orange angel food cake with caramel sauce and four berry-kiwi fruit compote

Angel food cakes are indeed light and airy but they are tricky to make. This is my second attempt since the first didn’t have the required brown crumb on the outside nor was its height to my satisfaction. I think this version is a little better but could have been higher. The trick is not to make the egg whites deflate when you are adding the flour. I think the trick also entails using a thin rubber spatula, which is becoming harder to find because silicone spatulas are becoming more and more common. The silicone spatula I have is too thick for such a delicate job. I found this recipe on the Bon Appetit site and tweaked it a bit because of the lack of availability of some of the ingredients for the fruit compote.  I must add, though, that this caramel sauce is deliciously sweet and spicy!

Orange Angel Food Cake with Caramel Sauce and Four Berry-Kiwi Fruit Compote

INGREDIENTS
CARAMEL SAUCE
1 cup sugar
1/3 cup water
1 cup heavy whipping cream (half pint)
2 tablespoons (1/4 stick) unsalted butter
3/4 teaspoon ground cardamom
Pinch of salt

CAKE
1 1/4 cups powdered sugar
1 cup cake flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 1/3 cups egg whites (about 9 large)
1 1/2 teaspoons cream of tartar
1 cup superfine sugar
1 tablespoon finely grated orange peel from 1 medium orange
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract

FOUR BERRY-KIWI FRUIT COMPOTE
1 cup raspberries
1 cup blueberries
1 cup blackberries
1 cup strawberries, sliced
2 kiwi, peeled, quartered lengthwise, then cut crosswise into 1/2-inch slices
1/4-1/2 cup powdered sugar or to taste

PREPARATION
SAUCE First, combine the sugar and 1/3 cup water in heavy medium saucepan. I ran out of white sugar so I made it up with brown sugar. If you use brown sugar, be careful it doesn’t burn. Stir the sugar-water mixture over medium-low heat until sugar dissolves. Increase heat to medium-high; boil without stirring until syrup is deep amber, occasionally brushing down sides of pan with wet pastry brush and swirling pan, about 5 minutes. If you use brown sugar, the syrup will become darker but that’s okay. Remove the syrup from the heat source. Slowly add cream. The recipe says the mixture will bubble vigorously but mine didn’t, which makes me suspicious that Bon Appetit forgot to include the sauce temperatures. Place the pan over low heat; stir until caramel bits dissolve and sauce is smooth. In the absence of temperatures, I stirred until the sauce thickened. Remove the sauce from the heat source; add butter, cardamom, and pinch of salt; stir until the butter melts and is incorporated. Cool the sauce. DO AHEAD The caramel sauce can be made 1 week ahead. Cover the sauce and chill it in the refrigerator. Bring it to room temperature or re-warm over low heat before serving.

Cake Baker’s Note: I wish the recipe had included temperatures along with the description. It would have made for a more accurate result. Anyway, I found this in an article titled “The Science of Caramel” ( http://en.wikibooks.org/wiki/Cookbook:Caramel). Basically, a caramel sauce is a sugar solution.

The stages of a sugar solution are generally described by the solution’s behavior when dropped into cold water:

  • Thread Stage (230-234°F) – the solution thickens into syrupy threads when you pull a spoon out.
  • Soft Ball Stage (234-240°F) – the solution can be pressed into a soft gooey ball. Used to make soft chewy candies like taffy.
  • Firm Ball Stage (244-250°F) – the solution can be pressed into a firm ball. Used to make caramels.
  • Hard Ball Stage (250°F) – the solution can be pressed into a dense, slightly malleable ball. Used to make harder chewy candies.
  • Soft Crack Stage (270°F) – the solution solidifies into a glass-like solid that slowly bends under light pressure.
  • Hard Crack Stage (300°F) – the solution solidifies into a hard glass-like solid that breaks or cracks under pressure. Used to make hard candies and brittles.
  • Caramel Stage (310-349°F) – An advanced crack stage, defined by the development of an amber color that becomes tan, brown and eventually dark brown as the temperature continues to rise. Also defined by the development of caramel flavors which becomes deeper, less sweet and more bitter as it darkens.
  • Burned Stage (350°F) – The sugar smokes and eventually turns black. It is completely oxidized (burned) and inedible.

I wonder if brown sugar would have reached the caramel stage sooner? I wonder if the cooks at America’s Test Kitchen have turned  their famously methodical (some would say anal retentive) attention to this problem? Don’t get me wrong! I love ATK. It’s just that I couldn’t test recipes umpteen times just to get a perfectly chewy chocolate chip cookie. I can’t bear to waste food. I keep thinking of my mother, “eat your food! people are starving in America!” (Actually she said China. I just put that in there to mix things up.) Anyway, I digress. Here is the cake part of the recipe.

CAKE Preheat oven to 350°F.

Sifting the dry ingredients. Sift powdered sugar, flour, and salt 3 times. To do this, spread a sheet of waxed or parchment paper on the counter with  a large bowl next to it, and sift the sugar mixture onto the sheet. Rest the sieve on top of the bowl. Pick up the edges of the sheet and pour it into the sieve over the bowl. Place the sheet back on the counter top. Pick up the sieve and sift the sugar mixture over the sheet.  Repeat two more times. (Am I being just a tad too specific here?)

Separating the egg whites. It’s best to separate the eggs when cold. Then allow whites to come to room temperature. This takes about 30 minutes.

Whipping the egg whites. Using the electric mixer on medium-low speed, beat egg whites in a large bowl until foamy, about 1 minute. Add cream of tartar then beat until whites are opaque and soft peaks form, about 1 minute. Increase speed to medium high. Gradually add superfine sugar 1 tablespoon at a time, beating until whites are thick and shiny and fluffy peaks form (peaks should droop over gently; do not over-beat). This should take 1-3 minutes.

This is what the meringue looks like when it has been whipped. It could be stiffer since the peaks on the beaters are still soft.

Adding flavorings and flour mixture. Add orange peel and vanilla to the whipped egg whites; beat just until blended. Sift 1/4 cup of flour mixture over whites. Using a large rubber spatula (preferable to silicone since the batter is delicate), gently fold flour mixture into whites. Repeat with remaining flour mixture 1/4 cup at a time.

Cake Baker’s Note: To fold in flour, cut with the edge of the spatula down the middle. Scraping along the bottom, bring the spatula under the flour to the side of the bowl. Fold the batter over the flour. Turn the bowl one-quarter turn. Repeat: cut, fold, turn until all the flour is incorporated. See this  YouTube video for a folding demonstration.

Baking the cake. Scrape the batter into an ungreased 10-inch-diameter (NOT non-stick) angel food cake pan with removable bottom and 4-inch-high sides (preferably with feet). Smooth the top. Gently tap the pan on the counter to remove any large air bubbles. Bake the cake until golden and springy to touch, about 50-55 minutes. Immediately invert the pan onto work surface if the pan has feet, or invert the center tube of the pan onto the neck of a bottle or funnel. Cool the cake completely, 1-2 hours.

Unmolding the cake. The common way to do this is to use a thin blade knife to loosen the cake from the sides of the pan and around the pan’s funnel. However, Bon Appetit recommends that you gently tap the bottom edge of the pan on the work surface while rotating the pan until cake loosens. Transfer the cake to a platter. DO AHEAD This cake can be made 8 hours ahead. Cover with a cake dome and let it stand at room temperature.

COMPOTE Put all the fruit into a colander and sprinkle on the powdered confectioner’s sugar. Toss gently to combine. To do this I simply shake the fruit in the colander over the sink. That way, if any fruit falls out, I can rinse it and put it back in the colander. Raspberries are extremely delicate so the less handling of them the better. DO AHEAD Can be made 2 hours ahead. Cover and chill.

Serving. Slice the cake with a thin serrated knife. Transfer to plates. Spoon compote alongside each slice. Top the slice with caramel. This cake has a wonderful sugary orange-y smell. Mmm-mm.

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pavlova: perfect, but not quite

It frustrates me that a meringue is not as simple as its recipe. There are just three ingredients: egg whites, cream of tartar, and sugar, but getting the proper height is the challenge. I have my theories.  The first time I tried this (Nigella’s Chocolate Raspberry Pavlova) I thought the lack of height was due to the fact I’d used packaged egg whites. Now although I am using fresh egg whites they are not rising high enough so now I think I didn’t whip them long enough to get them truly stiff.

I  heated the oven to 250˚F then I made the meringue. First I prepared a baking tray lined with parchment paper. Using an 8″ cake pan bottom as a template, I traced a circle in the middle of the paper with a black marker and turned it upside down on the tray. Then I set it aside for later.  I got together the ingredients for the meringue:

4 egg whites, separated when cold then brought to room temperature (about 30 minutes)
1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar
1 cup superfine (caster) sugar

Cake Baker’s Note: The bowl and beaters must be absolutely free of grease and there must be no yolk in the egg whites or they will not whip up.

I whipped the egg whites on medium speed until foamy. On high speed, I  added the cream of tartar and whipped the mixture until soft peaks formed. This means when I raised the beaters, the peaks flopped over. I continued whipping while adding the sugar one tablespoon at a time, until the egg whites became satiny smooth and glossy, forming stiff peaks. I was afraid to overbeat them so I stopped after a few minutes. I remember reading somewhere to beat egg whites for a meringue for at least 10 minutes. I will have to try that another time.

I scraped the meringue into a mound in the center of the circle, making the edges slightly higher than the center. Then I put it in the oven between 60 and 75 minutes (an hour and 10 minutes for me) until it formed a hardened shell that was pale cream in color. I turned off the heat and let the meringue cool in the oven with the door closed for at least 2 hours. Then I carefully removed the paper and let it finish cooling on a wire rack while I prepared  the topping:

1 half-pint heavy cream
2 tablespoons superfine sugar (optional)
1 pint raspberries (or any kind of berries, kiwi fruit, mangoes, passion fruit–whatever inspires you!)

I made the meringue according to the very helpful directions (with pictures) on How to Make Meringue. This meringue inside was intensely sweet and puffy like a marshmallow, the outside was wafer-brittle and crisp.  The “marshmallow” had height this time but there was  yet still a dome of air above it enclosed by a crisp thin shell. So when I put the whipped cream on top, the delicate shell shattered and wafer-thin shards fell on top of the marshmallow beneath. We scooped it up anyway and ate it with raspberries, crackling and all. It was delicious. Such contrast of taste and texture: intensely sweet marshmallow-y meringue, crisp wafer shell, with the light taste of cream and the tang of raspberry.

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Chocolate Raspberry Pavlova

A pavlova is a cake with a baked meringue base. If you’re looking for a flourless chocolate cake with fresh fruit, this simple recipe from nigella.com  is the answer. It’s a recipe with some quirky British-isms (e.g. “squidginess”) but the rest, like “sieved,”  you can figure out.  For ease of use, I converted the measurements from grams to ounces. I made one mistake and that was I used liquid egg whites instead of fresh egg whites. The reason why liquid egg whites is a bad idea is because they have impurities in them that prevent them from whipping up into a meringue. It still came out all right though the meringue wasn’t as light and as fluffy as it should have been. Nevertheless, the cake turned out slightly sweet and refreshing.  Like eating a giant macaroon, a pavlova is the perfect summer dessert!

Chopping Chocolate

Ingredients

FOR THE CHOCOLATE MERINGUE BASE:

  • 6 large egg whites, at room temperature
  • 1 1/4 cups (300g) caster sugar (superfine)
  • 3 tablespoons cocoa powder, sieved (sifted)
  • 1 teaspoon balsamic or red wine vinegar
  • 2 oz (50g) dark chocolate, finely chopped

FOR THE TOPPING:

  • 2 cups (500ml) heavy cream (at least 36% milk fat)
  • 2 cups (500g) raspberries
  • 2-3 tablespoons coarsely grated dark chocolate
Chocolate Meringue Disk

 Method

  1. Prepare to bake. Preheat the oven to 350˚F (180°C/gas mark 4) and line a large baking tray with baking parchment. You want to use a large tray in case the meringue spreads as it bakes.  Gently rinse the raspberries and spread them to dry on paper towels. To chop the chocolate, I cut a big sheet of waxed paper and put the chocolate in the middle of it. Start with a corner and use a serrated knife to whittle the chocolate into pieces. After several cuts, turn the chocolate to another corner and repeat. The waxed paper makes it easier to tip the chocolate shavings into the bowl.
  1. Prepare the egg whites. [The Cake Baker’s Note: Make sure the bowl and beaters are free of grease and there is no yolk in the egg whites.] In a large bowl, beat the egg whites until satiny peaks form, and then beat in the sugar one tablespoonful at a time until the meringue is stiff and shiny. Sprinkle on top of the beaten egg whites the cocoa, vinegar, and the chopped chocolate. Using a rubber spatula,  gently fold in the additions until the cocoa is thoroughly mixed in. Mound the meringue on the prepared baking sheet in a fat circle approximately 9 inches (23cm) in diameter, smoothing the sides and top.
  1. Bake the meringue. Place the meringue in the oven, then immediately turn the temperature down to 300˚F (150°C/gas mark 2) and bake for about 1 to 1 1/4 hours.  Nigella says, “When it’s ready it should look crisp around the edges and on the sides and be dry on top, but when you prod the centre you should feel the promise of squidginess  beneath your fingers.” Thanks to Encarta, I learned squidgy means “soft, damp, and yielding.”  Turn off the oven and open the door slightly to allow the meringue to thoroughly cool.
  1. Decorate the cake. Just before serving, invert the cooled meringue on to a big serving plate. Whisk the cream until soft peaks form and spread it on top of the meringue. Scatter or place the raspberries on top. Nigella writes, “Coarsely grate the chocolate so that you get curls rather than rubble, as you don’t want the raspberries’ luscious colour and form to be obscured, and sprinkle haphazardly over the top, letting some fall, as it will, on the plate’s rim.”
Chocolate Raspberry Pavlova

The meringue base is supposed to crack like this, showing just a hint of the rich chocolate inside. Next time I would use a darker chocolate, perhaps 70-80% cacao. As you can see that thin meringue base wasn’t able to hold up its half of the cake. Tip: Cut the cake with a serrated knife and use a sawing motion. Don’t press down.

Pavlova Cutaway