Be an ‘angel’ and fix ‘em a cake

Published 12:00 am Saturday, May 8, 2010

A slice of angel food cake is a treat all by itself, but it is usually made as a component in other desserts. I always think of angel food cake as a base for strawberries. There are several theories on who originated this cake. It has also been called an ice cream cake or a Pennsylvania Dutch wedding cake. It is felt that the abundance of cake molds in southeastern Pennsylvania, one of the major producer of cake molds, indicates that the angel food cake originated there in the early 1800s.
I heard a strawberry angel food cake recipe on John Folse’s NPR program the other day, and it sounded decadent. And our strawberries are now ripening in the garden.
I needed an angel food cake to make the recipe and did not want to bake one, so I grabbed one at Whole Foods and was so excited to get home to make the dessert. Well, I picked up an angel food cake with chocolate chips and it was dry and did not taste good.  So, my suggestion is to bake your own. I should know better than to just grab something without checking it out.
The secret to a good angel food cake is properly beating the egg whites. Make sure that the whites are at room temperature and completely free of yolks; that your bowls and beaters are immaculately clean, and that you do not over beat the egg whites. They should be very moist and glossy, and just firm enough to form soft peaks. It is also important to cool the angel food cake upside down in its pan; otherwise, it will collapse and fall.
I used Edna Lewis’ and Scott Peacock’s book, The Gift of Southern Cooking, for the angel food cake recipe. The “Strawberry Angelique” recipe is the creation of Chef Thomas J. Bond, the executive chef at Rockefeller’s restaurant in Ponchaotula, La. (which, by the way, is the strawberry capital of the world). It requires several steps, but is actually quite easy to make.
Give both of these a try during strawberry season. I don’t think you will be disappointed. Your family and guests should love this dessert.

Angel Food Cake
Cake will serve 10-12
1 cup cake flour, sifted
1 ½ cups granulated sugar, divided
12 egg whites, at room temperature
½ teaspoon cream of tartar
¼ teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon water
1 ½ teaspoons vanilla extract
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.
Sift the flour and ¾ of the sugar together twice onto wax paper or a plate, and set aside.
Put the egg whites into a large, clean mixing bowl, and beat them on low speed until they become frothy. Add the cream of tartar, salt, water, and vanilla, and gradually increase beating speed until the egg whites begin to mound softly. Sprinkle the remaining ¾ cup sugar over the whites, ¼ cup at a time, and beat only until each addition is incorporated. Do not over beat. The egg whites should be very moist and glossy and just firm enough to form soft peaks.
Sift a quarter of the reserved flour and sugar over the beaten egg whites and gently fold in; repeat three times, proceeding with each successive addition only until all of it as been incorporated. Carefully and evenly spoon the batter into an ungreased 10-inch tube pan.
Use a long spatula or butter knife to draw a deep line through the center of the batter the entire circumference of the pan (this will release and large pockets of air from the batter, which could result in large tunnels or holes in the finished cake).
Bake in the preheated oven for 35-40 minutes, until the cake is golden brown and springs back to the touch. Remove from the oven, and invert the cake to cool completely in the pan. When completely cooled, use a long straight-edged spatula to loosen the cake from the sides of the pan and turn out.
Store tightly covered.

Strawberry Angelique
Makes 6 servings
4 cups frozen strawberries
1 pint fresh large strawberries, chopped
6 large strawberries for garnish
2 cups sugar
2 cups water
1 (12-ounce) package Philadelphia cream cheese
¼ cup butter
1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
6 eggs
2 cups half-and-half
1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
1 angel food cake (not crumbly)
8 ounces clarified butter and more if needed
1 pint sweetened whipped cream
Powdered sugar for dusting

In a saucepot, dissolve sugar in water over medium-high heat, stirring constantly. Once sugar is completely dissolved, add frozen strawberries. Bring mixture to a boil, reduce to simmer and cook 45 minutes, stirring occasionally. Strain mixture through a fine sieve and set strawberry pulp aside, reserving syrup. Allow both to cool.
In a large bowl, add cream cheese, ¼ cup butter, 1 cup reserved strawberry pulp, ½ cup reserved strawberry syrup and vanilla. With a mixer, beat cream cheese mixture on the lowest setting until all is incorporated. Increase speed to medium-high and whip until fluffy. Cover strawberry butter with plastic wrap and place in the refrigerator to chill.
In a mixing bowl, add eggs, half-and-half, and cinnamon and whisk until frothy. Set egg wash aside.
Slice angel food cake into 18 equal slices and set aside.
In a large sauté pan, heat 8 ounces of clarified butter over medium-heat. Dredge cake slices in egg wash, dripping off excess, then fry in hot butter until golden brown, turning once as if making French toast. Remove and drain on paper towels. Allow to cool. Continue until all cake slices are done, adding more butter to the pan as needed.
To serve, place 2 (1-ounce) dollops of chilled strawberry butter on center of plate, approximately 1 inch apart. Stack three slices of cake around strawberry butter. Drizzle 1-2 ounces of strawberry syrup over cake and sprinkle an equal portion of chopped strawberries. Top center of cake with whipped cream and garnish with whole strawberries. Dust with powdered sugar and serve immediately.