Last weekend Andrew and I went camping with our friend Dana in New Jersey and decided to take the long way home. On our way back we passed a large farm with a “Pick Your Own Strawberries” sign out front. This is like a dream come true for an NYC resident who has to pay high prices for a tiny basket of fresh fruit. I never would have thought to go strawberry picking in New Jersey, but the farm was huge and the selection looked great (I guess it is the Garden State after all.) We pulled in and filled up 5 baskets of the brightest, juiciest strawberries I’ve seen since becoming a city girl.
With all these beautiful, whole strawberries I wanted to make a dessert that would preserve them in their original form. I considered making a strawberry pie or tart, but since I had just made a tart for SHF I wanted something different. Andrew’s favorite cake is Angel Food, so I decided to make that as a compliment to the fresh strawberries. Angel Food cake sounds simple enough, but considering I have a fear of egg whites I was worried about making it. Everything I have made in the past that uses a large amount of egg whites turns out badly. I once tried making mini pavlovas and they turned out like packing Styrofoam. They went into the trash immediately.
I found a recipe for Angel Food Cake in the Buttercup Bakeshop cookbook that helped calm my fears. There’s an encouraging note on the top of the recipe from the author, who is also fearful of egg whites, that says that “following the directions carefully assures producing a perfect cake.” I proceeded to follow the instructions line by line, attempting to measure, mix and fold exactly as specified. When it said to sift ingredients three times, I sifted three times. When it came time to whipping the egg whites though, I had a problem. The instructions said to let the mixer run 3-5 minutes to create “stiff peaks,” but after 5 minutes my egg whites looked pretty flat. Luckily I knew better than to follow the time recommendation in this case, and I let the mixer run for about 10 minutes until it reached the proper volume.
I only have a small, silicone tube pan which is less than ideal for angel food cake (cakes don’t seem to hold their shape as well after baking in the silicone pan.) I split the batter and poured half in the tube pan, and half in an 8″ Springform pan. After 20 minutes both came out light and springy, and perfectly golden. This was my first egg white success! Once the cake had cooled I added fresh strawberries and a sugary sauce made of sourcream and dark brown sugar. Don’t be scared by the sourcream, it’s a perfect compliment to the strawberries and tastes really good with the brown sugar mixed in.
Andrew and I had a little fun decorating the plates before eating. My decoration was a circle of brown sugar sauce around the angel food cake with three strawberries stacked on the end. Andrew created a little strawberry monster by cutting the angel food cake to look like it was eating a strawberry. I think we could both use a lesson in plating. For now, I’m just happy the cake came out as well as it did.
Brown Sugar Sauce
Makes 4-6 servings
2 heaping tablespoon of sour cream
1/2 cup dark brown sugar (or more to taste)
Place the sour cream and brown sugar in a small bowl. Microwave for 10 seconds to soften the brown sugar and melt the sour cream. Stir both together until the brown sugar is incorporated and the sauce is smooth. Chill in the refrigerator until thickened, approximately 20 minutes. When ready to serve, place the sauce in a piping bag to decorate or spoon directly onto the strawberries or cake.
Angel Food Cake
Recipe by Jennifer Appel from the The Buttercup Bakeshop Cookbook
Makes one 10-inch cake; serves 10-12
1 cup cake flour
1 1/2 cups sugar
13 or 14 large egg whites (2 cups)
1 1/2 teaspoons cream of tartar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon salt
Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Set out an ungreased 10-inch tube pan.
In a medium bowl, combine the flour with one cup of the sugar. Sift these together three separate times. Set this aside and place remaining sugar in a separate cup for later use.
Place the egg whites in a standing mixer bowl and, using the whisk attachment, turn mixer to lowest speed. After one minute add the cream of tartar, vanilla and salt. After another minute of beating, turn the mixer to medium speed and gradually add the reserved 1/2 cup sugar.
Stop and scrape the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula when all of the sugar has been added. Resume beating until whites are stiff but moist. This should take about 3 to 5 minutes.
Transfer the egg whites to a large bowl. Sift the flour-sugar mixture over the whites and gently fold until all the dry ingredients are mixed in.
Fill the pan immediately and smooth the top with a rubber spatula. Bake for 30 to 40 minutes. Test for doneness at 30 minutes. If tester comes out clean with no trace of batter, it is done. The cake should be lightly browned and spring back when pressed gently with a finger. Remove from oven and allow to cool in pan for 30 minutes. Place the pan upside down on an empty bottle for easier removal. Remove the cake from pan and cool completely on a wire rack.
Pick your own strawberries at Alstede Farms in Chester, New Jersey.