It seems logical that a cake requiring twelve eggs—and only the puny fat-free parts—would become defunct almost immediately. Lest you think angel food cake has gone the way of the Dodo, please reconsider.
It is true the last person I remember to bake the dessert was my grandmother. She used to alternate between angel food cake and something called Love in Bloom, which dictated cream cheese be mixed with heavy cream and spread over a premade graham cracker crust, then topped with cherry pie filling. It is also true she recently turned ninety. And it's highly unlikely she makes either of these options on a regular basis now.
[Don’t be misled. She is a spry woman who lives alone and still flips her mattress regularly. Though I think when you enter your tenth decade, you probably yearn less and less for foods with cherubic undercurrents.]
Perhaps there are people still Love in Bloom-ing on a regular basis, but the recent trend has been to gather around lusty, big bosomed desserts that take kindly to things like bacon, sea salt, and good old fashioned lard. No matter. Anything that encourages an empty wine bottle peaks my interest, immediately. (In this case, a bygone rosé.) Add in an innate companionship for summer berries and you have my undivided attention.
It had been too long since my last encounter, so I had to go hunting for a recipe. I found support where I often do: with Mrs. Garten and Mr. Lebovitz (plus my mother). And then I had to do something I hate doing. Obtain very specific cake parts.
Like caster sugar, cake flour, a plan for a dozen egg yolks, and other persnickety things, id est a specific two-piece tube pan. Luckily, the latter was a gift recently scored at a garage sale. (Which may implicate the dessert’s passing proclivities even further).
Don’t be deterred. She’s fussy, but worth it.
What resulted was one of the lightest, softest cakes I’ve eaten in decades. Quite good on its own, capable of being sliced and palmed on a moment’s notice. Ethereal paired with unsweetened whipped cream and the ripest berries you can find.
I added rose water to the batter and orange blossom into the cream, because they are heady and romantic and perfect for a cloud-like—and arguably antiquated—cake. Some souls find these flavors to be too grandmotherly, so simply leave them out if you are in this camp. (I am not.) Either way, the cake should be rebranded as vintage, and swiped off the endangered list.
Or perhaps I am mistaken. Perhaps it never really left us. Old often becomes anew. Here, rosé begets rose. And cake becomes better cake.
Rose Angel Food Cake with Orange Blossom Cream and Berries
Adapted from Barefoot Contessa Family Style by Ina Garten
for the cake
1½ cups egg whites (10-12 eggs), at room temperature
2 cups sifted superfine (caster) sugar, divided
1 1/3 cups cake flour
¾ tsp kosher salt
1½ tsp cream of tartar
1 tsp vanilla
zest of 1 large lemon
1 tsp rose water
for the whipped topping
1 cup heavy cream
1 tsp orange blossom water
for the berries
2 cups berries (blackberries, blueberries, etc.), divided
a few drops of fresh lemon or lime juice
1 to 2 tbsp sugar
splash of Grand Marnier
Note: you should start about an hour or two in advance by separating your eggs; save the egg yolks for another use and let the whites come to room temperature.
When you are ready, preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Place a fine sieve over a medium bowl and sift ½ cup of the sugar and all the cake flour together into the bowl. Sift this mixture 3 more times (you may wish to get another bowl so you can easily move it back and forth).
In the bowl of a stand mixer, place the egg whites, salt, and cream of tartar. Whip on high speed with the whisk attachment until medium firm peaks form (about a minute). (At first, my cream of tartar clumped a bit so I whipped the whites by hand until everything became incorporated and then resumed the mixer.)
With the mixer on medium speed, slowly sprinkle in the remaining sugar and whisk until thick and shiny (1 to 2 minutes more). Add in the vanilla, lemon zest, and rose water and whisk until very thick (about another minute).
Remove the bowl from the stand and sift one forth of the flour mixture into the egg whites; gently fold in the flour using a rubber spatula and then repeat 3 more times (adding a forth of flour each time), until everything is incorporated.
Pour the batter into an ungreased 10-inch tube pan. Smooth the top and bake for 35 to 45 minutes, until the top is golden and springs back when touched. Immediately invert the pan over a bottle (a wine bottle works well for this). Let completely cool. Loosen the cake by running your knife along the two inner rims, then remove the cake by gently tipping the pan sideways; run your knife along the bottom of the pan to fully extricate the cake. Wrap tightly in plastic wrap until ready to serve.
To serve: in a medium saucepan, add 1 cup of the berries, citrus juice, sugar (to taste), and Grand Marnier and heat on medium until the berries start to give off liquid, but haven’t yet become mush (about 3 to 5 minutes). Toss in remaining fresh berries and stir to combine.
Whip the cream until it becomes the consistency you prefer (I like mine on the thicker, denser side), drizzle in the orange blossom water; refrigerate until ready to serve. Top each slice of cake with a dollop of whipped cream and spoon berries on top.
Makes 8 servings
-The whipped cream and berry sauce can be prepared a day in advance, but omit the last cup of berries. Gently rewarm the sauce and add in the fresh berries right before serving.
-The cake can be made 2 days ahead of time. Keep in airtight container or wrap well with plastic wrap; store at room temperature.
-Don't have caster sugar? Whirl granulated in a food processor.