Angel Food Cake with Lemon Icing and Strawberries

So, Labor Day is tomorrow, and while it’s the unofficial end of summer, I WILL NOT LET SUMMER BE OVER YET. To prove that it’s still summer (at least in my house), I made this cheery angel food cake full of sunny flavors. Even if fall is looming, it can still be summer in your mouth. And since no one really wants to do actual labor over Labor Day weekend, this cake is easy as pie to make (actually much easier!). This cake really makes you understand why they call it angel food – it is truly a heavenly dessert. The cake itself is light and airy while still being flavorful. The lemon icing really brightens things up, and is substantial without weighing down the cake. And the strawberries are the cherry on top… but you know, strawberries. Ok, I’ll stop using food idioms to describe similar but different foods.

When I first got my Kitchen Aid, I immediately set to work finding a recipe that would really put it to good use. I had previously attempted to make angel food by hand, which was a fool’s errand. I have no where near the patience or arm stamina needed for that. (If you do not have a stand mixer with a whisk attachment, I take back everything about this recipe being easy – sorry!)  I wasn’t too excited about the angel food cake itself, as I thought of the kind we got from grocery store as a kid. A mostly inoffensive vehicle for whipped cream and strawberries, but nothing I would eat on its own.  I really wanted to test my Kitchen Aid though, so I consulted my trusty Cook’s Illustrated Baking Book and made it anyway. And it was SO GOOD. It blew my mind how much better homemade angel food cake is than store bought. Much more delicate (and less styrofoam-y) than the store-bought variety. So when my mother-in-law requested angel food cake for her birthday, I happily obliged and set about looking for a way to jazz it up a bit to make it birthday appropriate.

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I decided to make a layered angel food cake with a frosting more substantial than just whipped cream, but I didn’t want anything too heavy. I found Sugar Spun Run’s cream cheese and lemon frosting for a layered angel food cake and knew it was exactly what I was looking for. I decided to stick with my Cook’s recipe for the angel food cake itself, because when you find perfection you stick with it. But I used the rest of her recipe and it turned out amazing. It was also incredibly easy. My mother-in-law said it was her favorite cake ever, including actual cakes, so I figured this was one to keep in my arsenal.

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Of course, when I made the cake this time around, I managed to forget something every time I went to the grocery store and ended up making 3 trips. After the third trip I bothered to re-consult the recipe and realized it called for lemon curd and not the lemon that I bought. I was not about to go back out, so I decided to just adjust the recipe myself to use lemon zest and juice instead of curd. And it worked so well! This version turned out more lemony, which was perfect for my goal of capturing summer in a cake, and it maintained the satiny smooth texture of the original recipe.

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I do have one important note about making the angel food cake itself. While it is really easy to make, it’s also really easy to mess up. At one point, after an afternoon of drinking wine and enjoying the beautiful summer weather, Andrew mentioned how impressed he was with my ability to make angel food cake. So, I decided to prove to him that the cake was so easy I could make it while drunk. And I did it! Only I wasn’t really reading the instructions as I knew them relatively well, and out of habit, I greased the pan. BIG MISTAKE! Since you have to cool the cake upside down to keep the height, if you grease the pan it just falls out instead of staying stuck in the pan. That meant I had to cool the cake right side up. The cake still tasted great, and we still ate it, but the texture wasn’t nearly as nice and it was about half the height it was supposed to be. So please don’t mess up this perfect cake by making a simple mistake! Don’t grease the pan, do cool it upside down.

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Angel Food Cake

Angel Food Cake

Adapted from Cook’s Illustrated Baking Book
Makes 1 9-inch angel food cake

1 c. + 2 tbsp. cake flour (not all purpose!)
¼ tsp. salt
1¾ c. granulated sugar
12 large egg whites
1½ tsp. cream of tartar
1 tsp. vanilla extract

  1. Place the oven rack in the lower third of the oven and preheat to 325º. Line the bottom of a 9 inch tube pan with parchment paper, but DO NOT GREASE.
  2. In a food processor, process the sugar until it is fine and powdery. Place half the sugar in a small bowl and set aside, leaving the rest in the food processor.
  3. Add the flour and salt to the remaining sugar and process for about one minute (this aerates the flour and saves you lots of extra sifting). Set aside.
  4. Using a stand mixer with the whisk attachment, whip egg whites and cream of tartar until foamy. Slowly add in the bowl of sugar (not the flour sugar mix), and whip until the mixture reaches soft peaks. Add vanilla and mix until incorporated.
  5. Sift the flour mixture over the egg white mixture in three separate additions, gently folding the flour in with a rubber spatula between additions. You want to make sure the flour is fully incorporated, but be careful not to over mix (as this pops all the little air bubble that make the cake so light!)
  6. Scrape the mixture into the UNGREASED tube pan. Bake about 20 minutes and rotate the pan, then continue baking until a skewer inserted in the center comes out clean, about 20-25 more minutes.
  7. Take the cake out of the oven and turn the pan upside down on a wire rack. If you don’t have a wire rack, you can place the cake upside down on a bottle. Let the cake cool completely, about 3 hours. Keeping the cake upside down is important!
  8. To remove the cake, flip the pan right side up and run a thin knife around the edge of the cake to loosen, and then flip back upside down. Remove the parchment paper from the top.

Lemon Icing

Adapted from Sugar Spun Run

8 oz cream cheese, softened
zest of 1 lemon
juice of 1 lemon
1 c. and ⅓ c. powdered sugar (keep separated)
1½ cup heavy cream
½ tsp vanilla extract

  1. Using a KitchenAid fitted with the whisk attachment, whisk together heavy cream, ⅓ powdered sugar, and vanilla until you have whipped cream with stiff peaks.
  2. Transfer the whipped cream to a separate bowl and set aside.
  3. Switch to the paddle attachment and cream together cream cheese, lemon zest, and lemon juice on medium speed until combined.
  4. Slowly add in the remaining powdered sugar on low speed. Scrape down the sides of the bowl.
  5. With the mixer on low, add in the whipped cream mixture and mix until just combined. Scrape down the sides of the bowl and fold the mixture a few times by hand.

Assembly

1 quart of strawberries
1 angel food cake
1 batch of lemon icing

  1. Cut your angel food cake into 2 or 3 even layers, depending on preference. Three layers will have thinner layers of cake and icing and will look more impressive, but two layers is easier and allows for bigger bites of the cake itself.
  2. Choose the base layer and  place it on a plate or cake board.
  3. Cover with either half (for a two layer cake) or a third (for a three layer cake) of the icing.
  4. Slice strawberries and arrange on top of icing. I slice as I go so that I have as many whole berries left over for the top of the cake as possible.
  5. Place the next layer on top. If you are doing a three layer cake, repeat steps 3-5.
  6. Top with the remaining icing. Decorate the top with any remaining whole berries and/or strawberry slices to your preference.
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