Angel Food Cake

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As I write this, my angel food cake is upside down, cooling in the kitchen.

Upside down. You heard me right.


Making angel food cake is one of the great acts of culinary faith. After separating a dozen eggs, beating them to soft peaks, and baking your cake in a quake-free kitchen, flipping it over so that it can cool upside down is absolutely the last thing you’ll want to do. Trust me.

But, it’s one of the things that will guarantee you a tall, light & fluffy cake. Don’t worry, I’ll show you how to do it.

Angel food cake is built out of egg whites, sugar, and a minuscule amount of flour. Since the egg whites provide most of the body and structure for the cake, the name of the game is to not de-poof your whites once they’re beaten.

A modern twist on classic Grandmother Cake

This recipe comes from America’s Test Kitchen. I hate to say it, but I think it actually beats my 1950’s Betty Crocker version. No joke.

Wait, I have to grind up sugar?

Yep! Hear me out.

For this recipe, America’s Test Kitchen tested a bunch of different kinds of sugar. In the end, they grind up regular white, granulated sugar to lighten it so that it doesn’t weigh the egg whites down.

Here’s my sugar before grinding, just as it came out of the package.

And here’s my sugar after grinding.

Fussy? Absolutely. Worth it? I was skeptical, but after tasting the final cake, I actually think it’s worth it to take the extra step.

That said, next time, I might try bar sugar, also known as superfine sugar. (This is the sugar that you use in cocktails, because it basically dissolves instantly.) The recipe didn’t mention it, and I’m curious. My box of bar sugar says it would be great in meringues, souffles, and mousses. I’m thinking angel food cake would work, too, and it would cut out one kind of fussy step. More on that when I try it.

Tips for making angel food cake

  • Don’t grease your pan. (Really, don’t. You need the cake to stick to the pan so that it doesn’t fall out when you cool it upside down).
  • Use cake flour. Trust me. It’s lighter than regular flour.
  • Don’t get a speck of yolk in your egg whites. Yolks are all fat, and fat keeps egg whites from whipping up properly.
  • No jumping in the kitchen when it’s in the oven. Think of this as a slightly more stable souffle.
  • Cool it upside down for 3 hours to minimize sinkage and maximize poof.
  • Angel food cake doesn’t like humidity. So, if it’s sticky & hot where you are, make the cake the day you’re going to serve it.

What is cake flour?

Cake flour is milled more than standard flour, which means that it’s much finer and lighter. (Sounds just like what we’re doing with the sugar, right? For angel food cake, smaller particles of just about everything are better.)

The protein content is also lower than all-purpose flour. The more protein in a flour, the more gluten your baked goods will develop. Gluten basically equals chewiness, which is great for a crusty loaf of bread, but not so great for a cake. Cake flour makes cakes with a really light, fine crumb.

Most big grocery stores in the U.S. carry cake flour in the baking aisle. If you can’t find it locally, you can definitely order it online. I usually grab Swan’s Down at my regular market, or King Arthur Flour’s unbleached cake flour when I order online.

Use a tube pan with a removable bottom

I always use a regular, 10-inch tube pan with a removable bottom to bake my angel food cakes. (This is my pan.)

You can also use a special “angel food cake pan,” (like this one) which is basically a tube pan with three tabs on the rim to hold up the pan when you cool the cake.

To the ovens!

Angel Food Cake

Recipe from America’s Test Kitchen Magazine

1 cup + 2 Tbls. cake flour
1/4 tsp. salt
1 3/4 cups white sugar
12 large egg whites
1 1/2 tsp. cream of tartar
1 tsp. vanilla extract

Serves 10-12

Bring your eggs up to room temperature

Set your eggs out on the counter about a half an hour before you want to bake. You want to bring them to room temperature, because room temp egg whites beat up fluffier than cold egg whites.

Pre-heat your oven to 325 degrees.

Grind up the sugar

This is fussy, I know. But I do think it definitely makes a difference. If you don’t have a food processor, I’m pretty confident that a blender will work just as well.

Put the sugar in the bowl of your food processor.

Cap it and turn it on high for a few minutes. Warning: You’re going to get a little sugar cloud. Toss a damp towel over the top to keep it contained.

When the sugar is ground up, take about half of it and set it aside in a bowl. (You’re going to add the sugar to the batter in two parts.)

Add the cake flour to the sugar that’s left in the food processor.

Give that a whirl on high for a minute. This is just to combine it well and make a really uniform mixture.

Set that aside while you deal with the eggs.

Separate the eggs

Separate your eggs, whites in one bowl, yolks in another. It’s absolutely critical (words you’ll hardly ever hear from me, I know) that you don’t get any yolk in the egg whites. Even a little yolk will keep the whites from whipping up to soft peaks.

I just use my hand to separate the eggs. (Crack the egg in your hand over a bowl. Cradle the yolk so it doesn’t break. Let the white pour through your fingers into the bowl. Repeat.) If you’d rather not do it by hand, you can always use an egg separator.

Save the yolks for another purpose. They’ll keep in the fridge for about a day. A great way to use up extra egg yolks is to make ice cream.

Beat the egg whites to soft peaks

Put your egg whites in the bowl of your stand mixer (or in a large bowl if you’re beating by hand or with a handheld mixer). Toss in the cream of tartar. It might clump up a little. That’s just fine. Your mixer will bash those little clumps apart.

What does cream of tartar do? Basically, it’s an acid, and a little bit of acid will help your whites beat up fluffier. It will also help stabilize them.

Beat the whites on high until they get white and frothy. This will take a minute or so.

Like this:

When the whites are frothy, slowly add the reserved, ground up sugar with the mixer running. (NOT the sugar & flour.)

Beat the mixture for another 5 minutes or so, until the egg whites form soft peaks.

When they’re ready, your egg whites will look like this…

…and form a soft peak (i.e. a peak that flops over when you pull the beater out of the bowl).

Finish the batter

Add the vanilla extract and beat to incorporate.

Take the remaining flour & sugar mixture. Sift half of it into your beaten egg whites to remove any clumps. (Clumps = weight, which means droopage for your finished cake.)

Gently fold the sifted flour into the egg whites.

Repeat with the rest of the flour mixture.

Your finished batter will look about like this:

Bake the angel food cake

Transfer the batter to your tube cake pan. DON’T grease the pan beforehand. You want it to stick to the sides, so that it doesn’t fall out when you cool it upside down.

Smooth the batter down gently with a spatula so it’s about even.

Bake on the lower-middle rack at 325 degrees for 40-45 minutes.

The cake is done when it’s golden brown on top and when a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean.

The top of your cake will crack a little. That’s just fine.

Invert the cake & cool completely

Let the cake cool for about 5 minutes on the counter. Then get ready to flip the cake. You’ll need a smaller, sturdy stand with a flat bottom. A clay flower pot is ideal…it’s flat, heat absorbant, etc. You could also use a bowl.

Remember, you didn’t grease the pan, so the cake is sticking to the sides…which is what keeps it from falling out.

Deep breath. Ready?

Grab the cake pan with potholdered paws, and…flip it over quickly and calmly so that the center part of the pan is resting squarely in the middle of the bottom of the flower pot.

Make sure that it’s steady on the flower pot (i.e. so that when the kids/dog/your rowdy friends gallop through your kitchen, it won’t tip and fall) and…that’s it! Let the cake stay like this until it’s completely cool. Gravity will do its work and help keep your cake nice and tall.

Unmold, slice & serve

When your cake is cool, flip it back over. Run a knife around the inside edge of the pan to loosen it and remove it from the pan.

Serving ideas

What do you like with your cake? Here are some ideas (I’m partial to the lemon icing):

  • Fresh berries
  • Whipped cream spiked with Kahlua
  • A dusting of powdered sugar
  • A drizzle of quick lemon icing (mix fresh lemon juice into sifted powdered sugar until it’s thin enough to drizzle)
  • Chocolate ice cream & a dollop of hot fudge

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Jessie Cross is a cookbook author and creator of The Hungry Mouse, a monster online food blog w/500+ recipes. When she's not shopping for cheese or baking pies, Jessie serves as an Associate Creative Director at PARTNERS+simons, a boutique ad agency in Boston. She lives in Salem, Massachusetts with her husband and two small, fluffy wolves.

67 COMMENTS

  1. Yum!! I made Alton Brown’s angel food cake for my birthday and it was very good (I think the recipes are similar, but I”m too lazy to go look), but my top never browned and I really missed it. I might have to try your recipe and see if that helps at all.

    • I used alton brown’s recipe and it browned just perfect. maybe you didn’t bake it long enough? or missed an ingredient?

    • I made Alton Brown’s recipe just yesterday. It is similar, but he adds water to the egg whites. I used farm fresh eggs. Fresh eggs have more water than older eggs anyway. The whole thing was a flop. I came here looking for a new recipe…

  2. This is the cake I harldy dare to think about baking lol But your recipe seems helping quite a lot. Yours look great!
    With a baby… Well… I’ll try! (I need non-cocoa recipes nowadays couse of allergic issues of mine :p)

  3. Momma suggested I separate the egg white into a small custard cup, and once I know the yolk didn’t get into it, put the white in the mixer bowl with the others.

  4. Homemade angel food cake is definitely cake of the gods 🙂 When the guests are worth it, I take the time to do this (rather than the box mix), and I do use superfine sugar which works just fine. Your next post should be homemade ice cream so I know what to do with the yolks next time! Thanks for this fun post! (By the way, your homemade marshmallows were my first glimpse into your world, and made your site an instant “favorite” on my list!)

    • Hi! You can use the yolks for flan or creme caramel 🙂 I’m Filipino and we have this dessert called Leche Flan – pretty easy to make (yolks, white sugar, condensed milk and regular milk plus vanilla) but don’t overcook it. You can steam it to cook or use the oven, in a water bath. I have never made Leche Flan before because I didn’t want to “waste” so much egg whites, as it calls for about a dozen yolks. When I found out angel food cake’s recipe, I finally had something useful to do with the egg whites..

  5. My mother always made me Angel Food Cake for my birthday, but with an amazing twist. She’s cut the cake horizontally and hollow out a ring. Then load the channel with my favorite ice cream (tempering it first). Frosted with whip cream frosting and strawberry slices. Amazing!

  6. I belong to a recipe club and I thought I had seen some complex recipes, but this one is completely intimidating, which means if followed to a “T” it will be worth it in the end. Great tips! I’ve never attempted Angel Food cake before, but I now know
    that if I use this exact instructional blog post, I have a good shot at making a great dessert!
    Cheers!
    Virginia O.

  7. Thank you for the step by step instructions. Though it looks intimidating, well, am confident to try it because of your clear explanation. Great post!

  8. Very deeply you have explained that how to make it.. its very crunchy and looking very easy to make by reading this tips. even no much ingredients for the same.. Thank You. will definitely try out at weekend.

  9. Absolutely, GREAT photographs, Jessie. Especially the “sugar cloud” coming out of the food processor! (I always wondered how you’re able to maneuver your camera and take such great pix with just one hand. -JK)
    What tips can you give us about adding different flavorings to angelfood cakes? Confetti-style with little bits of tastiness or swirls?
    Finally, let me say that these cakes, and chiffon cakes (my favorite) do require a good bit of faith and courage. The more you experiment, the more likely it is that the cake will fall. Can you share some rules of thumb when adding pumpkin pureé or Solo-brand almond paste, etc.?

  10. Looks so delicious!
    I don’t cook very often, but I would like to start cooking tasty meals and I think that thanks to your blog I will finally have this opportunity. Thank you for sharing!
    Regards 🙂

  11. Your ingredients look like the recipe I was looking for with the egg whites and cake flour. My mother used to make this cake for our birthdays and I wanted to try and recreate it. She always beat it by hand though so I was wondering if anyone still does that?

  12. Thank you. America’s test kitchen rocks. I love science, food, and making food. put them together and you get ATC. however, you have to pay $$ to get those recipes so having your website is great for broke college people who love baking but have to do it on a dime. THANK YOU THANK YOU. :DD

    My cake was gone in less than 5 min btw

  13. Just wanted you to know that I thought your directions and photos were so good that I added a link from my recent post to this page Foodthoughtsbyjhg.wordpress.com

  14. I was wondering if I could use egg whites from a carton.. How long do you think I should let them sit out to become room temp??

  15. Why does my angel food cake leave all the yummy brown side crust stuck on the side of the pan instead of staying on the cake?

  16. I am wondering why you have to grind up sugar? Here in England we have granulated (the normal sort you put in your coffee), caster sugar, which is finer and icing sugar, which is like powder. I’m not sure which of the last two is best?

  17. Jo – You grind up the suger to make it fine. I live in America and at my store I found Cake Sugar. I used that and it was fine. Don’t use your icing sugar. That is too powered.

    My question is… I just pulled it out of the oven and could literally watch it shrink away from the sides. The toothpick came out clean, brown on top, no oil in pan, it rose to over the edges when it was cooking. But it has shrunk away from the sides and middle now and I am sort of afraid to turn it over. Which I know I am supposed to do; my mother always did. This is my first Angel Food Cake for my hubby. We live in the Colo Rockies – should there have been a high altitude adjustment of some sort???

    Love your instructions! Thank you so much!

    Deanna

  18. Ok. Well mine came out raw. I guess I need High Altitude directions. But in going over the recipe I found that you have salt in the ingredients but not in the directions. So I missed the salt completely. When do we put in the salt?

  19. Jo – Caster sugar is the same as superfine sugar (or ground up sugar) here in the states.

    What I realized after making this last night is that the ingredients call for 1/4 tsp of salt, but never says when to include it in the process, so i left it out, altogether. But for next time, when does this get added??

  20. You should add the salt to the egg whites along with the cream of tarter. My dear mother-in-law made angel food cake for every birthday. We ate it plain, it was so delicious. She used 1/2 teaspoon almond extract in addition to the vanilla extract. Since Mom is now in her nineties, I plan to continue the yummy tradition. Enjoy, all!

  21. Following this was my first attempt and it turned out perfectly! Thank you for taking the time and care to be so clear and specific. Made all the difference!

  22. My mother used to beat her egg whites with a two pronged fork. Your cake looks good but my mother’s would rise so high above the cake pan. I have tried to recreate that but no luck. Mine goes about as high as yours. She would try to make it not rise so much because it always intimidated her friends whenever they were all supposed to take a cake to a party. Mom’s was browner also. Really Angel Food cake is not that hard to make…surprisingly. Just a few tricks to the trade. I am getting ready to make a cake for our local county fair. Wish me luck for a nice light high cake. I have tried soooo many different recipes. I wish I knew which box contains my mother’s cake pan!

  23. Made it! Loved it!
    My mom made Angel Food Cake for our brithdays and iced it with her own special whipped frosting (had flour, milk, etc). It was a party in your mouth! I’m the youngest (61 yrs old) of four kids, so we had the pleasure of enjoying her special cake and frosting a few times each year…
    I have her angel food cake pan and it is my job to provide the ‘brithday cakes’!

  24. I just wanted to submit my review. I made this today. Im not too much of a baker, but I really wanted some angel food cake and wont eat store bought baked goods. They just seem so unsatisfying! This was my first angel food cake attempt ever. I used cane sugar and all purpose baking flour, because that is what I had. I dont think the cane sugar was a big deal cause I ground it up nice and fine, but I would use the cake flour next time. Once I had added the flour, it didnt mix as well as I would have liked, I could see little clumps. Otherwise everything turned out awesome. It was slightly tedious, but a fun recipe with simple ingredients. So I enjoyed. I put it in a normal cake pan again, cause its all I had. Turned really pretty. I smoothed it on top, and it didnt crack up, I think next time Ill make a little design with the batter so it looks pretty on top.
    Great recipe!

  25. Ive made this cake not his recipe instead of taking time to grind the sugar simply use 10x confectioners sugar to add to the flour mixture, an absolutely wonderful cake (said my Grandmother and her friends) I made it for her birthday. And the confectioner sugar takes away one step and truly start to finish this recipe only took 20 min to make and then bake and cool and your done.

  26. My 13 yr old will have fun making this with all of his farm chicken eggs. His aunt C. said its easy enough for him to enjoy. I can’t wait for the smiles…….

  27. Looking forward to trying this version of one of my favorite cakes to make tonight for Christmas tomorrow.
    Just a note: having grown up in Australia but lived in the US too, cooks in the US may be interested to know that virtually every single cake recipe in Australia calls for superfine sugar (we call it caster sugar). It is so much easier to cream, add to egg whites for meringues and dissolve into cream cheese for frosting. I use it much more than regular granulated sugar.

  28. When I had to take cooking classes in school, lo many, many years ago, we always had to use caster sugar. I find it is hard to get in Canada, so I grind granulated sugar. It makes a much lighter cake and is easier to cream.

    In making my Christmas desserts, Tiramisu and Semifredo, I am left with 10 or 12 egg whites. So I plan to use these to make an Angel Food Cake for my birthday next month. I understand that the cake can be frozen. I would prefer to freeze the cake rather than the egg whites.

  29. My family lovesss angel food cake and we always make it with a cocoa fluff icing which really enhances the flavor of the cake. Since the cake is super sweet the bitterness of the cocoa frosting (which is kind of like a light light mousse) makes it taste even better!

    1 cup whipping cream
    1/2 cup sifted powder sugar
    1/4 cup sifted cocoa
    dash of salt

    beat in a chilled bowl until stiff enough to hold peaks
    you may need a double recipe if you plan on cutting the cake in half and icing the inside

    Bon Appetite!

  30. You can make your own cake flour.
    Just take out 2 tbsp. of flour and
    replace it with 2 tbsp. of corn starch.
    Make sure you sift this about 5 times,
    so it will incorporate it really well.
    You can also look it up online, how
    to make cake flour out of regular flour.

  31. I Love your Details, I grew up, and always was served as my birthday cake, and will continue the
    tradition, adding your refinements, and wanted to share that; after cake is Cooled, removed.my
    family mixes Dream whip, and Well-drained, Crushed pineapple-and chill for best consistency.Use a cake knife, to separate into 2 layers. Frost entire cake and serve as Chilled Cake. Delicious. Your directions Make all the Difference, thank-you:)
    .

  32. I just made this cake and it’s upside down on a pot resting. Looks fabulous and it was so easy to follow your directions with the pictures! Thanks so much. Now I have to wait to try it as it’s my sister’s birthday cake. Hmmm, I wonder if she’d notice a piece missing?!

  33. We have laying hens. So today I was thinking of making this cake to use some of our eggs! It looks FABULOUS! I am sure it will be worth the extra steps! Crossing my fingers and thanks for the recipe!!!

  34. I am curious about the use of just vanilla- i noticed a lot of recipes also use almond extract. any experiences or thoughts on also using almond extract?

  35. Have a cake in the oven right now. Takes me back in time. My aunt baked many of them in my childhood days.I am adding her secret ingredient…a little dry strawberry Jello! You swirl it into the mixture right before putting it into the baking pan.Yummy! Finish it off with pink icing and just a little thinned white icing drizzled over the edges.I may add a few sprinkles over the top. Am taking it to a picnic tonight.

  36. I have made this cake four times, and it is delicious. I always return to your recipe. I had always been “scared” to make an angel food cake because I thought it could be tricky. But this recipe has made it easier and it has turned out perfectly every time…and it is actually a very fun cake to make. Thanks!

    Leigh DeVore

  37. […] convinced J that Angel food cake was the cake to ask for. So I made one for the party using this recipe, and I think it turned out okay! Not sure that I will go racing to make another one soon, given […]

  38. I’ve never made a homemade angel food cake before trying this recipe. I took some to work and gave some to my neighbors and they LOVED it! I did too. It was very light, moist, tasty but not too sweet. I bought a non-stick pan from Target and it came out fine. I used a plastic knife to loosen the cake from the pan. Then I made homemade chocolate whipped topping, and added fresh strawberries on top. It was DELICIOUS!

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