Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Day 187 - Angel Food Cake and Lemon Curd

Jackie's in town from San Francisco, and Courtney's throwing a dinner party to celebrate! I've been invited to supply a vegetable dish or a dessert. No contest. I'm going to make a dessert I'd never think to serve at my own dinner party. Something that goes completely against my lifelong allegiance to chocolate-love....

Angel Food Cake (p. 449)

This is one of the recipes in the book for which I had to buy special gear. You can't make an Angel Food Cake without a tube pan, right?

I have to say, cooking my way through this book has DEFINITELY given me an appreciation for things I don't usually cook and eat. Take Angel Food Cake, for example. I never thought of this cake as being distinct in any way from your everyday yellow/butter/non-chocolate cake. But it's a completely different animal! This cake is roughly 50% air! With no fat! Which makes it a diet cake! (Sort of.)

Even if you served only 10 people (and that would be 10 generous servings), each slice would be roughly 190 calories, 42g carbs, 5g protein. (This doesn't include the raspberries and whipped cream.) Pretty reasonable, in the comparatively horrifying realm of dessert-food calorie counts. And I'm betting that a Devil's Food Cake would be similarly "dietetic," while delivering that old chocolate punch. (Note to self: find a good Devil's Food Cake recipe.)

However, you can't have a fat-free cake without working for it. Turns out you have to sift flour and sugar repeatedly for several hours (OK, maybe it was just five times), you have to whip egg whites into a fine frenzy, and you have to sprinkle the flour mixture little by little, folding it into the egg whites ever so gently to get this job done.

When I mentioned to Tracy C that I was baking this, she said, "Don't let even a speck of oil touch that pan. It'll never rise, and it will wreck the whole thing!" She scared me to death! Not that I was going to butter the pan, but all of a sudden, this cake seemed as fragile as a soufflé during an earthquake.

But it all went fine. The cake rose and browned nicely. I was surprised that it cooked as long as it did. I think my oven runs hot, as my cakes are usually done on the early side of the recipe prediction, but this went almost the full time. The gauge I used for doneness was springiness. At 30 minutes, my finger indentation kept it's shape. But around 40 minutes, there was some springback to it.

Once it cooled, it didn't want to come out of that mold at all, even after running a knife around the edge. I had to make a deeper second pass with the knife. And then, after I was able to push the bottom out of the pan (it's a two-piece pan), I still couldn't get that sucker off the pan base. I had to run a knife under the cake as well.

There was a sticky wetness to the borders of the cake that had me spooked. Was it possible that I undercooked this cake?... that I'd be cutting into a gooey mess? Dear Lord, not in front of Courtney! She's the big cook in this group, and I really don't want to let her down!

Cut to the dinner party: After a delicious turkey meal, I stole away to set up the cake, i.e. surround it with raspberries, whip some cream, and cover it all with confectioner's sugar. As I sliced into the first piece, I heaved a sigh of relief. Dry! And when Asheem said it was the best cake he'd ever eaten, I knew I was home safe. Thanks, Martha. You always make me look good!

I know my fellow chocolate-freaks won't want to hear this but... the cake WAS really good. It was light and simple, yet it had a really satisfying heft and nice flavor. The raspberries and cream were a great complement, and I'd actually consider making this again! (Which for me is saying a lot!)

Jeff: A
Martha: A

That's Courtney (hostess) on the left and Jackie (guest of honor) on the right.

Lemon Curd (p. 477)

When you make a cake that requires 12 egg whites, it's a shame to throw away all those yolks. Martha has a couple of ideas: one is to freeze the yolks for later use (which I did with half of them) and the other is to make a nice Lemon Curd (which I did with the other half). The Lemon Curd was to be a lovely accompaniment to my Angel Food Cake, but alas, it didn't go down that way. While the cake, the cream, the raspberries, the sieve, the confectioner's sugar, and the vanilla all made it to Courtney's fab apartment in Hoboken, the lemon curd sadly got left behind.

Lemon curd is something I didn't even know existed until I read this book, but the name alone was enough to turn me off. I've never liked lemon desserts. The only thing that seemed worse than lemon flavor in savory things was lemon flavor in sweet things.

But Martha has been chipping away at that old belief. I have developed a fondness for the little yellow fruit that is defying all of my previously known rules of the universe.

This recipe is a quickie, fast and easy. And such rewards! Even as I stirred it, I could tell just from the consistency that this was going to be something special. It's a custard, like the ice cream recipes, i.e. it doesn't become magical until it thickens. But once it's thickened, watch out! Can you say "Addictive?"

There are very few ingredients in play here: lemon juice, lemon zest, sugar, eggs, butter. But if you do what Martha says, you will end up with a silky, tart/sweet spread that is utterly irresistible. Even to an old lemon-hater like me. And it's a beautiful color, to boot!

Since I blew my opportunity to serve it with the Angel Food Cake last night, I thought I'd bring it with me to rehearsal today to share with the cast and crew of the workshop I'm doing. (I'm performing in a workshop of a wonderful new musical called The Kid, based on the amazing Dan Savage book of the same name, coming later this season to an Off-Broadway theatre near you... if you live in New York City, that is.)

Yes, [tos]sers, that's my workshop castmate, [title of show] star and "vampire slayer" Susan Blackwell, making eyes at my Lemon Curd, atop a slice of Entenmann's pound cake. I'm not sure which I love more: Susan Blackwell or my Lemon Curd.

Jeff: A
Martha: A
Susan Blackwell: A

Until we eat again....

Don't even joke about it, ladies....


  1. Jeff,

    As a good Texas Boy, this was one of our main dessert options growing up, though usually with strawberries instead of raspberries. Now when I make one in Chicago, people act like it's exotic since the only angel food cakes around here are rubbery grocery store versions.

    As for the sticking cake part, there is no way to avoid it...you've got a protein and a sugar and they love to stick.

    So glad this favorite from my childhood was a hit. And if you are a chocolate lover, you'll be amazed at how yummy a good chocolate syrup is drizzled over angel food cake.

    Happy Eating,

  2. I never had angel food cake until I made a Martha recipe (from one of the magazines) a few months ago and like you, I was blown away by how good it was. I thought it would be dry and tasteless and it wasn't at all. I love it when Martha opens your eyes to something new and delicious!

  3. We have some friends who are fanatic about their low-fat diet, and angel food cake is a staple in their desserts, usually served with fat-free ice cream and fruit. Wouldn't it be a treat if I made this for them!

  4. Michael, thanks for the idea of adding chocolate sauce to Angel Food Cake. Turns out Devils Food Cake (at least on marthastewart.com) isn't really the same idea as Angel Food Cake (i.e. with a million egg whites and very little flour). It's basically just a chocolate cake. So chocolate sauce on AFC is a good way to appease the chocolate whores like me.

    Brett, yes, yes, a thousand times, yes!

    And Annie, you have to try it. They will be so excited and you will feel like a million bucks! I'm lending you my pan....

  5. Now that you have the basic idea for lemon curd, expand it by trying different lemons (yes, they DO taste different-compare a "standard" big old yellow lemon to a Meyer lemon). I have also made lime curd with key limes and kumquat curd with (naturally) kumquats. Both were big hits and got requests for "carry out" from friends.

  6. Great ideas, Ross! They wouldn't have oc-"curd" to me. :-) Until recently, I didn't even appreciate the differences of flavor between lemons and limes, but now I can see that there are whole families of flavors contained in the varieties of each fruit.