26 May 2011

Remembering When: Angel Food Cake


Treasures from Childhood

I adore children’s books. As a mother of three I have spent hours and hours in the children’s section of my favorite bookstores looking through the beautifully illustrated picture books that line their shelves and displays. I have often left with more books than I'd planned on. I bought some for gifts, some for my children’s education and sometimes I even found a special one just for myself.

Knowing our fondness for books we also received many wonderful books as birthday and Christmas gifts. Our collection grew and grew.

Now that the children are older and seldom look through our library of collected children’s books I still have a hard time putting them in storage or giving them away. Some are so well-written, weaving clever and concise descriptions with fundamental truths about life and complex relationships. Some are packed with wisdom, some with poetry, others with lush or inspired illustrations. Many are quite special to me.

Inspired Baking

For a time when my daughter was young we had a favorite story about angels and family and kitchen magic. “The High Rise Glorious Skittle Skat Roarious Sky Pie Angel Food Cake” took it’s  unusual name from the only thing the main character’s mother would say that she wanted for her birthday.

It was an odd tale, to be sure, but it struck a chord with my daughter and she asked to read it often. Maybe it was the quirky family she identified with. Maybe it was the colorfully beguiling illustrations. Or maybe she just liked Angel Food Cake. Who can say? Whatever the attraction we read it again and again. Occasionally, when we had time and opportunity, we even baked our own Angel Food Cake.

If I remember right there was a recipe in the back of that book. For something as basic as Angel Food Cake, however, I prefer to bake from a recipe that is tried and true and has been tucked away in my own recipe file for years. That is not to say I am averse to secret ingredients or other embellishments suggested by the story that inspired us.  It's just that this recipe for Angel Food Cake has never failed me, ever since my first attempts as a young and inexperienced baker.

This recipe produces a glorious “High Rise” Angel Food Cake that is dependably light in texture and, when served alone or with fresh berries, is light in calories too. For many, that makes it a sweet indulgence and a perfect any-occasion dessert. For those who are indifferent to such concerns it is also delicious when paired with a chocolate glaze and sweetened whipped cream.



Angel Food Cake

1¾ cup egg whites (from approx. 13 large eggs)
1 cup sifted cake flour
1½ cups sugar, divided
½ teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon cream of tartar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
½ teaspoon almond extract (optional)

While still cold from the refrigerator, separate the eggs. Measure the whites and pour them into the large bowl of an electric mixer. Allow the egg whites to warm to room temperature (approximately 1 hour).

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Sift the flour. Measure then sift again with ¾ cup of the sugar. Sift the flour and sugar two more times.

With the whisk attachment (if you have one, regular beaters if not), beat egg whites on low speed until foamy.

Add salt, cream of tartar, vanilla and almond (if desired) extracts. Beat at high speed until soft peaks form.

Continue beating adding the remaining ¾ cup of sugar gradually, a tablespoon or two at a time. Beat on high until stiff peaks form as the beater is slowly raised from the egg whites. Remove the beaters, or whisk attachment, and set aside.

Sprinkle ¼ of the flour mixture over the egg whites. With a whisk or rubber spatula gently fold the flour into the egg whites with an under-and-over motion, just until the flour disappears (about 15 strokes).

Turn the bowl ¼ turn and repeat the step above. Do this three times, until all of the flour mixture has been folded into the egg whites.

With a rubber spatula, gently push the batter into an ungreased 10-inch Angel Food Cake pan or tube pan. With a knife, cut through the batter twice to remove any large air bubbles. Smooth the top of the batter.

On the lowest oven rack, bake at 375 degrees for 30 – 35 minutes, or until top springs back when pressed lightly with your fingertip. Turn the cake upside down over the neck of a bottle (such as a wine bottle) to cool completely – about one to two hours.

With a knife, loosen the cake from the sides of the pan and turn it out onto a serving platter.

Serves 12

Chocolate Glaze

1 cup whipping cream
8 ounce semisweet chocolate, chopped or chips
1 teaspoon vanilla

Scald the cream in a heavy saucepan over high heat.

Add vanilla and chocolate and stir for 1 minute.

Remove from the heat. Continue stirring until all chocolate is melted. Place pan in the refrigerator for 10 minutes.

Pour glaze across the top of the cake. Use a wide bladed knife or pastry brush to smooth the glaze across the top of the cake letting some of the chocolate drip down the sides, if desired. Or simply drizzle the glaze over slices of cake before serving.



Hints:
  • The trick here is to begin beating the egg whites when they are at room temperature. Make sure the bowl and beaters (or whisk attachment) are completely clean and grease free. This will maximize the volume of the beaten eggs.
  • Be gentle with the batter. Once the eggs are fully beaten use a light hand in folding in the flour and transferring the batter to the baking pan.
  • Relax! While these hints will help you to make the lightest Angel Food Cake possible, I have never had an Angel Food Cake fail and never baked one that didn’t feel and taste better than the store-bought variety. Angel Food Cake may sound complicated to bake but once you have worked through the process it’s pretty simple and even fun. I always enjoy the beauty of those snowy white peaks of beaten egg whites glimmering with a sugary gloss.



Leftover Cake? Refresh the taste and texture by putting slices of Angel Food Cake in the toaster. When golden smear the slices with a little jam or chocolate glaze. Toasting the cake gives the flavor a slight burnt sugar depth that I find very appealing.

So don’t be put off. Try one for yourself. Fanciful touches inspired by picture books are optional.

Enjoy!

15 May 2011

Bridging the Seasons - Pasta Shells with Pesto and Shrimp


It’s mid-May, late spring and the last day for Starbucks Frappuccino Happy Hour. Friday was the only day of these past ten when the temperature tempted me to take advantage of this special deal and indulge in one of those frosty blended beverages. As pretty as they looked on the menu board and as tasty as the flavors sounded I just couldn’t get excited about sipping a tropics-inspired coconut topped frozen beverage while I was wearing a jacket to stay warm.

Still I am craving a taste of spring. Out my window I see the season unfurling in spite of the persistent clouds and relatively cool temperatures. A day or two of bright sunshine with the thermometer pushing seventy and my azaleas have burst into bloom, my chives and columbine have sprung into bud, and soft tufts of light green needles sprout from the tips of my evergreen branches.

Here’s a pretty salad that bridges the seasons nicely. This is another simple dish from one of my favorite cookbooks, "Table for Two" by Marianne Paquin. It can be served warm or cold, depending on your need and preference. It uses ingredients I often keep on hand in the freezer: small shrimp and Pesto. Of course these ingredients can also be picked up last minute at the market, making this a particularly easy recipe to pull together when the sun peaks out to inspire me. The only cooking required is to boil the large pasta shells. Then stir together the shrimp and pesto, drizzle with olive oil and garnish with chopped black olives to add a touch of interest and rich flavor. Beautiful!


Pasta Shells with Pesto and Shrimp
adapted from "Table for Two: French Recipes for Romantic Dining" by Marianne Paquin

Serves 2. Easily doubled or tripled.

4 large pasta shells, cooked and drained
6 ounces small shrimp, cooked, shelled and well-drained
2 Tablespoons pesto
2 Tablespoons olive oil
4-6 pitted black olives, chopped

Stir together the shrimp and pesto sauce. (If using frozen shrimp be sure they are thawed and well drained.)

Fill the pasta shells with the shrimp mixture.

Arrange the filled shells on two serving plates. Drizzle the olive oil on top and sprinkle with the chopped olives.

Serve and enjoy!

06 May 2011

Derby Classics - Benedictine Spread


It’s down to the wire. Derby Day is the day after tomorrow and I still haven’t posted my addition to the field of Derby recipes this year. Even though Derby Day is a full seven days into the month of May this time around I am still running behind, still true to my inspiration for naming this blog three and a half years ago, still doing things in My Own Sweet Thyme.

It’s not that Kentucky and Derby Day haven’t been on my mind. Over the past few weeks I’ve cooked and carved a traditional Kentucky Country Ham from Finchville Farms, I’ve tried a recipe for a Mint Julep Cheesecake, and I've blended a batch of my sister-in-law’s recipe for Benedictine. It’s just that, distracted by a few bright bursts of sunshine (among other things), I haven’t found my time for writing about them yet. Since Derby Day is now practically here, I’ll start with the simplest of the three.

Benedictine is a recipe my sister-in-law shared with me long ago. Though I grew up in Kentucky I didn’t really know about this creamy green cucumber spread until she told me about the menu for her annual Derby Party in their new home out west.

To me Benedictine sounded positively medieval. It brought images of cathedrals and monks to mind, along with the flavors of Benedictine liqueur and mustard made by the Benedictine Sisters in Mt. Angel, OR where I went on retreat a few year ago.

As it turns out though, it’s not that Benedict but rather Miss Jennie Benedict the famed restaurateur and caterer from Louisville, Kentucky that this traditional recipe is named for. It makes a delightfully fresh tasting spread for tea sandwiches that are a perfect addition to a Derby Day spread, a Mother's Day Tea or any spring gathering. It can also be served as a tasty dip for fresh vegetables or a spread for crackers.


Benedictine Spread
from my sister-in-law's favorite recipes

1 8-ounce package cream cheese
3 tablespoons cucumber juice
½ large cucumber, grated and strained
1 tablespoon onion juice (from grated and strained onion pulp)
1 teaspoon salt
a short dash of cayenne pepper
Green food coloring, optional

Combine  all ingredients, including 1 or 2 drops of optional food coloring, if desired.  Blend with a fork or in a blender until smooth.

Makes filling for six to eight full-size sandwiches.


Notes:  For a variation on the recipe for Benedictine and a few more words on Miss Jennie Benedict and green food coloring check out my friend Alanna's post at A Veggie Venture.

For more Derby Day inspirations:
Enjoy!