When you mention Mom and berries in the same sentence, the first thing that comes to my mind is Mom’s angel food cake. Her signature style of serving it, with crimson red strawberries she’d somehow sliced perfectly using a scraggly pairing knife. She’d let them sit amongst a dusting of sugar, coaxing out their sweet juices that begged to be absorbed by the light and airy cake. The tender, juicy strawberries nestled atop homemade whipped cream, it was my favorite summertime delight.
I’d beg it her to cut me a piece as the smell of marshmallows floated through the house, but she insisted it had to spend hours turned upside down, balancing on a bottle of Worcestershire sauce, which I can still picture clear as day. She took me through the reasons, emphasizing that removing it too soon would be the detriment to its tall and staunch height. Even though she made hers from a boxed mix, it was still homemade in my eyes. She didn’t buy it in a store, she baked it in her oven and it turned out perfectly every.single.time.
It had been years since I’d had a slice of it, waiting for the day I’d stumble upon a gluten-free angel food cake, but that never came to fruition. My mind went to work, thinking of how to create the firm, yet soft structure with a grain-free angel food cake. And I needed to learn the phases of egg whites so that I could get them firm and glossy, a must for it’s lift and airy quality.
After several trials, this “from-scratch” version is one that I’m confident you can do! Because I didn’t think many people had an angel food cake pan (in the 1980’s, yes – but not anymore), I decided to make them into minis using a standard muffin tin.
A mix of tapioca and cassava flour (which makes them grain-free too!) was the perfect equation, light enough to let the egg whites do their thing, but starchy enough to get away without using gums.
Three days and five dozen eggs later, here are the most important things I learned:
- The pictures above show what firm and glossy egg whites look like. To be sure they whip, use room temperature eggs and make sure your bowl is completely clean. No speck of egg yolk should enter the bowl either.
- You must use super-fine sugar and since I don’t ever hand this on hand, I made my own by putting into my blender and whizzing until it was very fine, like sand. They do sell super-fine sugar, but I haven’t ever found an organic one. By making my own, I could use organic evaporated cane sugar, and save a tripe to the store.
- You must sift your dry ingredients (flour & sugar mixture).
- To keep a smooth consistency, you add the flour mixture literally 2 tablespoons at a time, folding by hand to mix, not stirring. It is the step that takes the longest, but it is essential.
You’ll let your berries sit in a bit more of the superfine sugar as the cakes bake and cool, or even better, do this step the night before. This is where the juiciness comes from, macerating so that they create their own “simple syrup”. The best.
I can’t quite describe how wonderful it was to have angel food cake again, just as I had remembered when Mom made it. The way the minis absorbed the strawberry juices, and held it there until fully saturated, kind of like a sponge…. divine. They had just the right amount of toasty crunch on the outside, and cloud-like fluffiness on the inside.
And a dollop of homemade whipped cream brightened with lemon extract, certainly a dessert from the heavens.
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- 3/4 cup (150 grams) superfine sugar, divided
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 cup cassava flour
- 1/4 cup tapioca starch/flour (25 grams)
- 6 large egg whites, room temperature
- 1 teaspoon cream of tartar
- 1 1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
Strawberries and Cream
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Place flours, 1/2 cup superfine sugar, and salt in a sieve set over a bowl. Sift into bowl and set aside.
- With a mixer, beat egg whites on medium-high until foamy, about 1 minute. Add cream of tartar; beat until soft peaks form. Continue to beat, gradually adding remaining 1/4 cup superfine sugar; beat until firm and glossy stiff form, about 2 minutes. Add vanilla; gently beat just to combine.
- Remove bowl from stand mixer. Add the flour/sugar mixture In five batches, using the sieve or gently sprinkling over the egg whites, folding in gently each time. You'll use a rubber spatula to fold in the mixture by cutting down the center and coming up the sides.
- Gently spoon batter into a lightly greased, 12 cup muffin tin, filling each one to to the top. (You'll have leftover batter, which I put into more muffin tins and bake after the first round is done.) Cut a knife or small spatula through each muffin cup to release air bubbles. Bake for 5 minutes at 350 degrees, then turn heat down to 325 degrees and bake for about 15 minutes, until cakes are golden and spring back when lightly pressed.
- Let muffin pan cool completely. Run a knife around the inside of each little cake to release and unmold.
- Stir together the strawberries and 2 tablespoons sugar, let sit for at least 30 minutes. To make the whipped cream, use a handmixer or whisk to whip the cream with 1 tablespoon sugar, and lemon extract in a bowl, until soft peaks form.
- To assemble place each cake on a plate and top with whipped cream, and strawberries on the side and a bit on top. Sprinkle with lemon zest. (I added more strawberries to the top of mine after photographing, so the juices really sank in).
- Cakes are best eaten the day they are made, but will last another day in an airtight container, out of the refrigerator.