Few kitchen tasks give me greater satisfaction than whipping shapeless egg whites into glossy peaks. It's the ultimate food transformation - molecular gastronomy at an elemental level. But when it comes around to eating them, I'm rarely the first in line. As much as I adore turning clear whites into suspended waves, I've never been crazy about the sweet, monotonous texture. That is, until I discovered this recipe. Culled from the pages of Regan Daley's In the Sweet Kitchen, it combines pillowy angel food cake with exactly what it's been waiting for: character. The simple addition of poppy seeds turns the mundane into magnificent, producing a cake that gathers fans every time it's shared.
In her book, Regan serves it with a dollop of grapefruit curd, a glorious winter companion. I was inspired by incoming spring rhubarb, strawberries and a bottle of Terra Sonoma Saba. The bittersweet rhubarb, luscious berries and sweet grape nectar combine to make a compote that's sublime next to the soft, textured angel food cake.
I recommend baking the cake in a standard aluminum angel food cake pan. It's consistently proven itself to be the best pan for the job, not to mention, the least expensive. Drop into nearly any thrift store and chances are you'll find multiple angel food cake pans, hardly used, and orphaned, awaiting their new home. Once you make this recipe, chances are they'll get a lot of love here on out.
Poppyseed Angel Food Cake
Adapted from In the Sweet Kitchen, by Regan Daley
1 cup cake flour
1 1/2 cup superfine sugar
1 1/2 cup egg whites (about 10 extra large, or 12-13 large), at room temperature
2 tablespoons lukewarm water
1 1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
3 tablespoons poppyseeds
Preheat oven to 350°F. Have ready a spotlessly clean 10-inch tube pan with a removable bottom, ungreased, unlined.
Working between two sheets of parchment or waxed paper, sift the flour and 1/2 cup of the sugar together 3 times, then set it nearby.
In a very clean, grease-free bowl of an electric or stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, beat the egg whites with the warm water until frothy. Add the cream of tartar and the salt and whip the whites until soft peaks form. Gradually, add the remaining sugar, a bit at a time, whipping constantly. When all the sugar has been added, the whites should be firm, glossy and hold stiff peaks. Beat in the vanilla extract.
Very gently, in four additions, incorporate the flour mix into the stiff egg whites, using either your (clean) hands or a clean rubber spatula. Make sure you reach down to the very bottom of the bowl and scoop all the way around the sides and through the center, folding the batter onto itself. You want to incorporate the flour gently, but entirely, so there are no lumps. The batter should still be very fluffy, light and smooth. Add the poppy seeds, gently folding them to incorporate.
Scrape the batter into the pan, taking care not to bang the spatula on the bowl or the bowl on the counter (I know, it's tempting!). Smooth the top of the batter, then run a clean knife through the batter in the pan to rupture any larger air bubbles.
Bake the cake for 40-45 minutes, or until a wooden skewer inserted in the center of the cake comes out clean and the top is cracked and golden. If your tube pan has little legs, invert the pan and cool the cake upside down right over the counter. If your pan does not have legs, invert the pan over a wine bottle neck through the center tube.
To unmold, run a long thin-bladed knife all around the outside of the cake and around the center tube. Carefully, pull the tube upwards, bringing the cake with it and leaving the sides of the pan. Run the knife between the cake and the pan bottom, then invert the cake onto a platter.
Serve sliced with Saba Strawberries. This is best served the day of, though you can cover it and keep it at room temperature for several days.
2 stalks rhubarb, thinly sliced
1/4 cup water
3 tablespoons sugar
2 pounds strawberries, hulled and quartered
3 tablespoons saba
Put sliced rhubarb, water, and sugar in a small saucepan on medium low heat. Simmer about 15 minutes or until broken down. Fold in strawberries and saba. Turn off heat and let macerate 15 minutes. Serve spooned over poppyseed angel food cake.