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End of Summer Cake

Written By Culinary Pen on Tuesday, September 1, 2009 | 6:45:00 PM

So while summer is wrapping up, there's still all the county fairs to show off that giant pumpkin you've been nurturing all August. Normally I just stick to entering some preserves, but this year Carla noticed that they have an angel food cake contest! I love love love angel food cake. But I've never made one from scratch.

I don't like cake. If that sounds awkwardly oppositional to the three "loves" prefixing "angel food cake" in the last paragraph, let me explain. Pie wins out over cake 99.9% of the time. Pies are moist, crusty, crunchy, and delicious. Even bad pie shares half of these qualities. Most cake is dry, swimming in icing that tastes like milk with saccharine, and has a taste reminiscent of white bread that once shared cupboard space with a vanilla bean. These are hard-set beliefs I've had since I was a child. Don't believe me? Ask my mother, who baked me an angel food cake every year for my birthday since...well, as long as I can remember.

Angel food cakes are light, fluffy, surprisingly moist and slightly sticky with sugar. Plus, when you're a little kid, you can separate the batter into three bowls and add food coloring to each batch. Then you end up with a cake swirled green, blue, and yellow (which is awesome!). But when I started researching angel food cakes, I realized why I had never seen my mother make one from scratch: you need 12 egg whites. Sure, a dozen eggs are $1.09, but for a guy who doesn't like to waste one iota of pig snout, that leaves the question for what to do with twelve egg yolks.

Actually, 36 egg yolks, as Carla and I tried three different recipes before she chose a recipe. While, not the design she entered, my favorite was a pistachio angel food cake with lemon-ricotta icing. Angel food cake is just like a souffle: billowing clouds of beaten egg whites are mixed with flavorings and stabilizers. In this case, sugar and flour. Then we folded in 1/2 C of crushed pistachios (and some green food coloring! awesome!). After the baking, we iced the cake with ricotta that was whipped in a food processor with sugar and lemon extract. The result was light on the palate, creamy, and slightly floral with citrus. A scattering of pistachios completed the appearance.

Originally created by the Pennsylvania Dutch, I thought it would be a fun twist to combine angel food cake with the most famous pie of the PA Dutch-- shoofly pie. It would be a dark cake, sweetened with molasses and covered in icing studded with butter-crust crumbles. But I digress. So what did we do with all the yolks? Well, lots. Quiche, custards, and...well, that's another post as well...
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