Classic Angel Food Cake with Variations

Here’s the lowdown, all angel food cake recipes are basically the same; sift dry ingredients, beat egg whites, fold dry ingredients into wet, spoon batter into an ungreased tube pan, — bake. The devil is in the details. This is where practice comes in handy as the first three times I attempted to make this cake years ago they were epic fails. I could also blame in on a very humid summer.

Some people swear that only fresh egg whites will do. I however, have had great success using whites that I had previously frozen as I’ve been known to make a lot of lemon curd. Which by the way, would be delicous accompanying this cake.

Also, any object (i.e, whisk, bowl, spatula) that comes in contact with the egg whites should be impeccably clean with no trace of fat. Also, since cake flour contains less gluten the end result is a more tender cake.

I would have to agree with the late Flo Bracker that using a combination of granulated and powdered sugars are the way to go. Granulated sugar gives stability to the meringue while the powdered sugar sifted with the flour makes the folding of the dry ingredients into the wet much easier.

Finally, wait until the egg whites are foamy before adding the granulated sugar and then add it slowly. You don’t want to overwhelm the egg whites by adding the sugar too quickly. Then beat just until a medium peak is reached. Pay attention by whipping egg whites a hundred times noticing each time what constitutes soft, medium, and stiff peaks. After the dry ingredients are folded into the meringue the batter should be on the verge of spoon-able but still pour-able.

The recipe also lists many optional ingredients. I’m not recommending that you add all the optional ingredients to the same cake but instead add the lemon zest and fresh thyme or zest and poppyseeds; or zest and fresh lemon juice, or maybe the almond and vanilla extracts.

I’m also a big proponent of weighing ingredients due to its ease and accuracy instead of measuring by volume. For example, there is a big difference between 1 cup of cake flour, sifted and 1 cup of sifted cake flour. If the dry ingredients are weighed it doesn’t matter whether they are sifted before or after weighing as it’s the same weight. Make your baking life easier and get yourself a scale!

1 cup (3 ½ oz / 100 g) sifted cake flour
1½ cups (4 oz / 110 g) sifted powdered sugar
½ teaspoon fine kosher salt
1  2/3 cups (15 oz / 425 g) egg whites, room temperature (12 – 13 whites)
1  1/2 teaspoons (5 grams) cream of tarter
1 cup (7 oz / 200 g) granulated sugar
1  1/2 tablespoons poppyseeds (optionel)
2 – 4 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice (optional)
zest of one lemon, organic if possible (optionel)
2 teaspoons freshly minced fresh thyme (optional)
1/2 teaspoon almond extract (optional)
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract (optional)

Preheat oven to 350°F. Have ready a 10” x 4” tube pan that is impeccably clean and dry.

Place the flour, powdered sugar, and salt in a sieve over a bowl and sift together 3 or 4 times. Set aside.

In the bowl of a 4 or 6-quart stand mixer, using the whisk attachment, on medium speed, beat the egg whites until foamy, add the cream of tartar and continue beating. If adding the lemon juice drizzle it in now.

Increase speed to medium-high and continue beating until soft peaks form; begin adding the granulated sugar a little bit at a time. Continue beating until the mixture forms a medium peak and begins to take on a shine. If including, add the extracts and whisk just to combine.

Transfer the meringue to a wide bowl. Sift the flour mixture over the egg whites about ¼ cup at a time and with a rubber spatula, gently fold in the flour mixture. (At this point you will know if the whites have been over-beaten as it will be difficult to fold the dry ingredients into them. Make a mental note for next time.) After folding in the second batch of sifted flour fold in any additional optional dry ingredients and then continue folding in the third and final bit of sifted flour. 

Gently push the batter into the ungreased tube pan. Cut through the batter a few times with a thin metal spatula or butter knife to remove any large air bubbles.

Bake the cake on the lowest rack for 35 to 40 minutes or until the top springs back when lightly touched and the cracks feel dry. Invert the pan onto its feet or on to a wine bottle allowing it to cool completely.

Run a thin-blade knife around the edge of the pan and tube. Tip the cake over and run the knife between the cake and the bottom section.

Use a serrated knife to cut into slices and serve with berries, lemon curd, or whipped cream…or all of the accompaniments.

 

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Chocolate Ricotta Cake

A yogurt cake recipe from Susan Herrmann-Loomis popped up on one of my feeds recently. At quick glance I had all of the ingredients on hand except the yogurt. I did however have homemade ricotta from another recipe.

I got to wondering if I could substitute the yogurt for the ricotta with everything else being equal or almost equal. I gave it a go and I must say it was good but very dense. In other words, I wouldn’t turn down a piece. However, I thought I could improve on a good thing.

After some research I came up with the following: changed out a bit of the butter for canola oil (for added moisture), added more baking powder (for less density), and more chocolate (just because).

5 tablespoons (2.5 oz / 72 g) unsalted butter, plus enough to butter pan
2 tablespoons (1 oz/ 25 g) canola oil
3 ounces (3 oz / 85 g) bittersweet chocolate (at least 65%)
1 3/4 cups (8 oz / 235 g) unbleached all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
Pinch fine sea salt
1 cup (7 oz / 200 g) granulated sugar
1 cup (8 oz / 255 g) plain whole milk ricotta
3 large eggs
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Butter bottom and sides of a 9-inch round cake pan. Line with round of parchment paper. Set aside. Move a rack to the lower third of the oven and preheat to 375 degrees F.

Melt butter in a small pan over low heat. Remove from heat, add canola oil and set aside to cool. Place chocolate in another small bowl set over a pan of barely simmering water and melt stirring often and being careful not to splash any water into the chocolate. Remove from heat to cool.

Set a seive over a medium bowl and sift together the flour, baking powder and salt. Set aside.

In the bowl of a stand mixer using the paddle attachment beat together the ricotta and sugar until smooth. Add the eggs one at a time and beat until each is incorporated before adding the next. Drizzle in the butter/oil mixture and continue beating until incorporated. Add the sifted dry ingredients and mix just until combined.

Dollop two-thirds (about 600 g) of the batter into the prepared cake pan. Fold the melted chocolate into the remaining one-third of the batter until it is thoroughly combined. Dollop the chocolate batter in between the dollops of plain batter. Run an off-set spatula or butter knife through the batter several times to swirl the two batters together and smooth top with an off-set spatula.

Bake cake in lower third of the oven until it is slightly mounded and a toothpick or cake tester inserted into the middle comes out clean, about 35 – 40 minutes.

Remove cake from the oven and let cool in the pan for about 15 minutes, then turn it out onto a wire cooling rack. Serve when it is fully cool, or the following day. If you like, dust the top with powdered sugar and serve with a bit of  your favorite jam, marmalade, dollop of whipped cream or creme fraiche. Or enjoy it without any adornment with a cup of coffee or tea.

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Crème brûlée à la vanille

Crème brûlée which translates to “burnt cream” is one of the easiest desserts in the world to make. The only trick is knowing how long to cook the custard. Not cooked enough and the custard will remain runny.  Cooked too long and the custard will be rubbery instead of silky smooth.

It’s easy to test though when it’s cooked just right. When the center barely jiggles they are perfectly baked. Carefully remove the pan from the oven. Using a wide off-set spatula remove the ramekins from the hot water and set them on a dry towel to cool.  Once cool, refrigerate them for up to four days.

Even though I use convection for 99% of my cooking; when baking custards or souffles I stick with using conventional heat. The fan tends to wreak havoc by either blowing the tops off of the souffles or cooking the top of a custard before the the interior is cooked.

I found too that using a shallow vessel makes it easier to cook the custard to the correct consistency. Plus a shallow vessel gives you more surface for the burnt sugar top.

One caveat to the shallow vessel recommendation, I must’ve loaned out some of my ramekins as I was short two the last time I made this recipe. I didn’t want to discard the remaining 10 ounces so I looked for the next best option; which ended up being a couple of latté cups. They actually worked quite well.

Lastly, if you can’t get your hands on turbinado or demerara sugar used granulated sugar instead for the brunt sugar topping.

4 cups heavy cream, divided
2/3 cups granulated sugar
Pinch of kosher salt
1 vanilla bean, sliced lengthwise
12 large egg yolks
6 -8 tablespoons turbinado or demerara sugar

Adjust oven rack to lower-middle position and heat oven to 325 degrees. Line a hotel or roasting pan with a kitchen towel and arrange eight 4 or 5 ounce brûlée ramekins on the towel.

Combine 3 cups cream, sugar, and salt in a medium saucepan. (Set the remaining cup of cream back in the refrigerator.) With a paring knife, scrape the seeds from the vanilla bean; adding both the seeds and the pod to the pan. Bring the mixture to simmer over medium heat, stirring occasionally so that the sugar dissolves, the pod remains submerged in the cream and to ensure that the cream doesn’t boil over.

Once the cream is at a simmer remove the pan from the heat and it let steep for at least 15 minutes or up to ½ hour to infuse the vanilla. When ready to proceed with the recipe bring a kettle of water to boil. Stir the remaining cup of cold cream into the other cream mixture. And, separate the eggs into a large bowl, reserving the whites for another use.

Immediately whisk the yolks until combined. Whisk about 1 cup of the cream mixture into yolks until loosened and combined; repeat with another 1 cup cream. Add remaining cream and whisk until evenly colored and thoroughly combined.

Strain through a fine-mesh strainer into 2-quart pitcher (or clean medium bowl); discard any solids in strainer. Pour or ladle mixture into ramekins, dividing it evenly among each of them.

Place the baking pan with the ramekins on the oven rack; pour boiling water into the pan, being careful not to splash water into ramekins, until water reaches two-thirds height of ramekins.

Bake until centers of custards are no longer sloshy and just barely jiggle, about 25 to 30 minutes for shallow fluted ramekins. Begin checking for doneness though about 5 minutes before the suggested time.

Using a wide off-set spatula transfer ramekins to wire rack; cool to room temperature, about 2 hours. Set ramekins on rimmed baking sheet, cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate until cold, at least 4 hours or up to 2 days.

Uncover ramekins; if condensation has collected on custards, place paper towel on surface to soak up moisture. Sprinkle each with about a 1 tablespoon of turbinado or demerara sugar; tilt and tap ramekin for even coverage. Ignite torch and caramelize sugar. Refrigerate ramekins, uncovered, to re-chill, 30 to 45 minutes (but no longer) and serve.

 

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Simca’s Pâte Sublime or Sweet Pastry Dough

This “Sweet Pastry Dough with Cream” recipe is a variation of one that I learned to make at La Pitchoune. La Pitchoune was Julia and Paul Child’s home in the south of France. Their neighbors were the Beck family as in Simca (Simone) Beck who was one of the co-authors of Mastering the Art of French Cooking.

My friend Kathy lived at La Pitchoune after the Child’s moved. She ran La Peetch, as it was affectionaly known, as a cooking school for many years. I would often visit to be her assistant during those cooking classes. This recipe yields about 1 ½ pounds pastry dough or enough for two 9 or 10 inch tart shells.

6 tablespoons (1/3 cup) heavy cream, beaten with 1 large egg yolk
2 cups (9 oz / 260 g) unbleached all-purpose flour
¼ cup (1 oz / 30 g) cake flour, not self-rising
1 teaspoon (1/8 oz) aluminum-free baking powder
½ teaspoon kosher or sea salt
2 tablespoons (¾ oz /25 g) super fine granulated sugar
10 tablespoons (5 oz / 150 g) cold unsalted butter, cut into pieces

Optional additions
Substitute 2 tablespoons freshly squeezed orange juice for 2 tablespoons heavy cream
Zest of one orange, preferably organic

In a small bowl or measuring cup beat together cream and egg yolk. Set in refrigerator until ready to use.

In the bowl of a food processor weight or measure out dry ingredients. Using the metal “S” blade process 2 seconds to combine.

Scatter butter around flour mixture and pulse on/off for 8 to 10 seconds (about 20 pulses) or until mixture resembles coarse oatmeal.

Turn off machine and using a spatula or wooden spoon mound the flour mixture towards the center of the processor bowl. Pour the egg mixture around the parameter of the flour mixture and process just until the mixture starts to hold together.

Turn out onto a floured surface. With the heel of your hand smear the dough away from you at little at a time on the counter, folding it back onto itself with a bench scraper. Once it comes together divide it evenly into two disks. Wrap each tightly in plastic wrap.  Chill for at least ½ hour or even overnight. When ready to roll out, remove the dough from the refrigrator and allow it to sit for a bit to temper. (Attempting to roll it out when it’s too cold becomes an activity of frustration as the dough cracks.)

 Roll out between two pieces of parchment paper or on a lightly floured surface about an 1 ½-inches larger than the tart ring. Roll the dough onto a rolling pin, then unroll over the tart pan. Form the dough evenly in the pan, pressing firmly against the sides.

For a decorative edge leave the sides of the dough slightly higher than the pan. Using the back of a paring knife, score the edges at a slight angle. Pop in the refrigerator or freezer until ready to blind bake or fill and bake.

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Steamed Persimmon Pudding

Growing up we had an Hachiya variety persimmon tree right outside the house. This is the variety that must be fully ripe, i.e. quite soft actually before it is edible. Otherwise, it’s very astringent; like eating an uncured olive. Because of their texture growing up we usually just ate them over the sink.

About fifteen years ago I was introduced to the fuju variety. I scored big time as a dear friend has a tree in her yard. Actually, it’s the only tree left standing in her backyard after the recent Ventura fires. She ships me boxes every November. If you’re not lucky enough to have shipments arrive at your door, you can find them at your local co-op, grocery or Asian market.

Unlike the Hachyna, the fuju variety can be enjoyed while firm or soft similar to the Hachiya variety.  When firm they can be peeled, diced, and added to salads. They can also be peeled, cubed, tossed with olive oil, salt, and pepper and roasted. Serve them this way, for example, alongside a pork roast.

Once they turn soft I cut them in half, scope out the flesh with a spoon, and freeze the pulp in a container until I’m ready to add it to cookie dough or in the recipe below folded into a pudding batter.

Softened butter for buttering mold
1/4 cup (2 oz) Calvados or other brandy
1/4 cup (1 3/4 oz / 50 g) golden raisins (sultanas)
2 cups (9 oz / 250 g) unbleached all-purpose flour
1 teaspoons baking soda
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/8 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
3 – 4 large, very ripe persimmons
1/2 cup (3 1/2 oz / 100 g) granulated sugar
4 large eggs, room température
1/3 cup (2 ½ oz – 75 ml) neutral vegetable oil
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1 cup toasted pecans, coursely chopped (optional)
1/4 cup candied ginger chopped (optionnel)

Place brandy and raisins into a small saucepan. Bring just to a simmer. Remove from heat; let stand at least 15 minutes or up to two days. Drain and discard liquid. Set raisins aside. Generously grease an 8-cup lidded pudding mold with soften butter; set aside.

In a medium bowl sift together flour, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, ginger, and nutmeg. Set aside.

Peel persimmons, removing any black seeds and transfer to bowl of a food processor. Using the metal “S” blade, process until smooth. You should have about 2 cups of pulp; set aside.

In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, whisk together sugar and eggs on medium-high until fluffy, about 5 minutes. Add vanilla and while mixing on low speed slowly pour in the oil; mix until well combined. Add persimmon pulp and mix to combine.

Add flour mixture to persimmon mixture and mix just until combined and smooth, scraping down sides of bowl once during mixing. Fold in the raisins and if adding fold in pecans, and ginger. Transfer mixture to prepared mold and cover with buttered parchment paper round; cover mold with lid.

Fit a large pot with a rack and place filled pudding mold on rack in pot. Add just enough boiling water to come halfway up the mold. Top with a lid and place pot over high heat and bring to a boil; immediately reduce heat to a simmer and cook until pudding springs back when touched, about 2 1/2 hours, adding more boiling water as necessary to maintain water level.

Remove mold from pot and uncover. Let pudding cool in mold for 1 hour, then carefully run a sharp knife around the top edge of the pudding to loosen from the mold and invert carefully onto serving platter.

 

Lemon Sauce

1 cup (7 oz) granulated sugar, divided
Pinch of salt
1 3/4 tablespoon cornstarch
½ cup boiling water
2 large eggs
Zest of one lemon, preferably organic
¼ cup lemon juice
4 tablespoon unsalted butter

Whisk together half the sugar, salt, cornstarch, and boiling water in a heat-proof bowl. Set bowl over a bane marie and whisk until syrup is clear. Remove from heat.

In another bowl whisk together eggs and remaining sugar. Set bowl over same band marie and whisk until sugar is dissolved. While continuing to whisk slowly pour in sugar mixture. Add lemon zest, juice, and butter. Whisk until thickened.

Remove from heat and allow to cool.  Serve with Steamed pudding.

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Zaletti

I was in the middle of testing this recipe when I remembered that my friend David was in Italy. I texted him immediately with the mission of locating and taste testing as many varieties of Zaletti as he could find. He discovered that this is a very elusive cookie. It’s truly regional. Folks in Rome and Florence had never heard of this confection.

It wasn’t until he arrived in Venice that he found them, after asking more than one shopkeeper, “Do you by chance have Zaletti [zaaah-let-ee]?” “No”, they would reply. “Do you mean, [tsa-let-ee]?” “Right, that’s what I said.” He finally scored and graciously gifted me with a precious few of authentic zaletti from Venice aka the Veneto region.

Zaletti comes from the word giallo; meaning “yellow”. According to some the real name should be gialletti or “little yellow things”. Here’s my take on this very regional Italian cookie.

Makes about 5 – 6 dozen cookies depending on the size.

3/4 cup dried currants
1/4 cup hot water
3 tablespoons grappa or brandy
1/2 cup (2 ½ oz/ 75 g) pine nuts, toasted
1 ½ cups (9 oz / 255 g) polenta, aka stone-ground yellow cornmeal
1 ½ cups (6 ¾ oz / 200 g) all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon (5 g) aluminum-free baking powder
pinch of kosher salt
12 (6 oz / 170 g) tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature
2/3 cup (4 ½ oz / 130 g) granulated sugar
2 large eggs
1 large egg, separated
Zest of one lemon, preferably organic
Course sugar for sprinkling on top, optional

Place the currants in a small bowl. Combine the hot water and grappa/brandy; pour over the currants and allow to sit for at least 20 minutes. In a small dry pan, toast the pine nuts, stirring occasionally until brown and fragrant. Pour into a bowl and allow to cool. In a mixing bowl sift together the cornmeal, flour, baking powder, and salt. Set aside.

In the bowl of a stand mixer, using the paddle attachment mix together the butter and 2/3 cup of sugar. Add one whole egg and the egg yolk; mix to incorporate.  Drain the currants, then add them along with the lemon zest, and pine nuts; stir to combine. Stir in the flour mixture just until blended. You may need to finish mixing the dough with your hand.

Turn dough out onto a piece of plastic wrap. Pat into about a 9-inch flat square, that’s about ½-inch thick. Wrap tightly in the plastic and refrigerate for 45 minutes or even overnight.

When ready to bake off, preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper. Remove the dough to a lightly floured surface. Beat the other whole egg with a ½ teaspoon of water. Brush the dough with the egg wash. If using, sprinkle with course sugar.

With a knife or bench knife, cut the dough into ½-inch strips. The cut the strips diagonally to form diamonds or parallelograms.

Place the cookies on prepared baking pans. Bake for 15-18 minutes, rotating the pan about half-way through the cooking. Continue baking lightly golden. Place the baking pans on wire racks and allow the cookies to cool.

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Individual Tarte Tartines

This recipe is so easy and the best part is that it can be made ahead of time. Actually it should be made at least a day ahead and frozen or can be frozen up to 3 days.  It’s not too sweet and you don’t have to flip an entire tart tartin over onto a platter while it’s still piping hot.

The crust is made separately too. Actually it’s a Sablé Breton but any type of sugar cookie would be fine or bake off rounds of puff pastry. You get the idea — use your imagination.

The crème fraîche and caramel sauce can also be made ahead and stored in the refrigerator for up to a week. Or, add a scoop of the best vanilla ice cream you can get your hands on!

Makes 6 individual tartins

2 ½ tablespoons (2 oz / 50 g ) honey
2 tablespoons (1 oz /30 g) salted butter
¼ cup (2 oz / 55 g) heavy cream
2 sheets gelatine
4 large tart apples, such as braeburns or other local cooking variety
½ cup (3 ½ oz / 100 g) granulated sugar
¼ cup water
6 – 2 ½ inch Sablé Breton or cookies of your choice
Crème fraiche, optional
Caramel sauce, optional

Add honey and butter to a large non-stick skillet. Measure out the cream and have it close at hand. Bloom the gelatin sheets in just enough cold water to cover. Set aside for about 10 minutes or until they are pliable. Remove the gelatin sheets from the water and set them aside. Peel and cut the apples into ¼-inch dice.

Heat honey and butter in the non-stick skillet swirling until melted and begining to simmer.  Add diced apples and cook just until soft and some begin to brown.  Remove from heat and set aside.

In a medium saucepan pour the sugar into the middle of the pan. Pour just enough water onto to the sugar to get it wet. Set pan over medium heat and carmelize the sugar until medium amber in color. (The more water you add the longer it will take to caramelize as all the water must first evaporate.) With a pastry brush dipped in a bit of water, brush down the sides of the pan as necessary to prevent sugar crystals of forming.

Swirl the pan so that the amber colored sugar is uniform throughout the pan. Immediately remove the pan from the heat and pour in the cream, stirring to combine. Stir in the bloomed gelatin. Pour the caramel sauce into the sautéed apples and stir to combine.

Place a 6-portion silicone mold on a small sheet pan. Divide the apple mixture evenly (about 1/3 cup per mold) gently pressing down the apple mixture. Freeze overnight or up to 3 days. A couple of hours before serving (even up to 4 hours ahead) unmold the frozen tartines and place them on a piece of parchment paper to thaw.

Using an off-set spatula set each tartin on a sablé and then plate. Serve with a dollop of crème fraiche, caramel sauce and or vanilla ice cream.

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Caramel Sauce with crème fraîche

Caramel sauce can at times be cloyingly sweet and one dimenstional. Adding crème fraîche gives it a bit of tang and cuts the sweetness. It’s delightful served along side a slice of apple tart or topping off a scoop of ice cream. 

1 cup (7 oz / 200 g) granulated sugar
About ½ cup or 125 ml water
7 tablespoons (3 ½ oz /100 g) salted butter, cubed
Scant ½ cup (3 ½ oz / 100 g) crème fraîche
½ teaspoon flaked sea salt or to taste

Measure out the ingredients and have within reach. Pour the sugar into the middle of a wide, heavy-bottomed pan and pour water over it to get the sugar wet; think wet sand. Set over a medium heat. Keep an eye on it as the sugar will begin to melt and turn amber in color.

Once it turns a deep, but not dark, amber colour (about seven minutes), take it off the heat and whisk in the butter until it is completely melted, then stir in the creme fraiche and ½ teaspoon salt.

Once you have a smooth sauce use immediately, or store in a sealed container in the fridge. You can reheat as necessary, adding a little additional crème fraîche or cream if it is too thick.

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