Monday, August 23, 2010

Lucy Hayes Famous Homemade Angel Cake

Historians say that “Everything in Moderation” was the motto of Rutherford B. Hayes. He reportedly drank “one cup of coffee at breakfast” and “one cup of tea at lunch.” Dinner was often chicken or steak followed by a slice of his wife Lucy’s famous homemade Angel Cake.

It has been said that Angel Food Cake got its name because "it is so white, light, and fluffy it must be the food of angels.” Although no one knows who created or named this cake, we do know that recipes with the name "Angel Food" began appearing in American cookbooks in the late nineteenth century – around the same time that mass-produced cake pans hit the market!

If you'd like to bake one of these delightfully light and fluffy cakes, here is a simple recipe to try from the Food Network's ever-energetic Alton Brown

1 3/4 cups sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup cake flour, sifted
12 egg whites (the closer to room temperature the better)
1/3 cup warm water
1 teaspoon orange extract, or extract of your choice
1 1/2 teaspoons cream of tartar

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. In a food processor spin sugar about 2 minutes until it is superfine. Sift half of the sugar with the salt the cake flour, setting the remaining sugar aside.

In a large bowl, use a balloon whisk to thoroughly combine egg whites, water, orange extract, and cream of tartar. After 2 minutes, switch to a hand mixer. Slowly sift the reserved sugar, beating continuously at medium speed. Once you have achieved medium peaks, sift enough of the flour mixture in to dust the top of the foam. Using a spatula fold in gently. Continue until all of the flour mixture is incorporated.

Carefully spoon mixture into an ungreased tube pan. Bake for 35 minutes before checking for doneness with a wooden skewer. (When inserted halfway between the inner and outer wall, the skewer should come out dry). Cool upside down on cooling rack for at least an hour before removing from pan.

FOOD FACT: According to Food Timeline compiler Lynne Olver, recipes for cakes similar to Angel Food (calling only for egg whites) were known by other equally descriptive names, such as Silver Cake and Snow Drift Cake. The latter recipe was included in an 1881 cookbook entitled What Mrs. Fisher Knows about Old Southern Cooking. According to Olver, Mrs. Fisher was the first freed American slave to author a cookbook in the United States.

Credit: Portrait of Lucy Hayes by Daniel Huntington, White House Historical Association (White House Collection)