Angel Food Cake - History of Angel Food Cake

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Angel Food Cake is made with a large quantity of egg whites and no shortening or leavening.

Angel Food cake is thought to be a takeoff of the Sponge Cake, Cornstarch Cake, Silver Cake, and/or Snow-drift Cake. There are several theories on who originated this Angel Food Cake, also called ice cream cake (a Pennsylvania Dutch wedding cake). It is felt that the abundance of cake molds in southeastern Pennsylvania, one of the major producer of cake molds, indicates that the angel food cake originated there in the early 1800s.

Angel Food Cake



Rotary Egg Beaters -
The rotary egg beater eliminated the long and laborious hand beating of eggs and batters. The rotary egg beater was purchased in sufficient numbers to make a substantial impact on American cooking. In the Sears' 1897 catalogue a "Dover" egg beater sold for 9¢.

1865 - The first patents for rotary egg beaters began showing up around 1865.

1870 - Turner Williams of Providence, Rhode Island invented and patented, US Patent #103811, the hand-cranked egg beater with two intermeshed, counter-rotating whisks. It was an improvement on earlier rotary egg beaters that had only one whisk.
 



Some historians think that the first angel food cakes were probably baked by African-American slaves from the South because making this cake required a strong beating arm and lots of labor to whip the air into the whites. Angel food cakes are also a traditional African-American favorite for post-funeral feasting.

1871 - Mrs. Porter's New Southern Cookery Book, and Companion for Frugal and Economical by M. E. Porter, has a recipe for Snow-drift Cake:

Three cupsful of flour, two cupsful of sugar, one-half a cupful of butter, one cupful of sweet milk, the whites of five eggs beaten to a stiff froth, one teaspoonful of cream of tartar, one-half a teaspoonful of soda; sift the flour, and do not pack it when measuring it.

1881 - Mrs. Abby Fisher, the first Black American woman and a former slave from Mobile, Alabama,  recorded her recipes in a cookbook called What Mrs. Fisher Knows About Old Southern Cooking, Soups, Pickles, Preserves, Etc. Abby Fisher lived and worked in San Francisco as a cook and caterer in the late 1870s. She has a recipe for Silver Cake, which sounds like an Angel Cake:

Silver cake - The whites of one dozen eggs beaten very light, one pound of butter, one pound of powdered sugar; rub the butter and sugar together until creamed very light, then add the beaten whites of the eggs, and beat all together until very light; two teaspoonfuls of the best yeast powder sifted with one pound of flour, then add the flour to the eggs, sugar and butter, also add one-half teacupful of sweet milk; mix quickly, and beat till very light; flavor with two teaspoonfuls of the extract of almond or peach, put in when you beat the cake the last time. Put to bake in any shape pan you like, but grease the pan well before you put the cake batter in it. Have the stove moderately hot, so as the cake will bake gradually, and arrange the damper of stove so as send heat to the bottom of the cake first. This instruction of baking applies to all cakes except tea cakes.

1883 - Angel Cake was one of the favorite dessert of Lucy Webb Hayes, wife of Rutherford B. Hayes (1822-1893), nineteenth President of the United States. Cookbook authors, Poppy Cannon and Patricia Brooks, wrote the following on the history of Angel Cake in their cookbook, The Presidents' Cookbook - Practical Recipes from George Washington to the Present:

Considering the character of gentle, sweet-tempered Lucy Hayes, it seems fitting that Angel Cake should be one of her favorite desserts. The origins of Angel Cake, sometimes called angel-food cake, are mysterious, all the more so since they seem to derive from the mysterious East. The story goes, according to a cookbook published in 1883, that a family who lived along the Atlantic Coast moved to a quiet place along the Hudson River and opened a boarding house. A friends presented one of the ladies of the family, who was remarkable skilled as a cake-baker, a valuable "receipt" that had come to her from a friend in India. Sometime later, the family left their picturesque boarding house along the Hudson and returned to their original coastal home. There, the cake-baker of the family opened a bakery of sorts, specializing in various cakes, including the mysterious cake from the East. This special cake was produced under unusual circumstances: only one was baked at a time, behind closed doors and in the greatest secrecy. But like most secrets of the kitchen, it eventually was found out, improved upon, and perfected.

1884 - The original Boston Cooking School Cook Book, by Mrs.D.A. Lincoln had a recipe for Angel Cake. There was also recipes for Cornstarch Cake and Snow Cake which are similar.

Angel Cake - One cup of flour, measured after one sifting, and then mixed with one teaspoonful of cream of tartar and sifted four times. Beat the whites of eleven eggs, with a wire beater or perforated spoon, until stiff and flaky. Add one cup and a half of fine granulated sugar, and beat again; add one teaspoon of vanilla or almond, then mix in flour quickly and lightly. Line the bottom and funnel of a cake pan with paper not greased, pour in the mixture, and bake about forty minutes. When done, loosen the cake around the edge, and turn out at once. Some persons have been more successful with this cake by mixing the sugar with the flour and cream of tartar, and adding all at once to the beaten egg.

In Fannie Merritt Farmer's 1896 updated version of the Boston Cooking School Cook Book, she uses the same recipe and calls the cake "Angel Food Cake."

 


SOURCES:

Boston Cooking School Cook Book: A Reprint of the 1884 Classic, by Mrs. D. A. Lincoln, Dover Publications, Inc., New York, 1996 Reprint.

Canada Science and Technology Museum, an internet web site.

The Boston Cooking-School Cook Book, by Fannie Merritt Farmer, 7th Edition, Little, Brown and Company, Boston, 1943.

The Original Fannie Farmer 1896 Cook Book, The Boston Cooking School, A facsimile of the first edition originally published in 1896, Ottenheimer Publishers, Inc., 1996.

Mrs. Porter's New Southern Cookery Book, and Companion for Frugal and Economical, by M. E. Porter, Porter (Paperback - December 2001 - Reprint)

The Presidents' Cookbook - Practical Recipes from George Washington to the Present, by Poppy Cannon and Patricia Brooks, Funk and Wagnalls, 1968.

What Mrs. Fisher Knows About Old Southern Cooking, Soups, Pickles, Preserves, Etc., by Mrs. Abbey Fisher, Applewood Books, 1995 Reprint.
 


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