March 18, 2020

Cara Cara Angel Food Cake


I'm trying to process everything that's going on in the world right now and the one emotion that is omni present is anxiety.  Anxiety about the uncertainty, anxiety about the well being of loved ones, anxiety about society in general.  The list goes on and on.  In times like this I inevitably turn to baking for solace.  It may seem small and insignificant but it provides the comfort I need to get me through the craziness.  So let's get baking!


San Francisco residents are currently under a shelter in place order so I've been trying to use the food I have on hand to minimize the need to leave my house.  For baking inspiration I turned to one of my favorite cookbooks, Bravetart: Iconic American Desserts.  I knew I had a lot of egg whites and Cara Cara oranges so it was an easy decision to make an orange-flavored Angel Food Cake.  You don't have to use Cara Cara oranges, but I can't recommend them enough.  A member of the navel orange family, Cara Caras have a reddish hued flesh that I think is also sweeter than your average citrus variety.


Angel food cake doesn't have a traditional leavening agent like baking soda or baking powder.  Its height comes solely from whipped egg whites and sugar, aka meringue.  Don't skimp on the lengthy whipping in the recipe, otherwise you won't get a nice, tall cake.  Oh, and another thing, a nonstick tube pan will not work.  The batter needs a "sticky" surface to cling to as it rises in the oven and a nonstick pan doesn't provide that grip.


To you this may only be cake, but it's giving me some much needed light during these dark times.  Wishing everyone health and safety and don't forget to practice kindness with each other!

Cara Cara Angel Food Cake (slightly adapted from Bravetart cookbook)

Makes one cake

Cake
5 ounces bleached cake flour (1 cup plus 2 tablespoons; 140g)
2 tablespoons Cara Cara orange zest
15 ounces cold egg whites (2 cups; 425g) from 12 large eggs
15 ounces granulated sugar (2 cups; 425g)
2 teaspoons orange extract
1 1/2 ounces freshly squeezed Cara Cara orange juice (3 tablespoons; 37g)
1/4 teaspoon (1g) Diamond Crystal kosher salt; for table salt, use half as much by volume or use the same weight

Icing
1/4 cup Cara Cara orange juice
1 cup confectioner's sugar (might need more, as needed)
1 tablespoon Cara Cara orange zest

Adjust oven rack to the middle position and preheat to 350°F (180°C). 

Pulse the cake flour and 2 tablespoons orange zest in a food processor for 1 minute.  Set aside.

Combine egg whites, sugar, and orange extract in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment. Mix on low to loosen, about 1 minute, then increase to medium-low (4 on a KitchenAid) and whip 3 minutes; the whites will be dense.

With the mixer still running, add orange juice and salt. Immediately increase to medium (6 on a KitchenAid) and whip 3 minutes more; the meringue will be thin but foamy. Increase to medium-high (8 on a KitchenAid) and continue whipping until the meringue is glossy white and thick enough that you can see the pattern left by the wire whisk. This can take between 2 and 4 minutes, depending on the freshness of the whites and the horsepower of your mixer. When meringue is ready, it should be soft enough to run off the wires when the whisk attachment is removed, but thick enough to mound up on itself like soft-serve in the bowl.

Sprinkle cake flour mixture on top and stir with a flexible spatula to roughly combine. Switch to a folding motion, scraping from the bottom up and folding through the center, until no pockets of flour remain. Scrape the batter into a 10-inch aluminum tube pan (do not butter or grease pan); if you notice any small pockets of unincorporated flour, simply pause to mix them in. Bake until the cake is puffed, golden blond, and firm to the touch, about 45 minutes, or to an internal temperature of 206°F.

Invert pan onto its stilts or onto a bottle and cool upside down until absolutely no trace of warmth remains, at least 2 hours. While cake is cooling, make the icing.  In a small bowl whisk the orange juice, confectioner's sugar and orange zest until combined.  The icing should have a consistency that is slightly thicker than maple syrup.  If it feels too runny add more confectioner's sugar, one tablespoon at a time.  If too thick, you can thin it out with more juice.

Slide an offset spatula around the sides of cake to loosen, remove the insert, and slide spatula under the bottom as well. Flip on to wire rack. Pour the icing over the cooled cake and let dry for about an hour.

To serve, cut with a chef's knife, using a gentle sawing motion and only the slightest downward pressure.

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