This traditional American recipe is truly heavenly! Super-fluffy and feather-light, it’s made with whisked egg whites, sugar and flour – basically, a floury meringue. It doesn’t contain any butter or milk, which makes it perfect for a dairy-free diet, and it’s very low in fats (no oil or other fat in the batter).
The cake’s rise comes from whipping the egg whites. To whisk up the perfect meringue, clean the inside of the bowl with some lemon juice to make sure that it’s not greasy and whip the eggs at room temperature. A low-protein type of flour, such as US (unbleached) cake flour, Italian grade 00 flour or similar, will give the best results. Superfine / caster sugar will mix better than granulated sugar.
For the cake to rise properly, the cake tin must be ungreased. For this reason, not all cake tins will do. If you can, get hold of an angel food cake tin (I borrowed it from my cousin Enrica, but they are easily available online). The shape of this tin, like a truncated cone, is designed to ensure that the cake bakes evenly and rises as high as possible. Cooling the cake upside down on the pan’s legs prevents the top from sinking (if your tin does not have “feet”, balance it on the neck of a glass bottle).
I added lemon zest to the traditional recipe, but you can substitute it with vanilla seeds. Serve alone, sprinkled with icing sugar or topped with whipped cream or fresh berries.
- 10 large free-range egg whites, at room temperature
- superfine / caster sugar, same weight as the egg whites minus 50g/1.8oz (for example, if your egg whites weight 300g/10½oz, then you need 250g/8.8oz caster sugar)
- unbleached cake flour, grade “00” flour or other low-protein flour, 1/3 of the weight of the egg whites (for example, if your egg whites weight 300g/10½oz, then you need 100g/3½oz flour)
- the grated zest of 2 untreated, un-waxed lemons
- 1 teaspoon cream of tartar
- icing sugar (for dusting)
How to make it
1. Preheat the oven to 180ºC/350ºF/Gas 4 (160ºC if you have a fan oven) and arrange an oven shelf in the bottom third of the oven.
2. In a large bowl, whisk 10 egg whites with an electric hand whisk or mixer on a medium speed for one minute until frothy. The egg whites will whisk better if they are at room temperature.
3. Add the zest of two lemons and 1 teaspoon cream of tartar and continue whisking until soft peaks form.
4. Increase the speed to high and sprinkle in two-thirds of the caster sugar, one tablespoon at a time. Whisk until stiff but not dry.
5. With a fine sieve, sift together the flour and the remaining caster sugar in a bowl. In six additions, sift and sprinkle the dry ingredients over the egg mixture, folding in quickly but gently to keep as much air in the mixture as possible.
6. Pour batter into an ungreased 25cm/10in angel food cake pan or other tube pan with a removable bottom. Gently smooth the top with a spatula.
7. Bake for 45-50 min or until golden brown and springy to touch.
8. Remove from the oven and immediately turn upside down onto the tin’s cooling legs or over the neck of a glass bottle. Leave to cool completely, for at least one hour.
9. Carefully run a knife around the inner and outer edges of the pan to release the cake. Place on a plate, bottom side up. Sprinkle icing sugar on the top.