I have a really good memory. Unfortunately, my memory specializes in the not-so-important stuff like what I ate for my birthday dinner when I turned seven [spaghetti] and that I dressed up as a waitress for Halloween in the second grade. I remember tons of tidbits from two decades ago that don't really mean anything now, but I like that those sort of memories still rattle about in my head from time to time.
I can't remember multiplication tables or what kind of oil my car takes, but I can tell you that one hot July day during the summer between third and fourth grade, I ran down the street in my wet navy blue and white polka dotted bathing suit to my neighbor Sara's house and we tried to make an angel food cake out of a powdered mix. Now that I look back, it's sort of strange that I went down to Sara's at all since it's the only time we ever spent any time together, but back to the cake.
In the cold townhouse kitchen at Sara's, we dumped the packet of mix into a plastic bowl with the simplest instructions to add water. I thought we should just stir it, but Sara whipped out an immersion blender and tried mixing it that way only to have her mother start yelling from the other room. I hate when someone else's Mom yells - it's so awkward for a little kid. After we got the boot out of the kitchen, Sara thought it would be a good idea to hang out by the bus stop and throw rocks at the stop sign and, being the impressionable child that I was, I went along with it.
Well, my aim was terrible at the time (and has not improved since then) and I ended up pinging the side of a gold car with a very nasty woman behind the wheel in my attempt to hit the sign with the tiniest pebble. Sara took off running back home (maybe that's why we were just neighbors and not friends) and the strange woman rolled down her window and screamed her head off at me when there wasn't a scratch to be found. In hindsight, I don't think she had any kids, so she never refined her skills in the Patience With Children department, so I hope she's had the chance to work on it since then.
So now, because of that horrible no good nasty woman in the gold car, my brain has a permanent scar in the angel food cake section. Anytime I tasted it, I'd have flashbacks to standing at the bus stop wrapped in my pink beach towel and chewing my bottom lip out of fear that the screaming banshee would kill me. So this cake has been a long time coming, eighteen years really, and it was well worth it. What angel food cake lacks in fat in makes up for in spun-sugar whimsical flavor, sort of like twisting swirls of cotton candy around your fingers at the fair and tugging each bite apart with the hope your Mom will buy you another one.
I used a bit of orange zest to brighten the flavor of this cake, and the result was a softly scented creamsicle cake, chewy and lush and perfect for dessert in my household of dieters. This cake is infinitely adaptable - omit the orange and add a shot of kirsch instead. Toss in a few tablespoons of grated chocolate for a black and white version. Serve it with berries, whipped cream or chocolate sauce. Whatever you do, don't bother sharing with any unpleasant neighbors, lest it leave a mark on you, too.
This recipe is done by weight - something I am usually peeved about, but if you have a kitchen scale then it couldn't be easier. Set the bowl on the scale, tare it to zero, and off you go.
Orange Scented Angel Food Cake
Adapted from Ratio
12 ounces egg whites
12 ounces granulated sugar
4 ounces cake flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Zest of 1 medium orange
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F and dig out your 9-inch tube pan.
Measure the egg whites into the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment. In a separate bowl, whisk together the flour and 6 ounces of the sugar - set aside.
Whisk the egg whites on medium speed for about a minute or until they begin to foam just slightly. Add the salt, cream of tartar, lemon juice, and vanilla and increase the speed to medium-high. Beat until the foam has thickened and the mixture is opaque - about 5 minutes. Maintaining the same speed, begin drizzling in the remaining 6 ounces of sugar a little at a time until all the sugar is incorporated and the foam holds a very soft peak (if you dip the whisk in and pull it out, the peak should immediately slouch back over).
Add the orange zest to the egg white mixture and sprinkle a few tablespoons of the flour/sugar mixture over the top. With a large rubber spatula, gently fold the zest and flour mixture into the meringue, taking care to scoop from the bottom without deflating the egg whites. Continue folding and adding the remaining flour mixture until it is well incorporated.
Scoop the batter into the ungreased tube pan and gently smooth the top. Bake for about 40 minutes or until the top is a pale golden brown and a skewer inserted comes out clean. Invert the pan onto a bottle (or just on the counter if your pan has "feet" on it like mine) and allow it to cool for about 2 hours. Once it's cool, slide a butter knife around all the edges, sides and bottom (if you have a removable bottom, this will be super easy), and tip it out onto a plate.
Serve with berries, whipped cream, or by itself, wedged in a napkin while you stand in the kitchen.