With winter officially over and the onset of Spring, everyone naturally turns to fresh, light, and airy trends. Clothing takes on hues of light pastels and airy designs, homes become lighter following dreaded bouts of extensive cleaning, and food menus turn to the flavors of seasonal fresh fruits like the recently harvested lemon. With spring also comes the rush to reach goal weights set back around new years before summer bikini season starts. What dessert could possibly fit the requirements of all these springtime cliches??? Enter now the Lemon-Poppy Seed Angel Food Cake.
Unlike other cakes, angel food cake uses absolutely no butter or oil, not even to grease the pan. It is very light and airy with a bit of sponge at first bite. Perhaps the best cake to eat on a diet. This cake also does not use baking soda or baking powder…. but how does it get its statuesque height??? EGG WHITES… and a whole lot of them I must add. In fact this cake has a very short ingredient list. But do not be deceived by the apparent simplicity. With simplicity comes more stress to the smallest of details. That flour you didn’t think you needed to sift will lend you a dense, squat cake. Or that little microscopic speck of egg yolk that slipped into the whites while you were separating them will forever prevent you from reaching proper peaks. Without gentle care this majestically tall, snowy-white cake can turn dense, wet, and depressing. You don’t want to serve a depressing cake reminescent to the blah winter blues to a crowd of cheery guests at an Easter party.
If you are careful to follow this recipe with care you are sure to produce consistent sky-high beauties flecked with bits of poppy seeds and bursts of lemon in each bite… absolutely perfect to serve for any springtime celebration. The key you must always remember while preparing this is the volume of the egg whites you whip up so be sure to watch for any hint of yolk when separating the eggs initially. You can use cold or room temperature eggs since both will ultimately whip up to the same volume, however cold eggs will take a little bit longer and are more likely to make you start questioning if you messed something up along the way when you really haven’t. To add some reassurance that you won’t end up with deflated whites I always use cream of tartar because the acidity it offers helps to stabilize the whipped whites.
I know it may be tempting but do not use all-purpose flour in this recipe. You will end up with a cake more like overly soft bread that plasters to the roof of your mouth when you eat it. Not flattering. If your tube pan does not have a removable bottom, I recommend lining it with parchment paper. Just make sure you never grease any part of the pan or parchment. The eggs need to cling to the pans surface in order to rise high and if you grease the pan the eggs can not grip the pan and you will end up with a short stubby brick of a cake. Not cool. After being separated from Angel Food Cake since my grandmother last made it during the holidays, I can confidently say this cake is a keeper for generations to come.
Serves: 10 generous portions or 12 smaller portions
Lemon-Poppy Seed Angel Food Cake
- 4½ oz. Cake Flour (approximately 1 cup plus 2 tbsp. if you do not have a scale)
- ¼ tsp. Salt
- 1¾ cups Granulated Sugar
- 12 Egg Whites
- 1½ tsp. Cream of Tartar
- 1 tsp. Lemon Extract
- 1 tbsp. Lemon Zest; grated
- 2 tbsp. Lemon Juice; (approximately 2-3 lemons)
- 1 tbsp. Poppy Seeds
- Adjust the oven rack to the lower-middle position and preheat the oven to 325°. Whisk the flour and salt together in a bowl. Set aside. Process the sugar in a food processor until fine and powdery, approximately 1 minute. Set aside about half of the processed sugar in a small bowl. Add the flour mixture to the remaining sugar left in the food processor and process until well aerated as if sifted, about another minute.
- With a stand mixer set to medium-low speed, beat the egg whites and cream of tartar until frothy. Increase the speed to medium-high and with the motor running, slowly add the sugar set aside earlier. Make sure to evenly distribute the sugar around the bowl and do not add it all in one spot or you run the risk of deflating the egg whites. Continue to beat until soft peaks form, about 5 minutes. Add the lemon extract, zest, and juice. Mix until just incorporated.
- Sift the flour mixture over the whipped egg whites in 3 separate additions. Fold the mixture gently with a rubber spatula after each addition until incorporated. Gently stir in the poppy seeds until evenly distributed. Scrape cake batter into a 12-cup UNGREASED tube pan.
- Bake the cake until a toothpick inserted near the center of the cake comes out clean and the cracks in the top of the cake appear dry not wet, about 40 to 45 minutes. Remove the cake from the oven and invert the cake on a bottle if your tube pan does not have a stand and allow to cool to room temperature upside down, about 3 hours. This keeps the cake from deflating. Once cool, turn the cake right side up and run a knife around the edges of the pan. Invert the pan on a platter & serve.
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PHOTOGRAPHY & STAGING: PETER MENDOROS
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