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What Is Angel Food Cake? 🍰 The BEST FAQ, Our Favorite Recipes & More

Let me introduce you to angel food cake. 

Angel food cake is a special type of sponge cake, known for its light, bouncy texture and very sweet taste without being too heavy or rich.

The three main ingredients of angel food cake are egg whites, cake flour, and sugar; the absence of egg yolks and butter is what makes the cake so fluffy, and it also reduces the fat. 

If a cake could be reborn as cotton candy, that’s what angel food cake is like. 

Sometimes we crave a rich, heavy dessert that’s densely loaded with everything but the kitchen sink, and sometimes we prefer a dessert that makes us feel like we’re eating a soft, delightfully sweet cloud.

When you’re in the mood for the latter, angel food cake is undoubtedly on your radar—but precisely what is angel food cake?

Aside from being the official confection of the heavens, angel food cake gets its name from the culmination of its qualities.

It’s light and airy like a cloud, divinely sweet but not sinfully rich, halo-shaped, and angelically white on the inside.

If you’ve never torn off a chunk from the fluted high-rise of delectably it’s-probably-not-even-bad-for-me angel food cake, it’s time to read on, learn more and maybe even make your own angel food cake.

But in a world where the cakes we’re accustomed to are dense, richly indulgent, rectangular, and yellow—or chocolate brown or pink or flecked with fun colors—angel food cake seems more of an ethereal mystery rather than a baked delicacy.

Luckily, we’ve decoded the mystery and answered all your lingering questions, starting with what angel food cake is, what it tastes like, how it gets its texture, consistency, and shape, how it’s prepared, the difference between angel food cake and other types of cake, and whether or not angel food cake is gluten or dairy-free.

And while it seems like something so pristine couldn’t possibly be simple, we think you’ll be thrilled to discover the ease with which an angel food cake can be whipped up, topped with some berries, and traveling from fork to mouth.

Hint: it’s pretty darn easy.

So without further adieu, here is your angel food cake overview.

What is angel food cake?

Contents

Angel food cake is a special type of sponge cake.

It’s known for its light, airy, bouncy, unique angel food cake texture and very sweet taste.

The three main ingredients of angel food cake are egg whites, cake flour, and sugar; the absence of egg yolks and butter is what makes the cake so fluffy, and it also reduces the fat. 

While the list of ingredients in angel food cake is relatively simple, the preparation process is quite particular, as there are special techniques involved in order to give the cake its cloud-like texture, height, color, and distinct taste.

The most important part of that process involves the egg whites; first and foremost, the egg whites must be beaten or whipped until they form high peaks.

In other words, the egg whites will become foamy and hold a solid shape; you can also add a bit of cream of tartar to keep the batter as white as possible.

In addition to beating the egg whites, many angel food cake recipes recommend running the sugar, cake flour, and salt through a food processor to create as fine a consistency as possible. 

Beyond special preparation instructions, Angel food cake also requires special baking equipment. 

Angel food cake is baked in a tube pan, also called an angel food cake pan, with a flat bottom and straight sides, giving it its halo shape.

Though the cake has a light brown “crust,” so to speak, around its exterior, its interior is pure white—almost whiter than white.

It’s the combination of the halo shape, fluffy texture, and pristine interior that gives it its name: angel food cake.

With all the special techniques and baking tools, it may seem like angel food cake is some sort of sweet mystery; since we believe that angel food cake should be accessible to everyone, we’ve taken the guesswork out of the process and included a step-by-step guide for making this divine confection.

How to make angel food cake?

Homemade angel food cake is a delicacy everyone should enjoy, when done well.

Of course, you can always save yourself some time and get a store-bought cake, but there’s no greater satisfaction than enjoying the fruits of your labor.

  1. Use a food processor to make the granulated sugar as fine as possible, and set it aside to be used later on.
  1. Repeat this process with the cake flour and salt.
  1. Beat the egg whites with cream of tartar; if you’re beating by hand, beat vigorously until the whites become foamy; if you’re using a mixer, beat on a medium to low setting until the whites become foamy.
  1. Add in the very fine granulated sugar set aside from earlier, little by little, and begin whipping at a higher setting if you’re using a mixer, or continue beating vigorously by hand; beat the egg whites, cream of tartar, and sugar until the mixture blends well and forms high peaks—this will take about five minutes.
  1. Add in vanilla extract.
  1. Sift the cake flour and salt that have been processed, and add these dry ingredients into the egg white mixture in three phases; as you add in the dry ingredients, fold them in.
  1. Pour the batter into an ungreased tube pan; it’s imperative that the pan is not greased, as it will cause the batter to run down the sides.
  1. Bake the angel food cake at 325°F. 
  1. Cool the cake upside down in the pan on a wire rack.
  2. To remove the cake from the pan, you can tap the pan a few times to loosen it or run a long, thin knife around the edges; between the tapping and the blade, the cake should slide right out.

Following these steps to a T will help you crack the case of angel food cake and yield delicious results.

What does angel food cake taste like?

There’s nothing quite like the taste of angel food cake.

It’s sweet but not rich, and it carries notes of vanilla and almond.

The subtle flavor of angel food cake lends itself well to pairing with fruit like strawberries, raspberries, cherries, blackberries, and blueberries. 

In fact, many people opt for angel food cake for their strawberry shortcake.

In addition to fruit, the natural angel food cake flavors of vanilla and almond make it an excellent sidekick for ice cream and even a swirl of chocolate ganache.

But if we’re being completely honest, sometimes there’s nothing better than a plain old slice of angel food cake, all by itself.

As for the texture, the lack of egg yolks, butter, milk, or any other dairy or fat-based products means that angel food cake is not overly moist, but that doesn’t mean it’s dry by any means.

Angel food cake is the perfect combination of airy and moist; it’s chewy but still crumbles a bit when you bite into it. 

Basically, angel food cake tastes like a fluffy, sugary cloud.

As I stated above, if a cake could be reborn as cotton candy, that’s what angel food cake is like: light, springy and sweet. 

What is the difference between regular cake and angel food cake?

All cakes are not created equal. 

While both angel food cake and regular cake are delicious, there are a few key components that set them apart.

First and foremost, regular cake is considered a yellow cake- obviously, regular cakes can also be chocolate, strawberry, funfetti, the list goes on, but the base of it all is a regular yellow cake.

Angel cake, on the other hand, is a white cake; this is because it is made with only egg whites as opposed to the entire egg, including the yolk, which contributes to the yellow color of a regular cake.

The egg whites are also responsible for the light and airy texture of angel food cake, another prominent difference between angel food and regular cake.

During the preparation process, the egg whites are beaten until they form peaks, and it’s this meringue style of batter that makes angel food cake so fluffy

In addition to the color and texture, another notable difference between regular cake and angel food cake is the height.

Because of the meringue-type batter, angel food cake bakes up very tall, whereas regular cake stays short and compact due to the denseness of the batter; this is also why regular cake is baked in a typical cake pan, and angel food cake requires a special tube pan.

We must say, it is nice to enjoy some diversity in the cake world.

What is the difference between angel food cake and sponge cake?

Similar to the differences between angel food cake and regular cake are the things that separate angel food cake from sponge cake.

Like regular cake, sponge cake also uses both egg whites and egg yolks; however, the batter for a sponge cake goes through a much different process.

When making a sponge cake, the egg whites and egg yolks are whipped separately and combined later with the other ingredients. 

The process of beating the whites and yolks of the eggs separately makes sponge cakes more decadent tasting than angel food cakes and, yes, gives them a more yellow color as well.

The egg yolks also make sponge cake denser than angel food cake, although slightly more “spongy” than a regular cake.

Although sponge cakes are less dense than a regular cake, they are also baked in a regular cake pan rather than a bundt or tube pan.

Lastly, sponge cakes, and regular cakes, call for all-purpose flour rather than the finely milled cake flour necessary for angel food cake.

Each type of cake is distinctly different, but each is decadent in its own way.

Is angel food cake gluten free?

Everyone deserves to enjoy cake, no matter what your dietary restrictions or preferences may be, so if you’re wondering if angel food cake is gluten-free, we’re here to help.

“Traditional” angel food cake recipes are not gluten-free, as they are made with cake flour— gluten and all.

However, there are many gluten-free flours on the market now that can be used in place of the regular cake flour and give you a sweet, light, gluten-free treat. 

The only difference between a regular angel food cake and a gluten-free angel food cake is the substitution of one of these gluten-free flours. 

Most bakers’ gluten-free angel food cake recipes call for gluten-free all-purpose flour; since typical angel food cake uses cake flour, you’ll just want to be sure to sift the all-purpose flour to maintain the light consistency. 

If you’d like to avoid wheat altogether, you may also choose to use an alternative type of flour.

Almond flour is a great choice, considering angel food cake presents with a slight almond flavor, so it won’t interrupt the natural undertones in the cake.

In addition to almond flour, sorghum flour is another solid option for a gluten-free flour, as it’s naturally sweet and carries a light color and texture.

Amaranth flour, arrowroot flour, oat flour, and coconut flour can also be substituted for the cake flour, and all have excellent track records when used for baking and desserts. 

No matter which route you go, gluten-free angel food cake is achievable and just as elegantly sweet.

Is angel food cake dairy free?

While a gluten-free angel food cake requires the substitution of cake flour for the gluten-free variety, you’ll be interested to learn that angel food cake is naturally dairy-free.

That’s right, the traditional angel food cake recipe as-is contains no dairy whatsoever: no milk, no cream, no butter. 

Now, you may be wondering if eggs are considered dairy, and the answer is no.

Even so, if you happen to be a vegetarian, angel food cake is perfect for you as it only uses egg whites rather than the yolk. 

Just because angel food cake is dairy-free, though, doesn’t mean all of the recipe ingredients are.

We’re speaking, of course, about whipped cream and ice cream, which are obviously both dairy items.

As long as you leave those pairings, and other dairy items, off the angel food cake dessert menu, you’ll stay in the dairy-free zone.

However, if you just can’t stand the thought of enjoying an angel food cake sans icing, we do have a solution: dairy-free icing.

We prefer this vegan buttercream frosting, which is made by replacing dairy butter with a vegan butter and replacing whipping cream with a dairy-free milk- full-fat coconut milk works exceptionally well.

With the right dairy substitutes, you can have your cake and frost it, too.

Angel food cake recipes

We’ve laid out the process of making angel food cake step-by-step and covered all the substitution rules, but we’d like to take it a step further and send you on your way with some tried and true angel food cake recipes.

We love this angel food cake recipe for its timeless flavor and decadence, but it also introduces some citrusy notes that we just can’t stop thinking about.

This recipe takes angel food cake to another level with layering, frosting, and fresh strawberries, making it one of our favorites yet.

If you’re interested in the gluten-free version of angel food cake, this recipe will not disappoint, and it supplies multiple mini cakes for adorable and delicious single-serving experiences.

In keeping with the single-serving and strawberries theme, we thought it only appropriate to include this angel food cupcake recipe, which happens to be both gluten and dairy-free.

This dairy-free angel food cake recipe is among the more traditional, but it will certainly not disappoint.

The bottom line

Angel food cake is a heavenly dessert that nearly floats off your plate. 

It’s a fluffy, sweet, tall, halo-shaped dessert, but the best part about it might be all of the indulgent confections with which you can adorn it. 

No matter how you dress your angel food cake up, or down, you’ll love how light, versatile, and cleanly delectable it is.

Of course, if you now have yourself a wondrous angel food cake in front of you and you’d like to keep it fresh for as long as possible, I welcome you to this resource.