Saturday, April 28, 2012

High Rise Glorious Skittle Skat Roarious Sky Pie Angel Food Cake

Have you ever had one of those memories that seem so amazingly perfect, where your eyes glaze over when you think about it, and no matter how hard you try, you can never replicate the experience?  No strawberry tastes as good as the one you picked it off the vine on a summer day, sun-warmed and delicious.  You can't seem to find the exact picture book that your Grandpa used to read you again and again and again when you stayed at his house on weekends and ate butterscotch candies from the candy dish on the end table. They stopped making Keebler Pizzeria Chips and nothing tastes the same.  Do you ever want to get that feeling back, of having exactly the right thing at the right time?

That's what the main character in The High Rise Glorious Skittle Skat Roarious Sky Pie Angel Food Cake (by Nancy Willard, illustrated by Richard Jesse Watson) sets out to do for her mother's birthday. (Note: I'm going to be a pain in the neck and tell you the whole story, but I'm paraphrasing and I have very few pictures, so you still need to go out and read this book, okay? Okay.)  When she had been a little girl, her grandmother made her a cake so delicious that she has dreamed about it for years.  She's never had a cake even half as good as that one. If only she could have that cake just one more time, it would be the best birthday gift she could ever ask for.  It's too bad that her grandmother had passed away without ever telling anybody her recipe.

Well.  That might be a stumbling block, but it wouldn't stop our main character (who, frustratingly enough, is never named).  She stays up late into the night reading her great-grandmother's journals, trying to find the recipe that nobody knew about.  She eventually finds a recipe for plain-old-boring angel food cake, and with it, the note that there is one special secret that makes the cake so amazing - so mind-bogglingly delicious! - that the angels themselves sang its praises.

It isn't until her crazy uncle spills jell-o into the piano (yes, really.  I love the aunt and uncle characters) that she finds the secret to making a regular angel food cake into a High Rise Glorious Skittle Skat Roarious Sky Pie Angel Food Cake.  The secret, dear reader, is this: before combining all the ingredients, you take the sugar and pour it out onto a plate, and with little finger on your left hand and write "EVOL EVOL EVOL."
This is what I look like when I'm baking yet again.  "I hope he doesn't catch me sampling the batter..."
Our heroine sneaks down to the kitchen on the eve of her mother's birthday and manages to make the cake without waking up her parents, but as it's baking, the delicious smells attract a different type of visitor.  The cake, miraculously cooled and ready for eating, is exactly what wandering angels have been hoping for - it is, after all, angel food.  And she can't exactly turn down angels when they come calling, can she?  Although... it was for Mom's birthday, and now there is no gift at all. "And she's such a good mother, too!" Oh, dear.  And there aren't enough eggs left to make a new one.  It looks like this birthday isn't going as planned... but maybe the angels have something up their colorful sleeves. 

Though my mother's birthday is in September, I still needed to make the cake.  The angels didn't come a-calling for me, but I did get to eat angel food cake, so I call that a win.  I didn't use the recipe as written in the book (maybe that's why they didn't come?), but my recipe is darn tasty.  Incidentally, I didn't use Alton Brown's recipe either (my recipe came with my tube pan), but I did learn about stiff peaks and folding in sifted flour from his tv show.  You can watch the angel food cake episode here.

High Rise Glorious Skittle Skat Roarious Sky Pie Angel Food Cake

12 eggs
1 1/4 cups confectioners' sugar
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons cream of tartar
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon almond extract (or another flavor - lemon or orange would be tasty)
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup sugar

1. Separate your eggs.  You can use an egg separator, or your fingers, or crack the egg in half and gently pour the yolk back and forth until all the white is apart from the yolk.  I find it best to use the 3-bowl method: pour the egg white into a white bowl.  Put the yolk into a different bowl.  Inspect the white, and make sure no yolk is present (any little bit of yolk will keep your egg whites from foaming, and your cake won't set).  Once you're sure there's no yolk present, pour that white into a measuring cup.  You need 1 1/2 cups of egg white, which for me was 11 extra large eggs, but each egg is different, so you may need the whole dozen.  NOTE: If you get any yolk into the white, don't use that egg white! Wash out the bowl before cracking another egg into it, because it'll make your cake fail.  (You don't need the egg yolks for this recipe at all, so you can throw them away, or save them to make a butterscotch pudding or a German chocolate cake frosting with another time.)
2. Let your egg whites stand at room temperature for 30 minutes. They'll whip up better this way.
3. Sift the confectioners' sugar and flour together three times (I don't know why three times, but it worked for me, so I'm sticking to it.)  Set aside.
4. To the egg whites, add the cream of tartar, extracts, and salt.  Beat on high speed.  Once it's really foamy, gradually add the sugar and beat on high until stiff peaks form.  This takes a really long time - in my stand mixer, it took at least 10 minutes.  You can tell they're stiff peaks if you dip the beater straight down into the mixture and turn it over, and the batter stands straight up in a peak, even if you shake the beater a little bit.
5. This is messy: you want to gently (your batter is made of tiny bubbles, and you want to pop as few as possible!) fold in the flour mixture 1/4 cup at a time (1/9 of what you have sifted).  It takes forever and it's messy because you can't stir or the foam will collapse.  Basically, sprinkle on the flour/sugar and, using a rubber spatula, cut through the middle of the batter to the bottom of the bowl and scrape the edges, folding some of the batter on the bottom of the bowl to the top while going in circles.  (This is hard to explain.  It's easier if you see someone else doing it: again, I recommend YouTube tutorials for cooking methods that you're unfamiliar or uncomfortable with.)
6. Gently spoon the now-complete batter into an ungreased tube pan.  Cut through the batter with a knife to remove extra air pockets, and pop it into a preheated 350 degree oven for 40-45 minutes, or until the cake springs back lightly when you touch it.
7. When you take it out of the oven, you want to immediately turn it upside-down; until the cake sets, it's a rather heavy cake supported by weak bonds, and it can collapse if you skip this part!  You also want to let it cool completely before removing it from the pan for the same reason.  My cake looked like this:

Golden brown and delicious!
The book specifically told me that the cake was frosted, but I prefer mine with  with strawberries and whipped cream.  Or with coffee in the morning as a muffin substitute.  Besides - can you look at this and tell me honestly that you'd cover up all of that beauty?
"If I hadn't brought this to work, I'd still have some to nibble on while blogging!"
Well, Mom got her cake, and my official food taster found that TGI Friday's Pizza Chips come pretty darn close to those Keebler ones, so my question to you is: what is it that you wish you could experience one more time?

**Thanks to Christy McAwesomeSauce Meisler for introducing me to this awesome book - and so many others!**

1 comment:

  1. I am teaching a cooking class for kids at Sauder Village (living history museum in Archbold OH) where we are going to bake angeel food cakes, read the story and more. It's a great way to bring books to life! I have a series of classes based on foods from different books.