It’s my birthday! And that means cake. So, what kind of cake will hold this food writer’s candles? There are so many endlessly delicious combinations of the spongy, sweet stuff. How can I pick a favorite?This year’s winner is: Angel Food Cake with 7-Minute Frosting.
7-Minute Frosting alone wins top honors from me in the category of cake-topping. Gooey, melty, and mounded like a poof of sweet air, this frosting makes me giddy. In fact, making this with angel food cake reminds me of playing with clouds. Both batters rise higher and higher as the whisk blades purr, threatening to ooze from the bowl and flood the room. I imagine swimming through the thick, vanilla-laden clouds, licking my fingers as I go.
This spring I returned to Illinois to visit family. When I’m with Mom and Grandma, we always bake. We had a hankering for this cake, so Grandma pulled out the cookbook she received when she was married— a book that was the backbone of most of our family meals growing up. In fact, when it came time to purchase my first cookbook, I selected a newer version of this very book: Better Homes and Gardens Cook Book—the one with the red and white checkered cover that looks like a picnic blanket.
In can only imagine the memories that cookbook holds!—birthdays, anniversaries, grandkids’ births, get-well dishes, sympathy casseroles, and everyday suppers. There are surely cottage cheese-based dishes that my Grandma loved (and my Grandpa hated). There are recipes torn from newspapers shoved between the pages for safe keeping. There are hand-written notes and recipes passed along from friends. If that cookbook could talk!
Three generations of women (me, my mom, and Grandma) piled into my mom’s kitchen this spring to share in the joy of baking this lovely cake together. We noted that this old recipe called for the eggs by volume (1 ¾ cups) rather than quantity (1 dozen) as most contemporary angel food cake recipes. Grandma pointed out that there’s a lot more water in today’s eggs and that “back in the day” the yolks were much larger and the whites smaller, so you might have used more than a dozen.
Grandma guided, Mom measured ingredients, and I mixed. We laughed. We took pictures. We talked about the evening’s meal. When the fluffy batter was ready, we scooped it into Mom’s angel food cake pan (which surprisingly, she had to purchase that day having misplaced her old one after not making this cake for years). Into the oven it went.
We set the timer, but Grandma’s nose was more exact. She smelled the finished cake several minutes before the timer was set to ring. Good ol’ Grandma!
Tips for the Best Angel Food Cake
To cool an angel food cake, you’re supposed to set the cake pan upside down over a wine bottle. This prevents the cake from flattening as all those tiny air bubbles cool. Problem is: modern day angel food cake pans aren’t designed with this wisdom in mind. Further, many modern angel cake pans are made with a slippery nonstick coating. This prevents the cake from doing what it loves to do best—slink and stretch its way up the sides of the pan, gripping as it grows. So the modern pan yields a slightly flatter cake.
How to solve this problem? Head to your local thrift store and purchase a traditional aluminum angel cake pan—free of the nonstick coating. I found one recently for only $1!
Tips for the Best 7-Minute Frosting
If you thought finding a proper angel cake pan was a challenge, try finding a double broiler for the 7-minute frosting. Apparently these are tools of yore. My mom used to own a double broiler (I think they were once as standard in every kitchen as Kitchen Aid mixers are today), but over the years her recipes moved away from this piece of equipment, and it’s long gone.
Thankfully, it’s easy to replicate a double broiler. Simply find a metal bowl that will rest stably on top of a pot of barely bubbling hot water. The water should not touch the bottom of the bowl. The steam will provide the heat for the frosting.
You need to use the 7-minute frosting right away after you’ve made it, so wait until your cake is cooled and ready for frosting. Also, this frosting will get hard and crunchy on the outside if left exposed to the air. If you can’t serve it immediately, cover the frosted cake to keep it moist and melt-in-your mouth amazing.
And if it’s your birthday, too: Happy Birthday!