Q: Why did my homemade angel food cake flop?
A: Oh, you're talking about my favorite dessert now! My mother would make at least five homemade angel food birthday cakes every year for each member of our family. I don't remember any of them "flopping" - but my son has not had as good of luck. I remember when my son wanted to make an angel food cake to enter in the 4-H division at the Douglas County Fair. The first one he made had an air space on the side of it so he tried it again. The second one fell out of the pan when it was cooling. Third time was a charm, right? Well, that one didn't have a very high volume. So ... he ended up entering the first one in the fair after all and got a purple ribbon on it.
So what causes angel food cakes to flop? There are several possibilities.
Angel food cakes contain no chemical leavening and very little flour. They are leavened by steam and air and are baked in ungreased tube pans. They are unique because they contain beaten egg whites for leavening and there is no fat used in the batter. Without the fat, there's no tenderizing effect on the batter and the gluten develops more easily, which can result in a gummy mixture. So it's important to use flour that's low in gluten. Therefore, it's best when it's made with cake flour or a combination of cake and pastry flours, because both types have less gluten-forming potential.
A low volume can result from baking at too low of a temperature, too short of cooking time, too little cream of tartar, or the egg whites are not beaten to a stiff peak.
An angel food cake may fall out of the pan for several reasons:
¢ A nonstick or greased tube pan may have been used. Be sure the pan is free of any grease. The cake needs to stick to the pan. These cakes must be fat-free.
¢ The cake may be underbaked. The oven could be at the wrong temperature or just not baked long enough.
¢ Be careful when handling the pan from the oven to invert for cooling. Do not press on the bottom of the two-piece pan which can dislodge the cake from the sides of the pan.
¢ The recipe could be out of balance. Too much sugar can make it too moist which can cause it to fall.
¢ The flour may not have been incorporated well enough into the foam.
To prevent the cake from having large air pockets or holes in it, cut through the cake batter several times.
Also, don't forget the cream of tartar. It is added to lower the pH and thus stabilize and whiten the foam and produce a finer-grained cake.
Here are some other problems that can occur in angel food cakes and their causes:
¢ Thick, hard crust: Too hot an oven or baked too long.
¢ Sticky crust: Too much sugar; ingredients not blended thoroughly; damp flour; or insufficiently baked.
¢ Tough crumb: Baking temperature too high or overmixed.
¢ Coarse crumb: Underbeaten egg; undermixed; or too hot an oven.
¢ Dry: Egg whites overbeaten; too much flour; too little sugar; overbaked; or too slow a baking temperature.
Here's my mom's Prize Angel Food Cake recipe that my son and I have both "baked to perfection" since he made it for the fair:
Preparation: Assemble ingredients and utensils needed. Use 10-inch deep tube cake pan (do not grease). Remove eggs from refrigerator; separate. Let whites stand until room temperature. Sift flour once before measuring.
Sift together five times: 1 cup plus 2 tablespoons sifted cake flour and 3/4 cup sugar.
Put into a large mixing bowl: 1 1/2 cups egg whites (11 to 13 whites) and 1/2 teaspoon salt. Beat on high until foamy - about 30 seconds. Add 1 1/2 teaspoons cream of tartar. Continue beating on high until whites are stiff and stand in points - about 2 1/2 to 3 minutes. Do not overbeat until dry.
Sprinkle in rapidly: 1 cup sifted sugar while still beating about 1 minute. Scrap bowl gently toward beaters with rubber spatula. Turn to very low and add 1 teaspoon vanilla and 1 teaspoon almond extract.
Sprinkle in sifted flour mixture evenly and quickly. Beat only enough to blend - about 1 1/2 minutes, scraping bowl gently toward beaters with folding motion to blend in quickly.
Gently put batter into ungreased pan. Cut through batter with spatula, going around in widening circles six times without lifting spatula. Bake about 30 minutes at 350 degrees. Invert pan until cool. Loosen with spatula and remove from pan.
¢ If you would like to talk more about "Food Bloopers" and what causes them, plan now to attend a program on that subject at 9:30 a.m. June 23 at the K-State Research & Extension-Douglas County Office, located on the fairgrounds. During the program, Jan Hornberger, a Douglas County Extension Master Food Volunteer, and Aliene Bieber, a Kanwaka FCE member and volunteer leader, will share information on the role and function of baking ingredients in recipes; the interaction between ingredients during preparation and baking; and the effect of temperature and bakeware on baked products.