|Right Food for the Season - Early Spring|
|Written by Jane Ward|
My mother was the pie queen and not the cake maven; she would have no qualms telling you this herself. And because she had seen too many of her attempts at producing springy butter layers become instead collapsed and leaden discs, she stuck with her strengths, making flaky pie crusts with tart fruit fillings whenever possible.
This meant that when most birthdays rolled around, unless one wanted a birthday pie, Duncan Hines made a guest appearance in the kitchen, his all-butter golden or devil’s food layers gussied up with a delectable homemade buttercream frosting.
But there is always an exception to the rule, and the one exception to my mother’s disastrous results was the Daffodil Cake. She turned out a perfect one every time.
A Daffodil Cake, for the unacquainted, is the marble cake of the beaten egg white world: sunshine-yellow chiffon cake swirled within a snowy white angel food cake. Yellow and white like the flower, it is perfectly named.
Baking success may explain why the Daffodil Cake became my mother’s first choice when she needed a homemade cake. We like to make what we make well. But the cake’s airy, eggy, and butter-free composition makes it the perfect and perfectly digestible cake for a one-year old, and that’s when my mother would make it. It was my First Birthday cake, and, years later, my children’s as well. Besides being easy for a baby to eat, the cake is tall, as fluffy as a cloud, and colorful, all with a whimsical name – children love it!
Adults will too. Too often we adults think of angel food cakes as “diet food” or the way for a weight conscious person to enjoy an almost guilt-free (no butter, little flour) dessert, and therefore these lofty creations have the reputation for being a cake to make do with, a replacement for what you really want, a second best.
This doesn’t have to be so, and a Daffodil Cake may change your mind at your next springtime dinner. Outwardly it’s not a gilded lily of a cake. In fact, it turns out of the pan kind of brown and plain. But the prettiness of this cake is where your mother told you the best kind of pretty always is: on the inside. Slice into the Daffodil Cake and expose its inner pretty colors, release its mingle of the heady aromas of vanilla and orange. You’ll be charmed.
My mother served simply decorated with a buttercream that had been thinned to glaze consistency with orange juice. As a grownup I prefer to serve the cake without glaze, with a dollop of orange and lemon zest-flavored whipped cream and alongside a generous spoonful of macerated berries. This is the time to break out those frozen berries; they will make a wonderful sauce for the cake.
Daffodil cake makes a lovely dessert after a heavy meal, but especially in the spring when your own garden’s daffodils may be blooming.
a stand mixer with clean, dry bowl, fitted with whisk attachment
a hand mixer with beaters
two more medium sized mixing bowls
two rubber scrapers
measuring cups and spoons
an ungreased, straight-sided tube pan with removable bottom
1 cup cake flour (sifted once, re-measured, and sifted/measured two more times)
1 ¼ cups eggs whites at room temperature (because egg volumes vary, this may be whites from as many as 4-6 eggs)
½ tsp. salt
1 tsp. cream of tartar
1 1/3 cups sugar
½ tsp. vanilla
½ tsp. orange extract or 1 tsp. grated orange zest
4 egg yolks
Preheat oven to 325 degrees.
Beat egg whites on low speed until frothy. Sprinkle salt and cream of tartar on the top and continue beating with whisk attachment until whites are stiff but not dry. (Note: Stiff peaks are the goal: white eggy peaks that follow the beater in a straight line when the attachment is lifted out of the mixture. Overbeaten – or dry – whites will begin to separate and look curdled.)
When whites form stiff peaks, with motor still running, gradually beat in sugar 2 tablespoons at a time, beating until whites become dense and glossy, still with stiff peaks.
Remove bowl from stand mixer. Sift flour over the top of the whites and gradually fold it into the egg whites. (Remember: The goal of folding is to deflate the beaten egg whites as little as possible. Therefore, to fold, use a rubber scraper and reach down through the center of the foam to the bottom of the bowl and lift the some of the egg whites up and on top of the flour. As you do this turn the bowl a quarter turn. Then cut through the flour and whites again to reach down to the bottom again and lift more of the whites up and over. Turn again. Repeat, gently, until the flour and whites blend and no white streaks remain.)
Remove half of the egg white mixture to a second bowl and set both aside, undisturbed, for a minute.
In the third clean bowl, beat the egg yolks until thick and lemon colored. Fold these and either the orange extract or zest with a clean rubber scraper into one half of the reserved egg white/flour mixture. Into the second bowl of the egg white/flour mixture, again using a clean scraper, fold in vanilla. (Note: I stress clean bowls and scrapers between batters, and an ungreased tube pan because you want to keep your angel food portion of the batter from being in contact with any fat whatsoever. It seems like a lot of clean up but the results are worth it.)
Gently spoon yellow and white batters alternately into ungreased tube pan. Bake at 325 degrees for about an hour.
Remove cake from oven. To cool, invert the pan so that the cake is upside down. You want the flat end of the tube to stand steady on a flat surface as the cake cools in the pan.
When pan and cake are both completely cool to the touch, invert pan again so that the bottom is resting on the counter. Run a thin, flexible knife around the outer edges of the pan to loosen the cake. Lift tube and base from the outer straight-edged ring part of the pan. Using the same knife, run the blade between the cake and the edge of the tube to loosen at this last point of contact. Either invert and let cake drop from the tube, or simply work and lift cake from the base and set on a cooling rack or cake plate.
Serve as you wish.
Photo credit: Aleta Meadowlark http://www.omnomicom.com