cream of tartar when I shopped at the grocery store. I don’t remember ever eating angel food cake, or if I did, it was only a handful of times. Maybe that was it. The required cooling time at the end definitely was the main show stopper for my attempts, but all in all, perhaps all of these reasons combined were the source of my trepidation and constant thought.
Last night was the night. The stars were finally aligned and I was able get to work. This was a simple ratio of 3 parts egg, 3 parts sugar and 1 part flour. No butter, no yolks, just three white ingredients.
Ruhlman states that good mise en place is essential with cake making. I followed his advice by pre-heating the oven to 350 degrees F and setting out the ingredients: eggs, sugar, cake flour, salt, creme of tartar, lemon and vanilla extract.
I started off with separating the whites from the yolks and placing the whites in the mixing bowl. This in itself was good skill training. After cracking 10 eggs in a row and separating them, you get into a rhythm. The yolks were not discarded, but saved for another use. Perhaps crème anglaise later on this week given my experience from the weekend class I took with my mom.
Once separated, the mixing bowl was attached to the stand mixer along with the whisk attachment. The whites were beat at a medium speed for about a minute or two and then the cream of tartar, lemon juice, salt and vanilla were added. I learned that the cream of tartar and lemon juice, the acids and the salt would act as stabilizers for the egg whites.
The speed was increased to medium-high and as instructed, I waited for a foam to develop and then drizzled in half of the sugar. This was an additional stabilizer that would help with the foaming process.
Once the sugar was incorporated I waited for the egg whites to be beat enough that they would work themselves into a firmer foam which could hold a soft peak as Ruhlman writes. Thankfully this is 2009 and not 1909. The stand mixer did most of the work which took far longer thank I expected. I waited, and waited and waited some more, and when I thought the wait was nearly over, it continued until I stopped counting the minutes.
As I waited, I simultaneously measured out the flour and the other half the sugar in the food processor using my scale and pulsed a few times to combine and aerate. When the egg whites could cold a soft peak, the mixer was turned off and the mixing bowl was removed.
While using a spatula, I sprinkled the sugar and flour mixture over the meringue that had formed, gently folding it in. This was actually nerve-racking as I was worried that I would destroy the network of air bubbles that I had just spend an eternity on creating. This stage was noted as being the most crucial to the end product and deemed more important the the ratio itself.
I poured the batter into my newly acquired spring-form pan and placed it into the oven to bake for about 30 or 40 minutes.
It looked pretty nice coming out of the oven. It was finally done, or was it?
As instructed, I let it cook upside down over a baking rack for an hour and a half before removing. Once cooled, I set out to remove the cake from the pan. The book didn’t call for lubricating the pan with shortening, butter or anything like that and I wish it had. It was a struggle to remove the cake from the pan. This might be a crucial element of the cake itself as a greased side would not have allowed for sticking and perhaps resulted in a sunken cake. Experiment will yield an answer to that one.
For all the work and aggravation this cake caused me, the result lived up to its name. It was soft, sweet and perfect to eat alone. It was a nice cake to eat as this morning’s breakfast pastry, a change from denser muffins and scones that I usually eat. Each task in this series yields new knowledge and experience. I hope to continue seeing each challenge as an opportunity while keeping my frustration and worrying to a minimum.