“Maybe once, we could just have a vanilla cake”.
Sigh, over the years, Hungry Hubby has been my crash test dummy for many a culinary crusade. The vast majority have made it if not into “yummy” category, at least into the “wouldn’t mind having that again” bracket. Very few things has he refused to eat and ordered himself a pizza instead and those were definitely because it was one “weird” flavour too far for my comparatively conservative Hubby as opposed to being frankly uneatable in itself. Hubs grew up in a “eat to live” household. He married into a “food is life” one where the Head Chef (& Bottle Washer!) just can’t help giving things a go, shamelessly fiddling and making things her own, actively hunting down new ways of cooking, locating recherché ingredients to make up for a childhood of never being allowed to experiment in the kitchen. In return for his eternal understanding of my need to be an intrepid gastronomic explorer, I put my pomegranate molasses down and shelved my dukka for another day and made him a vanilla cake. A Vanilla Bean Angel Food Cake to be exact.
Of course, I couldn’t make just any plain old vanilla sponge, as one might find in the ever present Victoria sponge cake, noooooo sirree! Instead, a quick flick through my Olive magazine (love this mag – it is exactly what I want from a foodie mag) and found the recipe which follows for vanilla bean angel food cake. Being English, angel food cake is, *was*, a total mystery to me – it really doesn’t exist in Ye Olde Angleterre. I had the cake tin by virtue of Hungry Hubby getting me one for our first wedding anniversary (as we all know the first anniversary is tin 😉 !) but it stayed in the cupboard a fair old while before I finally put it to good use.
Angel food cakes, it occurs to me, are essentially a meringue mixture with flour folded in. No fat is added. All your calories come in the carbon-hydrogen-oxygen molecular structure we all know and love as sugar. Ok, there’s a wee bit of protein in the flour and lest we forget all these beautiful egg whites. Speaking of which – may I just tout the virtues of “Two Chicks Egg Whites”. What a fantastic product! They whisk up like a dream and really aren’t expensive to buy. I can honestly say, I’ve never had a glossier, thicker, more stiffly whisked and quickly thank you very much meringue in my life. I will be buying again!
Once you have a white patent leather like billowing foam in your mixer bowl, sift over flour, fold it in then add some vanilla. As I had preserved many vanilla beans whole, unslit in a bottle of vodka last year, I simply snipped off one end and squeezed in the innermost of the bean. The vodka seeps in through the pod and forms a homemade vanilla paste, every bit as good as the expensive Nielssen Massey stuff. Very satisfying, very vanillary.
Upon cooking, with an angel food cake, one must immediately invert the tin and make use of those annoying feet which prevent stacking in one’s bakeware cupboard ;). I can total imagine the little green men from Toy Story lining up and jiggling their way up the central cone into this alien craft style cake tin! Tell me I’m not alone in that one!
For those whom have seen the magazine article from which this recipe came may be thinking my cake looks a little (ok a lot) less tall than that pictured by Olive. My response to that is that it was, of course, a planned intention, nothing whatsoever to do with me not noticing the measurements of my tin before I mixed the batter up only to then find out my tin wasn’t as big as theirs. Oopsie…
Imagine a celestial meringue which is marshmallowy throughout, light as a feather but also toothsome to bite. Very sweet and astoundingly moist for the lack of added fat. One which keeps for a good five days covered with cling and popped in an air tight box. Imagine that nursery sweet vanilla scent and melt of the sugar on your lips then you too will know how this dreamy cloud of a cake must be served with thick, fridge cold double cream to cut the blood sugar catapult short in its tracks and the fresh berry rasp of sour, juicy raspberries. Lemon curd, mascarpone and blueberries would deliver a different but equally well balanced finish to the dish. My Strawberry, Lime and Chambord Coulis would be exceptional served with this.
Get the tin here –> angel food pan
- 8 medium egg whites
- Pinch sea salt
- 1 tsp cream of tartar
- 250g icing sugar
- Seeds from a vanilla bean or 1 tsp vanilla extract
- 140g plain flour well sifted
- 18cm angel food cake pan (a cm or two either way won't matter)
- Preheat oven to 140˚C.
- Set your shelf low enough to accommodate the tall angel food pan before you start.
- Whisk the egg whites, cream of tartar and sea salt until they form stiff peaks.
- Add the icing sugar a big spoon at a time.
- Fold the flour in three batches, adding your vanilla with the last batch.
- Gently spoon into your completely grease free tin and level the top - don't be too rough and knock out all the lovely air you've lovingly incorporated.
- Bake for 40 mins until light golden brown and it bounces back if pressed (NOTE angel cakes STICK to the insides of the pan - this is supposed to happen, it prevents them from deflating on cooling - so the cake won't come away from the tin when cooked as an "ordinary" sponge type cake would). Immediately insert and allow to cool upside down.
- To remove from the tin, run a knife or thin spatula/palette knife around the sides of the cake the remove the cake, still attached to the base of the tin.
- Next run the knife under what will become the top of the cake when it is served to release from the removable base and invert onto a serving plate.
- Top with glacé icing, serve with cream, lemon curd, mascarpone - let your taste buds guide you as to what you'd like your cake to be topped with. Something creamy and something sour is the way you want to go.