Angel Food Cake (part two)

The Angel Appearing before the Shepherds by Thomas Buchanan Read (1822-1872)  Dayton Art Institute

The Angel Appearing before the Shepherds by Thomas Buchanan Read (1822-1872) Dayton Art Institute

Food historians believe the white sponge cake was a creation of the Northern European immigrants to America. After all, this group made ample amounts of egg noodles (which used only the yolks) leaving many leftover, whites, and the women also made various ring cakes, that were traditionally cooked in a “deep, round, fancy cake pain with a center tube[1] (a pan not called for in other immigrant, or classic cooking recipes)

Antique Turk’s Head (also known as Monk’s Head) pans can be found in two style: either like a very plain swirled bundt pan,  or, a shallower version of what, today, we call a tube pan, that was referred to in the early 1900’s as an Angel Cake Pan.

early 1900's "turk's head" pan

early 1900’s “turk’s head” pan

In the 1950s, a group of women in Minneapolis asked a NordicWare designer to recreate a fancy tube cake pan, like the ones their mother’s had brought from the old country. The result was what NordicWare named the “Bundt”. The name was trademarked by NordicWare. Sales languished, and the bundt pan was nearly discontinued until a winner of one of the Pillsbury Bake-Off contests submitted a chocolate cake, dubbed “Tunnel of Fudge”[2] baked in a bundt pan. Interest in the pan skyrocketed, and bundt pans soon surpassed the tin Jell-O mold pans as the most sold pans in the United States. The trademarked name “bundt” was, later, rejected by the U.S. Trademark Office as too generic a term.

(In Australia a tube pan is called a ring tin.)

Cakes baked in Turk’s heads, and similar pans are, in part, derived from a bread-like cake made in Germany and Hungary called a gugelhumpf or bundkuchen, the Eastern European babka, burgunder rodon, the Dutch tulband, and the Finnish kermakakku, to name a few.

Evan Jones, wrote in his book American Food: The Gastronomic Story[3], his angel cake theory:

“…angel (or angel food) cakes, may have evolved as the result of numerous egg whites left over after the making of noodles, and may or may not be the brainchild of thrifty Pennsylvania cooks who considered it sinful to waste anything..”

Tube pans (a straight-edged, or slightly sloping baking tin) were created in the late 1800s. These pans appealed to housewives and became a staple in American kitchens. The tube pan has an advantage over regular cake pans for all sponge cakes because heat flows around the center of the cake, which allows the cake to rise higher, cook faster, and more reliably. It is also more stable and less likely to fall, or collapse when removed from the oven. These tube pans were sold, specifically, as angel pans in catalogs in the early 1900’s.

Variations in flavor of angle food cakes recipes range from vanilla, to almond, to rose water, and orange.

Angel Food Cake

1 cup cake flour, sifted

1 teaspoon cream of tartar

Pinch of salt

1½ cup egg whites (approximately 12 eggs)

1½ cup sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

½ teaspoon almond extract

Preheat oven to 325 degrees

Line the bottom of a tube pan with parchment paper (do not grease pan)

In a bowl sift together flour, cream of tartar and salt, several times. Set aside.

Wash a copper bowl[4] or regular bowl, in hot soapy water, to make certain there is no residue of great, and dry thoroughly. Beat room temperature egg whites, until foamy, and then start adding sugar. Beat in a tablespoon at a time, until all the sugar is used up and the egg whites are stiff and form peaks (2-3 minutes with an electric beater, considerably longer if hand whipping). At the very last minute, add the extracts.

Sift the flour mixture over the foam, and fold in, a little at a time, very gently (to not flatten the foam) until all the flour is mixed in.   Immediately spoon batter into the tube pan, then tap the pan on the counter several times to dislodge any large air pockets in the batter. Place the tube pan in the oven, and cook for about an hour, or until the cake is golden brown, and the yields gently to pressure, but springs back up when the pressure is released.

Cool the pan, inverted on the feet build into the pan, or over the neck of a bottle so that air can circulate around it. Cool for several hours.

 

Run the edge of a knife around the edges of the cake to loosen, and remove from the pan. Cut with a serrated knife.

[1] The Settlement Cookbook by Lizzie Black Kander (1910)

[2] Ella Helfrich, the woman who submitted the recipe took second place in 1966.

[3] Dutton Publishing; 1st edition 1975

[4] Copper bowls react with the proteins in egg whites, and create firmer foam.

Angel Food Cake, an American Invention (part 1)

454px-Franceschini,_Marcantonio_-_The_Guardian_Angel_-_Google_Art_Project

The Guardian Angel by Marcantonio Franceschini (1648-1729)

The angel-food cake is a light, pale sponge cake made of flour, egg whites, sugar, cream of tartar, but no fat (and no yolks). It is usually baked in a tube pan. The angel cake is thought to be (by food historians) an American invention from around 1880-1885.

Food historians look at old recipes and cookbooks to develop their theories of changes in basic recipes, to create something new and different. Around 1870, cook books from around the eastern seaboard were including a recipe for a different kind of sponge cake dubbed snow-drift, silver, white sponge, and angel. Few of the recipes call for a tube pan, so it can be assumed that the pans used were simple, flat cake pan (aka – cake tin).

It is in Mrs. Porter’s New Southern Cookery Book[1]. That the first white sponge cake appeared in an American cookbook: What Mrs. Fisher Knows About Old Southern Cooking[2]. In this book the cake was called a “silver cake”.

     Silver Cake — The whites of one dozen eggs beaten very light, one pound of butter, one pound of powdered sugar; rub the butter and sugar together until creamed very light, then add the beaten whites of the eggs, and beat all together until very light; two teaspoonfuls of the best yeast powder sifted with one pound of flour, then add the flour to the eggs, sugar and butter, also add one-half teacupful of sweet milk; mix quickly, and beat till very light; flavor with two teaspoonfuls of the extract of almond or peach, put in when you beat the cake the last time. Put to bake in any shape pan you like, but grease the pan well before you put the cake batter in it. Have the stove moderately hot, so as the cake will bake gradually, and arrange the damper of stove so as send heat to the bottom of the cake first.

In The Original Boston Cooking School Cook Book by Mrs. D.A. Lincoln, there was a,nearly identical, cake which she called an Angel Cake:

     Angel Cake — One cup of flour, measured after one sifting, and then mixed with one teaspoonful of cream of tartar and sifted four times. Beat the whites of eleven eggs, with a wire beater or perforated spoon, until stiff and flaky. Add one cup and one half of fine granulated sugar, and beat again; add one teaspoonful of fine granulated sugar, and beat again; add one teaspoonful of vanilla or almond, then mix in the flour quickly and lightly. Line the bottom and a funnel of a cake pan with paper not greased, pour in the mixture and bake about forty minutes. When done loosen the cake around the edge and turn out at once. Some persons have been more successful with this cake by mixing the sugar with the flour and cream of tartar and adding it all at once to the beaten egg.  

(Fannie Merritt Farmer’s updated version, 1896, of the Boston Cooking School Cook Book, has the same recipe as in earlier versions, but the name was changed from angel cake to angel food cake.)

In the Woman’s Exchange Cook Book[3] (1894) there is a similar white sponge cake that is actually named angel food cake. The pan called for is a Turk’s Head alluding to the shape of a turban, an Ottoman headdress. This is the earliest known cookbook reference that called for a tube pan to bake an Angel food cake in.

     Angel Food Cake — Whites of 11 eggs, 1 teaspoon of flavoring, one and one half cups of granulated sugar, 1 cup of sifted flour, 1 teaspoon of cream of tartar. Put the cream of tartar into the sifted flour and sift it five times. Sift the sugar. Beat the whites of the eggs to a very stiff froth, add the sugar, and mix carefully; then add the flour gradually, stirring allthe while, and last the flavoring. Turn quickly into an ungreased pan and bake in a moderate oven (sa, 260 degrees fahr) for forty-five minutes. Take from the oven, turn the pan upside down on a rest, and let it stand until the cake falls out. It is best to bake this in a Turk’s head. You can then rest it on the tube.

In Our Home Clyopedia[4] published in 1889, there are a number of recipes for multi-egg white sponge cakes. The pan called for is a cake tin, or a brick shaped tin, and, in one, the pan is, first, lined with pastry.

    Delicious Sponge Cake — Twelve eggs, one pound of sugar, twelve ounces of flour, a pinch of salt; flavor. Beat the whites to a very stiff froth, the yolks till the bubbles look fine. Then the yolks are beaten enough to add the sugar and beat until the sugar dissolved; then add the whites, and lastly the flour, and bake immediately in brick shaped tins. This will make two loaves. You will find your cake so much nicer if baked in a paste. Make with flour and water only; roll out on the board same as a pine crust, line your greased tins all over with the paste and pour in the batter. Bake nearly an hour. Do not break off the paste till you want to use it. Your cake will be more moist and keep longer; indeed the cake will be much better a day or two old.

     White Sponge Cake — Sift together one cup of flour, one-half cup of corn starch, one teaspoonful baking powder; add one cup of sugar, one teaspoonful extract of rose, then add the whites of eight eggs whipped to a stiff froth; mix thoroughly and bake in a well-buttered cake tin in a quick oven 30 minutes.

Recipes, especially back then, were spread by one woman handing another woman a handwritten recept (as recipes used to be called), and so-on, like a virus. Newspapers and magazines had contests for “the best” of various categories along with exotic sounding names and creative adaptations. Sometimes there were cash prizes, but often, the reward was they were published, with citations. These recipes were compiled into various cookbooks that were sold or given away (sometimes, also, as prizes for submitting a winning recipe) which further spread the recipes. Food historians trace the published nuggets, and analyze the subtle difference, to come up with theories as to the origin, including the use of pans.

[1] By M.E. Porter, Published 1871

[2] Abbey Fisher, a former slave from Mobile Alabama, was the first Black American to write a cookbook in 1881

[3] No author is identified. This book appears to be a book that is a compilation of recipes published elsewhere.

[4] No author. This is another collection of recipes, household, and medical tips, that appear to have been cobbled together from other publications.

The Quest for the “Perfect” Scrambled Egg

Old Woman Selling Eggs  Hendrick Bloemaert (1602-1672) Rijksmuseum Amsterdam

Old Woman Selling Eggs Hendrick Bloemaert (1602-1672)
Rijksmuseum Amsterdam

People fixate on how to make the “perfect” scrambled egg. I don’t think there is any egg dish that has so many experts, so many techniques, and such a variety of opinions. It ranks up there with discussing politics or religion.

The basic scrambled egg is a fried egg that mixes the egg yolk and white in a process known as beating (or whipping, depending on the recipe) and then cooking the egg by frying while disturbing the egg by stirring. The result is that the protein in the egg will coagulate into soft, moist curds. In an egg scramble, something is added to this basic scrambled egg to create new and different taste combinations.

Some people whisk the eggs before cooking. Others crack them directly into the pan and mix the yolk and white in the pan through gentle stirring. Some add stock, cream, butter, milk, cottage cheese, cream cheese, melted butter, sugar, cream of tartar, vinegar, lemon juice, oil, or water when they whisk the eggs. Others insist that scrambled eggs should remain unadulterated.

If you add liquid, the rule of thumb is no more than 2 teaspoons of liquid per egg.

There are recipes that want you to separate the yolk from the white, whip the white until stiff peaks form, and then fold it into the yolk. These recipes create egg dishes that are something other than scrambled eggs—more akin to soufflés.

When a recipe calls for you to stir the eggs, do so gently. (Do not stir the eggs as if you were mixing chocolate powder and milk. Violent movement will prevent the curds from forming.)


Beating Eggs to Scramble:
Again, it’s all a matter of taste. As stated above, some people do not really scramble the eggs in a bowl before cooking. They crack them into the pan and stir them around to break the yolks. Other people freak out and insist that the only way to “properly” scramble eggs is to crack them into a bowl and beat them with a fork, a whisk, or an electric mixer until a great deal of air is trapped in the egg proteins. Other people will tell you to not beat eggs for more than four beats. Meanwhile, the American Egg Board describes a well-beaten egg as “frothy and even-colored.” Some recipes actually recommend whisking the eggs for as long as two minutes.

What directions do you follow? It depends on the type of scrambled eggs you like.

  • If you like your scrambled eggs to have bits of yellow and bits of white in a mosaic of egg, beat your eggs in the pan and wait for several seconds before you begin to mix the two.
  • If you want light, fluffy, even-colored eggs, lightly whisk the eggs and add a small amount of acid (cream of tartar, vinegar, or lemon) and push the eggs gently to the center of the pan.
  • If you really like flat, tough scrambled eggs, then beat them excessively. The pounding causes the proteins to uncurl, stretch out, and then form new connections. When egg yolks and whites are beaten together, the proteins of each react to each other. If you overwhip the eggs, you will destabilize the proteins. When the proteins are destabilized, their ability to trap air and form new connections will be pushed to the limit. The egg proteins will have nothing left to connect together during the heating process.

Do not confuse beating the egg yolk together with the egg white with beating egg whites alone. When making a meringue, soufflé, egg puff, or other recipe that relies on a great amount of air trapped in the long strands of the egg white protein, you will whip it for a very long time, often with an electric mixer, until the egg whites form stiff white peaks. This is a completely different egg preparation method than blending egg white with yolk until a creamy, even color.

If you do use an electric mixer, do not beat for more than a few seconds. After beating, set the eggs aside to relax for a few minutes before assaulting them with heat.

 

Push, Don’t Stir: Many scrambled egg recipes want you to stir the eggs to break up the solid omelet-like egg patty to make the more graceful, scrambled egg soft curds. The most effective way to “stir” is not to stir at all. The more accurate description is to push the eggs from the outer edges toward the center, occasionally, once they have begun to set in the pan. Since there is really no cooking instructional term that expresses “push around in the pan,” stir is what’s used, but it is an ill-fitting instruction.

Do not be too ambitious during this part of the cooking process. Give the eggs time to start to coagulate, and then push them toward the center so that the uncooked runny egg can flow onto the pan and the cooked mounds can be clumped together in the center.

The term for how an egg becomes firm is set in some cookbooks and curd in others, and others still use terms such as firm up, solidify, or even fluff. The point is that the eggs will change in texture and cease to be liquid.

Salt and Eggs: Salt is another point of contention. The old cookbooks’ motherly advice is that salt added to a raw egg will result in a tough cooked egg. (Spices, if desired, should be added after the eggs have started to curdle which keeps the spices suspended and cooked in the egg, instead of falling to the bottom of the pan.) Throughout this book, I have omitted salt from the recipes. Aside from the toughness issue, the amount of salt in new, compared to old, recipes is startling. Whereas a recipe in the 1900s would use a pinch, recipes today have ¼ teaspoon or more. My feeling is that you can salt an egg dish to taste after it is served.

Timing:  How long to cook scrambled eggs is also a controversial subject. Some people like their eggs cooked for a long time until very firm and rubbery. Some like them browned, and others like them still rather moist, with a glaze of not quite fully cooked egg. (The heat of the eggs will continue cooking until they are served and consumed.)

The Pan: Nonstick pans are often recommended for egg cooking. (Personally, I’m not fond of the concept of a heated plastic surface in contact with foods I am going to eat. Overheated nonstick cookware can release off toxic fumes strong enough to kill a canary or other pet bird. No thank you.) I prefer a cast iron pan that is well seasoned or a stainless steel one. Some people do not like cooking eggs in cast iron, because it can color the eggs ever so slightly. However, the heat-holding qualities of cast iron make it the easiest type of pan to cook eggs in, from my experience.

Start by heating a dry pan until water droplets dance on its surface. Then add butter or oil and get it to a high heat, but below the smoke point. (If the oil turns dark, remove the pan from the heat immediately). Be careful not to let any water get into the pan once the oil is in it, or you may be splattered with hot oil. When you have added the eggs to the pan, turn the heat down to low. Use a wooden or metal spatula, and push the eggs from the outer edges to the center.

Basic rule: lower heat + constant gentle movement = creamier eggs.