Lip-Smacking Lemon Curd

Picture this:

You’ve been wanting to make lemon curd for weeks. After a lengthy search for just the right recipe, you find one that calls for the following:

  • 2 eggs
  • 2 tbsp. butter
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 2/3 cup lemon juice
  • 1 tbsp. lemon zest

The recipe yields 1 and 1/3 cups curd, which would be enough for you—but you’ve been invited to a dinner party tonight.  And the irrepressible overachiever within you thinks it would be a fabulous idea to surprise your host with sponge cupcakes, strawberries macerated in Grand Marnier and agave syrup, and some of that lemon curd.

Solution: double the ingredients, double the curd.  Easy enough.

But as you’re gathering all the elements, you realize you have only 3 eggs. And just under a cup of sugar. You find 2 tablespoons of unsalted butter (exactly!) wrapped in the fridge, but that’s all the butter you find.

You have laundry at various stages of washing and drying in the basement. You have not showered, and the bed hair you woke up with isn’t the sexy kind you can get away with outside the home. Four pots, each containing lunches and dinners for the week, are at various stages of cooking on the stove. The dinner party is less than 3 hours away, and it’s pouring outside.  You’re not particularly anxious to run to the grocery store, nor do you have time.

You could stop here, just bring the bottle of wine you told the host you’d bring to the party.  But you’ve been wanting to make lemon curd all week. And because the cake batter has been mixed—and you can’t very well serve a naked cupcake—there’s no turning back.

New plan: Make the curd, but just increase the ingredients by a third.

Again, easy enough. But you’ve forgotten how to add fractions. And you’re running out of time. Did I mention you really need a shower? The pot filled with black bean soup is bubbling over. The phone is ringing. It’s Mom. Those phone calls never last 5 minutes.  What do you do?

Stop thinking and cook.  And somewhere in between, just breathe.

RECIPE:

Tart Lemon Curd,

A Very Happy Accident by Yours Truly

bastardized from Cooking Light’s Lemon Curd (May 2000)

Ingredients:

  • 3 large eggs
  • 2 tablespoons lemon zest
  • a scant cup of sugar
  • 1 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice (about 5 medium-large lemons’ worth)
  • 2 tbsp. unsalted butter

Method:

Combine eggs, zest and sugar in a saucepan over medium-high heat, whisking constantly until sugar dissolves.  It’ll take about 3 minutes.

Stir in the lemon juice and the butter. Continue stirring, and cook until the mixture loosely coats the back of a spoon. It’ll thicken as it cools.

Transfer the curd to a bowl to cool for about 10 minutes. Then, get a piece of plastic wrap big enough to cover the bowl. Poke a few holes in it, and then place the plastic wrap directly on top of the curd. This prevents condensation from forming, but more importantly it prevents a thick, rubbery skin from forming on the curd (note: this applies to any hot/warm pudding or custard).  Refrigerate.

Once the curd is [mostly] chilled, you can transfer it to a glass jar. It keeps for about a week—if it lasts that long. You’ll get about 16-20 servings from this recipe, assuming each serving is about 2 tablespoons. (In which case, it’s 2 Weight Watchers Points Plus per serving.)

A couple of notes on taste…

This curd is ideal for spooning over a sponge cake, a croissant, sweet bread or macerated berries; or, mixing it with yogurt and granola.  You could call it “tart”, but I like to think the limited sugar helps to preserve the integrity of the lemon’s punch and zing. Tracie, who hosted the dinner party, loved the stuff, as did our friend Liz. My boyfriend found the curd a bit too tart. If your sweet tooth needs a little more sweet, add more sugar. Or, you could just follow the original recipe.

Sunday Cooking Wrap-Up: When One Ingredient Makes All The Difference

My day began with a minor disaster—and a lesson: don’t attempt to separate eggs without being properly caffeinated first.  After 5 wasted eggs and 2 cups of coffee, I successfully separated nine eggs and made an angel food cake for my father.

While the cake was in the oven, I prepared a savory experiment for my boyfriend—an ultimately successful adaptation of David Tanis’s Orecchiette al Forno (you can find the recipe here).  My adaptation may qualify as a new dish entirely—I didn’t use orecchiette, and I didn’t bake the dish, so we can cross out the “al forno”. This is how it turned out:

Conchiglie Rigate with Broccoli Rabe, Sausage & Ricotta

Instead of orecchiette, I used conchiglie rigate (ridged shells), a sturdy pasta that holds up to reheating and even better—has the perfect concave shape to trap bits of sausage and sauce, so the all the flavors really get into the pasta.  Before preparing a container of this lovely dish for a surprise delivery, I stole a few bites. (Okay, more than a few.) I think my boyfriend will be happy.

So after making a cake for dad and pasta for my boyfriend, it was time to make something for myself.  On chilly & rainy days like today, the only thing I want is soup.

I cooked some beans, gathered and chopped my veggies, and defrosted my chicken stock—all the makings of a hearty soup. But I wanted a little something extra. Not heat or spice or meat, but a something fresh with a nice pop.

Enter pesto. A little bit of pesto sauce does what dried herbs cannot do—add the sweet zing of fresh basil, garlic & extra virgin olive oil in one concentrated shot.  Plus, it turns average soup into something fancy-sounding: Soup al Pistou. Oui!

Vegetable Soup al Pistou

Adapted from WeightWatchers.com

Time: 45 minutes

Serves: 4 (about 1.5 cups soup/serving)

Ingredients:

  • 3 carrots, chopped
  • 3 stalks celery, chopped
  • 1/2 large onion, chopped
  • 3 garlic cloves, smashed
  • 1 tbsp. olive oil
  • 2 tsp. salt, divided
  • 1 quart chicken stock
  • 1.5 cups cooked cannellini beans, with a 1/2 cup cooking liquid (or just used canned)
  • 1/2 cup fresh or frozen green peas
  • 1 medium zucchini, chopped
  • 3/4 cup diced tomatoes (with their liquid)
  • 2 cups baby spinach
  • freshly ground pepper
  • 4 heaping teaspoons pesto sauce
  • grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese (for topping)

Method:

Heat a large pot over medium high heat. Add oil, swirl to coat. Next, add carrots, celery, garlic and 1 teaspoon salt. Cook, stirring occasionally, for about 10 minutes, or until the vegetables are soft.

Add chicken stock, raise the heat and bring the mixture to a boil. Stir in beans, peas, zucchini, and tomato. Allow mixture to cook at a rapid simmer (you don’t want a rolling boil) for another 10 minutes. Add spinach, stirring into the soup until it’s wilted. Remove the pot from the heat, add the other teaspoon of salt and freshly ground pepper to your taste.

Divide soup into 4 bowls. Spoon a heaping teaspoon of pesto on top of each bowl, following with the grated cheese.  Have a seat, a sip of wine, and stir up your soup. Enjoy with a piece of warm, crusty bread. Voi-la!

 

Note – If you’re dining alone like me, and want to save the rest of the soup for lunch and dinner during the week, refrigerate the soup (without the pesto or cheese) within two hours of cooking. It’ll keep for 4-5 days. Add the pesto and grated cheese when you reheat the soup.

Weight Watchers Points Plus Value

  • 5 per serving

A Perfect Meal to Kick Off Spring: Pasta with Fresh Ricotta, Herbs & Spinach

Pappardelle with Baby Spinach, Herbs & Ricotta

Do you ever find that there is a certain food you love that you can’t keep in the house, because once it’s there in plain sight—staring at you, tempting you—you’ll throw any willpower or sense of portion control out the window and eat the whole thing?

I call these danger foods. For my boyfriend, it’s Nutella. For my father, it’s pound cake. For me, it’s fresh ricotta cheese. (And we can add fresh mozzarella, burrata, St. Andre, drunken goat, and Taleggio to that list.) I can’t keep cheese around because I can’t just have one slice. I must have more. I must have it all.  But because I’m not a big fan of feeling shame and stomach cramps, I don’t keep it around.

I made an exception this weekend and bought a container of freshly made ricotta at Fairway. And though I have at several points this weekend stolen a spoonful from said container, I had enough willpower to set aside plenty of this precious cheese to prepare a recipe I’d been meaning to make for a whole year: Pappardelle with Baby Spinach, Herbs and Ricotta.  A photo of this dish graced the cover of the April 2011 issue of Cooking Light, announcing the arrival of spring and a welcome break from root vegetables, casseroles and winter stews.  My, did it look pretty!

Spring had arrived, and I had fresh ricotta. Time to get cooking. But before I got started, I made a few substitutions.  Cooking Light’s recipe calls for fresh dill and chives—lovely herbs, but I associate them more with potato or cucumber salads, not pasta.  I elected to use fresh basil and oregano—bright and sweet with some peppery notes. And I kicked up the amount of ricotta from 1/3 cup to a heaping 1/2 cup. Why?

Why not.

RECIPE:

Pappardelle with Baby Spinach, Fresh Herbs & Ricotta

Adapted from Cooking Light, April 2010

Serves: 3 – 4

Total Time: 30 minutes; Active time 20 minutes

Ingredients:

  • 8 oz. uncooked pappardelle pasta
  • 1 tbsp. kosher salt
  • 1 heaping 1/2 cup of fresh whole-milk ricotta cheese
  • 3 cups baby spinach
  • 1/3 cup fresh oregano leaves
  • 1/3 cup fresh basil leaves
  • 1/3 cup fresh Italian parsley leaves
  • 3 tbsp. freshly grated Pecorino Romano cheese
  • 2 tbsp. olive oil
  • 1/2 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/2 tsp. kosher salt

Tools:

  • Food processor (optional)

Method:

Set a large pot of water to boil on the stove; add salt and cover. Cook pasta according to package directions, taking care not to overcook.

While pasta is cooking, place spinach in the food processor and pulse a few times to lightly chop. Set spinach aside. Add basil, oregano and parsley to food processor; pulse until chopped (but not minced). Add to the spinach. (If you don’t have a food processor, no worries—use a sharp knife for the chopping, and mind your fingers!)

Once the pasta is finished cooking, set aside about 1 cup of the cooking water before draining.

Return pasta to the pot. In a small bowl, whisk together the ricotta with about a 1/2 cup of the cooking water. Add to the pasta. Next, add the chopped herbs and spinach, olive oil, Pecorino, salt and pepper. Toss gently to combine, and add additional cooking water if the mixture is too dry.

Divide into 4 bowls and serve immediately. Eat slowly, and savor the start of spring.

Note:

Pappardelle are wide-ribbon pasta. If you can’t find pappardelle, fettuccine works well in this recipe. And though I love fresh pasta, I find dried pasta holds up better here.  

Weight Watchers Points Plus Information:

  • 10 Points Plus per serving (and worth every one!)

Need to use Leftover Buttermilk? Try Blueberry Muffins with Crunchy Cinnamon Topping

Have you ever bought a quart of buttermilk, only to use a half-cup for a recipe and then completely forget that said buttermilk is in your fridge?  Then one day, you find the buttermilk, open the carton and gag, only to throw the aged lumpy mess away?

Yep, I’ve been there. And the last time I found myself with leftover buttermilk in the fridge, I was determined not to let it go to waste.

So, the experiments began.

I used the buttermilk in place of butter & cream in cheesy mashed potatoes (success), as a soaking liquid for chicken that I ultimately breaded and oven-fried (success again), and mixed some into my parsnip & apple smash (a delightful success). But because a little buttermilk goes a long way, I still had some left. What to do?

I remembered a buttermilk berry cake recipe I read last summer on Creamed Butter, a blog written by my friend Andrew’s fiancé, Adrienne.  The cake looked delicious and the recipe was so simple I dubbed it “Lazy Summer Cake”—it requires so little effort, and though it’s not fancy, it’s incredibly satisfying and a great way to showcase the marvelous berries of summer.

I didn’t really feel like making a cake, but revisiting the recipe gave me an idea: muffins. The great thing about muffins is that they’re perfectly portioned, not to mention portable, which makes a muffin an ideal breakfast on a busy morning. As you’ll see from the pictures on Creamed Butter, the cake is pretty light, but it’s not high-rising, so I had to do a little tinkering to make the cake recipe muffin-friendly.

For starters, I substituted the all-purpose flour with cake flour (an easy sub is included below).  I made sure to sift the cake flour a few times until I had a pile of snowy, feathery light powder—ideal for a delicate crumb and a generously puffed muffin top. I kept the rest of the proportions in the recipe the same, except for the berries—I used a pint of blueberries—then folded them into the batter instead of placing them on top. You could use less berries, but I like muffins with a lot of fruit.  Finally, I prepared a crunchy topping of oats, cinnamon, sugar and crushed sliced almonds.

The result is a portable, pretty and satisfying treat perfect for breakfast or to kill the mid-afternoon slump—and unlike most coffee shop muffins that are lead-weight and huge, you a muffin that won’t give you carb coma. At first bite, you’re greeted by the warmth of the cinnamon sugar and the crunch of the oats & almonds, followed by the pop of juicy blueberries & the hint of lemon in this gently sweet cake. Bliss.

Now go make some.

RECIPE:

Buttermilk Blueberry Muffins

Adapted from Creamed Butter, Summer Buttermilk Berry Cake

Time: 40 minutes

Tools:

  • Electric mixer
  • Fine mesh strainer (for sifting flour)
  • Mortar & pestle (for topping)
  • 12-muffin pan
  • 12 muffin cups

Ingredients

For the muffins:

  • 1 cup cake flour*
  • ½ tsp. baking powder
  • ½ tsp. baking soda
  • ¼ tsp. salt
  • 4 tbsp. unsalted butter, softened
  • 2/3-cup sugar
  • ½ tsp. vanilla extract
  • 1 egg
  • zest of 1 lemon
  • 1/2 cup buttermilk
  • 1 pint fresh blueberries

For the Topping (all measurements are approximate):

  • ¼ cup rolled oats
  • 2 tbsp. sugar
  • ½ tsp cinnamon
  • 1 1/2 tbsp sliced almonds

* One cup cake flour = 1/8 cup cornstarch and 7/8 cup all-purpose flour. The easiest way to do this is to put 2 tablespoons cornstarch into a dry measuring cup, spoon flour in to fill the rest and level off. Mix with a fork or whisk before sifting.

Method:

Pre-heat oven to 400 degrees. Place paper cups in muffin pan, and spray the cups lightly with non-stick cooking spray if you have it. (If not, no big loss.)

Combine the ingredients of the topping into a small bowl, then use your mortar & pestle to grind the oats and almonds down a bit as they mix with the cinnamon and sugar. Set aside.

Sift the cake flour once into a medium bowl. Add baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Sift two more times and set aside.  In a separate bowl cream the butter and sugar until fluffy.  Then beat in the egg, followed by the vanilla and lemon zest, until all are fully incorporated.

Alternating the flour and the buttermilk, mix with the butter/sugar/egg mixture until just combined, beginning and ending with the flour.  Gently fold in the blueberries with a wooden spoon or a spatula.

Use a spoon to fill each cup about 2/3 full, then spread the tops until they’re even.  Use a clean spoon to sprinkle the topping on each cup of batter. You’ll have enough to coat the surface of each one.

Bake for 20 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center of one of the middle muffins comes out mostly clean (if it’s got blueberry juice on it, that’s a good thing.)

Eat warm or at room temperature, with a cup of tea or mug of coffee.  If you’re prepping breakfast for the week, allow the muffins to cool completely before wrapping each individually with plastic wrap, placing into a zip-top bag and then putting them into the freezer.

Voi-la!

PS – Weight Watchers Points Plus per muffin: 4!

PPS – This is my 50th post!

Sweet Tooth: Pumpkin Pie Pudding (Yes, in February. Just because.)

Hi. I am delicious. What's your name?

Pumpkin may be in season in the fall, but any time I’ve cooked with pumpkin I used the canned stuff.  This is unusual for me—given the option I almost always go with fresh ingredients.  But cutting, peeling and cooking a fresh pumpkin is a job—and when you’re pressed for time, as most of us are, going with the canned stuff is a great option. You end up with better consistency, and so long as you’re using a canned pumpkin without any additives, it’s easy to feel like you’re eating it fresh.

Another excellent benefit of canned pumpkin? It’s available year round. And with the unseasonably warm weather we’ve been enjoying (and been baffled by), it seemed entirely appropriate to make Pumpkin Pie Pudding for dessert on Saturday.  I was hosting a dinner party and serving an accidentally autumnal menu: pomegranate pork tenderloin, roasted sweet potatoes & apple, and sautéed Tuscan kale.  When I considered dessert options, I remembered a favorite I had originally found in Cooking Light a couple years ago.

The recipe yields 4 perfectly creamy (yet cream-free) puddings that have all the flavor of  pumpkin pie filling but ultimately a much lighter texture.  I like to add a little crunch (and admittedly I missed the pie crust), so I topped each pudding with crumbled gingersnaps.  Spoon on a dollop of whipped cream—flavored with nothing more than a touch of vanilla—and you’ve got an aromatic and fancy-looking dessert.  It’s also ridiculously simple and surprisingly low in fat.

Needless to say, my dinner guests (the boyfriend, my friend Bujan and his fiancé Anne) weren’t really concerned with any of that stuff.  They were too busy eating and smiling.

RECIPE

Pumpkin Pie Pudding

Adapted from Cooking Light (October 2010)

Yummy!

Time:

  • 15 minutes active time / 2-3 hours inactive time

Ingredients:

  • 6 tbsp. sugar
  • 2 tbsp. cornstarch
  • 1 3/4 cup Skim Plus milk (or 1% milk, but do not use regular skim milk)
  • 1 large egg
  • 1/2 cup canned pumpkin (unsweetened, 100% pure)
  • 1 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 3/4 tsp. pumpkin pie spice (or use 1/2 tsp. cinnamon, plus a dash each of ground allspice, clove, nutmeg and ginger)
  • 1/8 tsp salt

For topping:

  • 1/2 cup heavy whipping cream
  • 1 cup gingersnaps, smashed and crumbled

Method:

  1. Combine 6 tablespoons sugar and 2 tablespoons cornstarch in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Combine milk and egg, stirring well with a whisk. Gradually add milk mixture to sugar mixture, stirring constantly, and bring to a boil. Cook for 1 minute, stirring constantly. Remove from heat.
  2. Combine pumpkin, vanilla, spice and salt in a bowl, stirring well. Slowly add pumpkin mixture to milk mixture, whisking constantly. Place pan over low heat, and cook for 3 minutes or until thoroughly heated, stirring constantly (do not boil). Divide pudding evenly among 4 dessert bowls and cover surface of pudding with plastic wrap. (Tip: poke holes in wrap before covering surface to let hot air escape). Chill for at least 2 hours.
  3. Place gingersnap cookies in a zip-top bag, seal, and then smash the cookies into coarse crumbs using a mug or some heavy object you have laying around.  Best to place the bag on a dish towel so you don’t ruin your counter top when smashing.  This is the most fun part of this recipe.
  4. Just before you are ready to serve, place the cream in a glass or stainless steel bowl and beat on high with a mixer until soft peaks form. Add vanilla and continue beating until stiff peaks form. Top each serving with a sprinkle of cookie crumbs, followed by a dollop of whipped cream, and then a second sprinkling of crumbs.  Ta-daa: dessert.

Weight Watchers Points Plus Information:

  • Minus the gingersnap crumbs and whipped cream, each serving has a Points Plus value of 4

A Cookie for the Grown-ups: Sweet-Savory Olive Oil Biscuits

Sweet-Savory Biscuits—perfect with wine.

When was the last time you saw extra virgin olive oil in a dessert recipe?

How about extra virgin olive oil, red wine, black pepper and rosemary in a cookie recipe?

Intrigued? Yes?  Okay, I’ll stop with the questions.

I’m making Sweet-Savory Biscuits for a weekend adventure—the boyfriend and I are going to visit his aunt and uncle, two of my favorite people (and not just because they read this blog).  I chose to make these cookies because their unique flavor & texture make a perfect match for wine & after-dinner drinks, of which the four of us are very big fans.

I have a sneaking suspicion this recipe came from a kitchen experiment.  These cookies are one of Mark Bittman’s variations on his master butter cookies recipe.  Instead of butter, you use olive oil, which requires increasing the flour.  Substitute some of the flour with cornmeal, which lends a wonderful flavor and enhanced texture to the finished cookie.  To make the recipe savory, you decrease the sugar, and add some fresh ground pepper and finely minced fresh rosemary. (You can already start smelling the cookies from the oven, can’t you?)

But we’re not done there! There’s wine!  Instead of using milk as you would for butter cookies, the liquid of choice in this recipe is wine, which adds moisture, flavor, and combines with the green olive oil to make a uniquely colored cookie.  I’ll admit, out of the oven they may not be as pretty as their less savory cousins, but a quick dusting of powdered sugar makes them look as sophisticated as they taste.

Make them this weekend, or make them for Valentine’s Day. These are cookies you share with people you love who love food.

RECIPE:

Sweet-Savory Cookies

From Mark Bittman’s How to Cook Everything (2008)

Time: 30 minutes active time / 60-90 minutes inactive time

Yield: 24 cookies

Ingredients:

  • ½ cup extra virgin olive oil
  • ½ cup granulated sugar
  • 1 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 1 egg
  • 1 ¾ cups all purpose flour
  • ½ cup cornmeal (medium grind)
  • ½ tsp. baking powder
  • ¼ tsp. freshly ground pepper
  • 1 tsp. finely minced fresh rosemary leaves
  • ¼ tsp. salt
  • ¼ cup red wine
  • powdered sugar (optional)

Method:

Combine the flour, cornmeal, baking powder, ground pepper, minced rosemary and salt in a bowl. Set aside.

Use an electric mixer to cream together the olive oil and sugar; add the vanilla extract and egg and beat until well blended.

Add about half the dry ingredients to the bowl, beat for a minute, and then add about three-quarters of the wine. Beat for about 10 seconds, then add the remaining dry ingredients, and the remaining wine if needed—the dough should be soft and moist, but not wet.

Refrigerate the dough for at least 30 minutes, or up to 2 hours. Then preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

Using an ice cream scoop, spoon off about a tablespoon and a half of dough from the mound. Gently shape it into a fat disc.  Place each shape about 2.5” inches apart in rows and columns on ungreased baking sheets.

Cross-hatch marks are totally optional, but they do add a cute factor.

Bake until the edges are starting to brown, about 10-12 minutes.  Cool cookies on the sheets before transferring them with a spatula onto a wire rack.  Cool completely, and then dust with sifted powder sugar if you like.

Ta-daa.

Storing:

These cookies can be stored in an air-tight container for 3 days or so; I’ve found they last up to a week when stored in a cookie tin. Be sure to place a sheet of wax paper between layers.

Weight Watchers Points Plus Information:

  • The recipe makes 24 evenly sized cookies, each with a points plus value of 2 (waaay better than I was expecting).

Sweet Tooth: The Heavenly Matter of Angel Food Cake

I hadn’t planned on making any sweet treats until Sunday, but earlier this week my dad asked me to make “that really good cake that doesn’t have any butter”.

He was referring to Angel food cake—a dessert I’ve been tinkering with for years, first because I’d like to expand my baking repertoire beyond cookies, and second because it’s an ideal dessert for those of us who seek to keep our weight in check and satisfy the ever-insatiable sweet tooth.  I also love the cake because it tastes great, and with one cake you have the basis for a number of delicious and satisfying desserts.

If you’re not familiar with Angel food cake, it’s a basic sponge cake that’s made with egg whites—lots of ’em—whipped furiously until they become a stiff-peaked mountain of fluff, then folded with a few other ingredients before being baked into a cake.  It’s  light as air, sweet yet balanced, with a unique texture that makes it feel like a decadent treat.  It serves well with fruit, or topped with a simple glaze, berry sauce, chocolate sauce, flavored whipped cream or  with any kind of custard. Best of all, it’s amazing freshly made, straight from the freezer, or gently toasted—providing a unique texture each time.

Yeah, it takes a little work—but think of it this way: one cake, loads of possibilities. It’s pretty easy to make, and it’s also easy to screw up. But worry not—thanks to my failures and successes over the years, I’ve learned some tips along the way that now make the process painless and worthwhile.

Traditionally, Angel food cake is baked in a tube pan like the one shown below.

See how the pan has straight sides and a high tube in the middle?  That’s necessary because the egg whites need a structure to cling to in order to ensure that the cake rises.  The other factor that ensures good rising is a grease-free pan.  Yes, egg whites are incredibly sticky, but if you grease the pan—if you get even a drop of any fat in the cake batter—the cake is ruined.  (There’s a trick to getting a baked Angel food cake out of the pan completely in tact, but more on that a little later.)

After experimenting with various recipes and methods for making this cake over the years, I’ve come to learn a few crucial yet simple rules for making a beautiful, moist and delicious Angel food cake:

  1. Separate the eggs when they’re cold, but don’t work with the egg whites until they’ve reached room temperature. They should also be yolk-free and shell-free.
  2. Beat the eggs with an electric mixer in a stainless steel bowl. You could also use a copper bowl, but they tend to be expensive and hard to clean.
  3. The proportions of the recipe are exact for a reason—while I recommend improvising with the cake once it’s baked, you can’t really play around with how many egg whites or how much sugar you use here. (You can play around with flavorings, like citrus zest, extracts and so forth, but again, proportions are important.) It’s also important to add ingredients at the appropriate stages in order to evenly distribute all the elements and bake a good-looking cake.
  4. Once the cake is done baking, cool it upside down for an hour before removing it from the pan.  This is hugely helpful for getting the cake out of the pan in tact.

Okay. Now we’re ready to bake an Angel food cake.  Drum roll, please…

Recipe: Angel Food Cake

Adapted from How to Cook Everything by Mark Bittman

Servings: 12 – 16

Served with berry sauce and fresh strawberries.

Ingredients:

  • 9 large or extra-large eggs (you’ll only be using the whites)
  • 1 cup cake flour, sifted*
  • 1.5 cups white sugar, divided
  • 1 tsp. cream of tartar
  • 1/4 tsp. salt
  • 1 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 1/2 tsp. almond extract

Tools:

  • tube pan
  • fine mesh strainer
  • electric beaters, or a standing mixer fitted with a whisk attachment
  • 2 small bowls for separating the eggs, 2 medium bowls for sifting dry ingredients, and a large stainless steel bowl for mixing the cake batter
  • A flat-backed spatula

*I never buy cake flour, so this is what I do: get a 1-cup measuring cup. Put in 2 tablespoons of corn starch, then fill the rest with all-purpose flour, using a knife to even out the top. Pour into a bowl, mix with a fork, then sift with the strainer.

Method:

Remove your eggs from the fridge and separate the whites from the yolks (look here for a quick demo).  Refrigerate the yolks if you want to make something else with them; otherwise discard. Let the bowl of eggs whites rest on the counter until they come to room temperature, about an hour or so.

In the meantime, combine a half cup of the sugar with the cake flour in a medium bowl; stir with a fork or whisk to evenly combine. Using a fine mesh strainer, sift the mixture into another bowl. Repeat, then set aside.

Pre-heat your oven to 325 degrees, making sure the shelves are situated to make plenty of room for the tube pan. Once the egg whites have come to room temperature, pour them into a stainless steel bowl, and beat on high speed for a few minutes. You’ll see they’ve begun to froth.

Beating Egg Whites, Stage I: Froth

Add the cream of tartar and salt, and continue beating on high speed.  You’ll see the whites develop into a foam.

Beating Egg Whites, Stage II: Foam

Keep beating on high for a couple minutes, until the egg whites have soft peaks. How can you tell? They’ll still have an ever so slight translucency, and the when you lift the beaters out of the bowl you’ll notice soft peaks that have a little shape.

Beating egg whites, Stage III: Soft Peaks

Add the remaining half cup of sugar and extracts and continue beating on high until the egg whites hit Stage IV: stiff peaks.  By this point the mixture is a fully opaque bright white, and when you lift the beaters from the bowl, the egg whites have very well defined, stiff peaks, as shown.

Stage IV: Stiff peaks.

Tap the beaters against the bowl to shake any remaining whites back in. Set your beaters in the sink to soak (egg whites are quite sticky), and get your spatula. Gradually and gently, fold the sifted cake flour and sugar mixture into the egg whites. (For a demo, check out this video, at 1:05 in.) Continue folding gently until all elements are combined.

Next, use your spatula to transfer the batter into the tube pan, spreading it out evenly as you go along. Wipe off any excess on the sides with a damp paper towel.

Ready for the oven!

Put the tube pan in the oven and bake for 45-60 minutes (50 minutes did it for mine), until the cake is evenly golden brown, firm and resilient.  How can you tell?  When you remove the cake from the oven, it will not wobble at all, and you can press a finger ever so slightly on the top to test the cake’s resiliency. What you don’t want to do is test its done-ness with a toothpick or knife—if you stab the cake, it will sink.

Perfect!

Have a cooling rack or clean kitchen towel standing by, and very carefully turn the cake pan upside down on top of it.  It should stand up on its own thanks to the tube in the middle.  Then leave it alone for at least an hour.

After the hour or so has passed, carefully run a dull knife along the sides of the pan. You’ll probably have to do this along the underside of the cake as well to fully loosen it.  Remove from the pan and set on a plate, alone or lined with wax paper.

Ta-daa!

Slice the cake gently with a serrated knife to make sure your slices don’t get crushed.  You can serve the cake immediately, on its own or with any of the suggestions I’ve provided below.  If you don’t intend to serve the cake within a day, not to worry—it keeps very well in the freezer.

Weight Watchers Points Plus Information:

  • With 12 even slices of cake, you’re looking at 4 points per serving.
  • With 16 even slices of cake, it’s 3 points per serving.

Serving suggestions:

  • Serve with cut fresh fruit or berries for a really light treat.
  • Spoon some berry sauce or chocolate sauce on top of slices.
  • Make a simple glaze and drizzle it over the cake. A lemon glaze works especially well.
  • If you reserved the egg yolks, make custard and serve it with the cake. Berries make a wonderful addition here.
  • Top with a dollop of gently spiced whipped cream.
  • Top with a generous scoop of really good chocolate or coffee ice cream.

Storing and Serving Angel Food Cake Later On:

Cut the cake into slices or chunks and wrap securely with plastic wrap. Then put them in a gallon-size zip-top bag and freeze, being careful not to crush the cake in your freezer.  You can slice the frozen cake easily and eat it ice cold (I love it this way), or you can toast it until it has browned around the edges. Toasted angel food cake makes the whole house smell wonderful, and the flavors of the vanilla and almond extracts really shine through.

Resources:

I learned how to perfect this cake thanks to one of my favorite television shows (Good Eats) and the book that has become my go-to cooking encyclopedia, How to Cook Everything (2008 edition, page 912).  If you have Good Eats on DVD or catch a re-run, the episode to watch is “The Egg Files III: Let Them Eat Foam”, from Season 4.