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South-of-the-Border Angel Food Cake

Yield: 12 servings

Tips: Most holiday desserts are rich and very filling. If you ever long for something on the lighter side, or if you are watching your fat intake, this delightfully different angel food cake is for you. It has a base flavor of Dutch process cocoa, but that is enlivened with the good tastes of cinnamon, espresso, and cloves. You won't notice the pepper in this recipe; it just adds to the overall flavor. Please be sure to use Dutch process cocoa here; I have not tried this recipe with regular nonalkalized cocoa powder, so I do not know if it will work. I use a food processor instead of the multiple siftings of dry ingredients usually called for, and the processing seems to work very well.

This is a wonderful way to use up leftover egg whites, and you can use those that have been frozen and thawed. You'll need a large bowl in which to mix the cake; my largest mixer bowl is 4-1/2 quarts, which isn't big enough, so I use a 6 quart pot and a hand-held electric mixer to beat the egg whites. Whatever you use, both bowl and beaters must be spotlessly clean and grease-free, or the egg whites will not achieve a good volume. Also, make sure the whites are at room temperature when you beat them, as they will not reach full volume if they are cold.

Everything I have ever read about angel food cakes emphasizes getting the completed batter into the oven as quickly as possible, because if beaten whites are left standing for any length of time they will begin to deflate. The last time I made this, however, I got distracted by a phone call and forgot to preheat the oven. The completed batter stood in the pan on a counter for some 10 minutes until my oven got to what I judged was a temperature close enough to what it was supposed to be. The resulting cake was just fine. I'm not sure if there's a lesson in there, but at least if you forget to preheat your oven while making this, all will probably not be lost!

Because foam-type cakes are so delicate, they must cool upside down, suspended over the neck of a sturdy bottle. This looks odd, but it works very well, though it does take courage to turn the hot, freshly-baked cake over, onto the neck of a bottle! Once baked, this will keep at room temperature for a few days, if stored airtight, or refrigerated for at least a week (again, stored airtight). I have always been assured that angel food cake doesn't freeze, but I froze a slice of this for several days as a test, then thawed it (still in wrappings) on my kitchen counter, and it was fine, so try it if you wish.


  • 1-2/3 cups sifted granulated sugar, divided
  • 3/4 cup sifted cake flour
  • 1/2 cup sifted unsweetened Dutch process cocoa powder
  • 1-1/4 tsp. instant espresso powder
  • 1/4 tsp. ground cinnamon
  • 1/8 tsp. ground cloves
  • About 6 grinds freshly, finely-ground black pepper
  • 1-3/4 cups egg whites, at room temperature
  • 1-1/4 tsp. cream of tartar
  • Pinch salt
  • 2 tsp. vanilla

Optional Garnish:

  • Confectioners' sugar

Adjust rack to position 1/3 up from oven bottom; preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Assemble a 2 piece tube pan, 10 inches in diameter by 4 inches tall; do not grease the pan!

In workbowl of food processor fitted with steel blade, place 1 cup sugar (reserve remainder). Process at highest speed in 2 or 3 bursts of 10 to 15 seconds each, until sugar is very fine-textured. Remove from processor; set aside.

Return workbowl to processor. Combine remaining 2/3 cup sugar, cake flour, cocoa powder, espresso powder, cinnamon, cloves, and pepper. Process at highest speed in 3 bursts of 10 to 15 seconds each until fine-textured and well-mixed. Remove from processor; set aside.

In an absolutely clean 6 quart pot, combine room temperature egg whites, cream of tartar, and salt. With sturdy, hand-held electric mixer, beat at medium speed until combined, then increase speed to high and beat until very white and foamy. Gradually, about 1 tablespoon at a time, add the processed cup of sugar, beating between each addition. With last addition of sugar, add vanilla. Continue beating until this meringue holds stiff peaks, but do not overbeat.

Sift in about 1/2 cup of the processed sugar-cocoa-flour mixture, then gently fold in with a large rubber spatula. Don't be too thorough at this stage. Continue sifting in additions of the sugar-cocoa-flour mixture, about 1/2 cup at a time, making certain to scrape the pot edges and bottom frequently. You want to fold in these dry ingredients gently but quickly. You'll see that this folding does deflate the meringue slightly, but the batter should still be thick. Fold in the last addition of dry ingredients just until everything is combined; do not overmix.

Carefully turn batter into assembled tube pan. Gently level with spatula. Now, using a flat knife, cut through the batter several times in a pattern of concentric circles to get rid of any large air bubbles. Place pan into preheated oven.

Bake 30 to 40 minutes. While cake bakes, make sure you have a clean, empty, sturdy, long-necked bottle for cooling. Do not open the oven door for the first 25 minutes of baking. The cake will rise above the edge of the pan and develop very deep cracks in the top surface--OK. When done, cake will spring back if pressed lightly with a fingertip. Do not overbake. Remove cake from oven; place right side up on a cooling rack.

As quickly as possible, carefully pick up the (hot) tube pan while you insert the neck of the bottle through the tube. Gently and carefully turn the whole assembly upside down so that the baked cake, still in the pan, is suspended on the neck of the bottle. I place the whole assembly on a sturdy cooling rack; the cake should be about 1 foot above your table or work surface.

Cool undisturbed and out of drafts until cake has reached room temperature. While it cools, the cake will shrink slightly--OK.

When completely cooled, remove cake, still in pan, from bottle. With pan right side up, use a stiff-bladed plastic spatula or knife to gently loosen cake from sides of pan and tube. Life tube portion of pan up from sides; the cake should release easily. Carefully loosen cake from pan bottom; gently invert onto serving plate (you can also invert cake gently onto a rack, then re-invert to serve it right side up). Store airtight at room temperature for up to 3 days, or refrigerate airtight for at least a week.

To serve, use a sharp, serrated knife. Very gently saw slices from cake in order not to squash it. If desired, sift a bit of confectioners' sugar over the slices just before serving.

© Stephanie Zonis provides the above information to anyone, but retains copyright on all text. This means that you may not: distribute the text to others without the express written permission of Stephanie Zonis; "mirror" or include this information on your own server or documents without my permission; modify or re-use the text on this system. You MAY: print copies of the information for your own personal use; store the files on your own computer for your personal use only; reference hypertext documents on this server from your own documents.


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