Saturday, July 4, 2009

Patriotic Pastry

Living in Washington, DC sometimes I take for granted the wealth of historical treasures and building blocks of American heritage that exist throughout our nation's capital. For example, although I live only four Metro stops from the National Archives, the only time I drop by to visit the Constitution is when I'm taking out of town guests for a tour of the city. Similarly, I've never been to the top of the Washington Monument and I've never managed to make it on a White House tour, although I know that I should have a greater appreciation for the fact that these are even options in my day-to-day life. So today, when we take a moment to celebrate what it means to be American, I'm looking forward to joining with the mass of humanity that descends upon the National Mall each July 4th. I generally eschew activities that involve packing into Metro cars so full that that only things keeping you in place are the knobby shoulders and elbows of your fellow passengers just trying to get from Point A to Point B. But there's just something about sitting on the steps of the Jefferson Memorial, oohing and aahing and the fireworks display, watching children with red, white and blue bomb pop dripping down their chins, and appreciating what it means to have independence, perhaps for those around the world who aren't as fortunate.

For this year's picnic at the memorial, I (of course) wanted to make cupcakes. However, due to the aforementioned Metro conditions, I wasn't sure those would really survive the trip in my tote bag all the way across the city (even with my nifty new individual cupcake tupperwares!). Similarly, although a brief glimpse across the internet gives hundreds of red, white and blue dessert recipes, you'd be surprised how many involved Jell-o or whipped cream. Again, not very public transport or sweltering heat-friendly. Fortunately I happened to come across a Taste of Home recipe for a rainbow angel food cake. Though the original recipe calls for layers of orange, yellow and green cake, I thought I'd try to substitute red and blue for a patriotic treat that would easily survive a trip in tupperware and definitely wouldn't melt. As an added bonus, this recipe can be used just as easily for Bastille Day on July 14th :)

Angel food cake is another example of a cake that I frequently buy but never thought to make myself because I assumed that a cake with such a light and delicate texture must be complicated to execute. In fact, angel food cake is hardly much more than a meringue with flour added to provide more structure. You will need a tube pan, though a bundt pan will do in a pinch but will be more difficult to turn out the cake due to the fluted molding design. A few more notes:
  • Gel or liquid food coloring may be used (I used about 10 drops for each color) if you have access to white gel coloring you may also add this to the white layer of batter for a brighter contrast.
  • It is important to cool the cake upside down so that it does not fall in on itself
  • When serving it is best to slice an angel food cake with a serrated knife so that the cake does not squish under the pressure of a more dull blade.
  • Save your yolks! Reserve the unused yolks for a custard or Hollandaise later on in the week. They can even be frozen for up to four months, but be sure to stabilize them first

Red, White and Blue Angel Food Cake
1 1/2 cups egg whites (about 10)
1 cup cake flour
1 1/2 cups sugar, divided
1 1/2 tsps cream of tartar
1 1/2 tsps vanilla extract
1/2 tsp almond extract
1/4 tsp salt
Red and blue food coloring

1. Separate egg whites and let stand at room temperature for about 30 minutes.

2. Sift flour and 3/4 cup sugar twice; set aside.

3. In a very large bowl beat the egg whites, cream of tartar, extracts and salt on medium speed until soft peaks form. Gradually add remaining sugar, 2 tablespoons at a time, beating on high until stiff, glossy peaks form and sugar is dissolved. Gradually and gently fold in flour mixture with a spatula or large serving spoon, one fourth at a time.

4. Divide batter into three bowls. To the first bowl add red food coloring to shade desired. Repeat with second bowl, using blue food coloring. Leave third bowl of batter white. Fold food coloring into each batter.

5. Spoon red batter into an ungreased, 10-in tube pan; carefully spread to cover the bottom. Spoon white batter over the red layer (do not mix). Spoon blue batter over white layer. Bake at 350 degrees for 30-35 minutes or until top springs back when lightly touched and cracks feel dry.

6. Immediately invert pan; cool completely. Run a knife around sides and center of tube pan and invert onto a serving dish.


  1. OMG, I can't believe I actually get to eat some of that lovely cake! And I can't wait to be one of those kids with bomb pop all over their faces you speak of.

  2. I love angel food cake! I'll have to try this one. Crap, I'd need a tube pan...damnit!

    Last egg-white based recipe I made though didn't go so well. My friend and I tried to make pavlovas and I think we over mixed it and it cracked while baking. Oops.

  3. @youdancefunny: I LOVE a Pav for summertime! It's very difficult to keep meringues from cracking, especially during serving, and there are tons of different suggstions:

    -get an oven thermometer to ensure you're not overcooking
    -bake on parchment or silpat so that the meringue can expand more easily
    -don't open the oven at all during baking

    Ultimately, this is what I love about Pavlovas...just top with fruit and no one knows the difference :)