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"Why is my angel food cake such a flop?"

Dear Culinary Experts,

I’ve been cooking for forty years, and my angel food cakes were always successful—until now. Lately, everything is fine until I add flour to the egg-and-sugar mixture. For some reason, the mixture now becomes gluey and horrible. I’ve blamed the flour, so I’ve switched to an instant flour, and I’ve also cut down on the amount of sugar (though I was very careful about how much I used before). What’s gone wrong?

Many thanks from a frustrated cook.


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Hi Klara,

As you’ve discovered, there’s little middle ground when you make an angel food cake. When angel food cake is good, it’s positively ethereal with its high volume and fine texture. But when angel food cake doesn’t turn out right, it’s truly dreadful.

Angel food cake recipes are also unique because they contain beaten egg whites for leavening and because no fat is used in the batter. Without the fat, there’s no tenderizing effect on the batter and the gluten develops more easily, which can result in a gummy mixture. So it’s important to use flour that’s low in gluten.
An angel food cake is best when it’s made with cake flour or a combination of cake and pastry flours, because both types have less gluten-forming potential than instant flour. When instant flour is processed, all the flour particles are altered so that they are free-flowing and uniform in size. Therefore, the particles don’t form the frameworks necessary for fine baking in the same way as they do in cake and pastry flours. The instant flour you’re currently using is better suited for making “unlumpy” sauces rather than for baking.

A second factor that reduces the volume of your angel food cake is cutting back on the sugar. When sugar is used in baking, it does more than simply sweeten the mixture: It also has a strong effect on the volume of the finished product because it raises the temperature at which the batter sets, giving the cake extra rising time before its structure firms. The rising process also stretches the batter extensively, which contributes to the cake’s very tender texture.

We recommend that you go back to the original amount of sugar in the recipe. You might even try a fine granulated sugar. Also, use cake flour instead of instant flour.

We’ll bet that your next cake will be superb! Good luck.
Anne & Sue




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