Tuesday, August 19, 2014

In Search of Angel Cake.

I am often asked who invented some particular recipe, and when, exactly, it was invented.
Most times there is no one absolutely correct answer of course. Recipes evolve from existing ideas, they are not invented at a single point in time, and they are usually prepared in home and professional kitchens for long periods of time before they appear in published form.

The other difficulty is that recipes overlap, and similar combinations of ingredients and method may have different names. So, when someone asks when Angel-Food Cake was invented, what has to be included in the decision-making process?

The Oxford English Dictionary definition of Angel-Cake is “n. (orig. U.S.) a variety of sponge-cake,” and gives the first reference as occurring in Good Housekeeping magazine on 10 July, 1886. ‘Angel-Food Cake’ is given as an alternative name, with the first quotation from F. E. Owens Cook Book in 1881. So, is the ‘first recipe’ from 1881 or 1886? Interestingly, the Owens Cook Book refers to something called ‘Angel's food’, which it describes as ‘In other words, White Sponge Cake.’ So –first decisions: are Angel-cake, Angel’s food, and Angel-Food Cake all exactly the same thing? And, even more interestingly, are they forms of ‘sponge-cake,’ or ‘white sponge cake’ – because these are usually distinct, sponge cake most often containing yolks or whole eggs, whereas white sponge cake has egg-whites only.

So, if I find an earlier recipe for ‘White Sponge Cake’ which is exactly the same, or nearly the same, or pretty similar in many respects  as the supposed first recipe for Angel-Food Cake – which one ‘counts’ as the first recipe? And what about Snow Cake, which is also a sponge-cake leavened with whipped egg whites – so more or less the same thing, or perhaps exactly the same thing as White Sponge Cake and/or Angel Cake.

I don’t know when Angel-Food Cake was first made. I will say that it appeared to evolve as a form of sponge cake, using beaten egg whites rather than whole eggs, sometime in the second half of the nineteenth century, in America. I would be delighted to hear your opinions.  In the meanwhile, here is a recipe published on a certain date:

Angel Cake.
Take the whites of eleven eggs, one and one-half cups of granulated sugar, one cup of pastry flour (measure the flour after it has been sifted four times,) one small teaspoonful of vanilla, one teaspoonful of cream of tartar. Put in the sieve the cream of tartar, and sift again. Beat the eggs to a stiff froth, beat the sugar to the eggs, add the seasoning, then the flour, stirring it quickly and lightly. Beat until you are ready to put it into the oven. Put in a new pan and keep it in a moderate oven forty minutes. Do not grease the pan.

The Eliot Cook Book: Containing Choice Receipts (Boston, 1880.)


Patty's Cake said...

Hello! I'm Patricia and I'm a food blogger. I like to write about history of food in my posts and sometimes I find really difficult to date origins of some or other cakes.I like food history. Thank you for your help.

korenni said...

The first angel-food cake I ever made was from a recipe in the old Boston Cooking School cookbook. It specified two cups of egg whites. My cake was about two inches high.... My aunt was horrified. She said no matter what the book said, you had to use at least a dozen egg whites. So I tried again, and this time the cake was maybe five inches high.... I made the two cakes into a layer cake, with frosting in between the two-inch-high cake and the five-inch-high cake, but that two-inch-high cake was really chewy. I was 18. Oddly, I never had that problem again. Who knows? Maybe it was the weather!

Anonymous said...

I wish I could take you back to my being a little girl in the 60s and my mother's wonderful Angel Food Cake. To put a material-culture spin on this, if you do an internet search for "Angel Food Cake Slicer" you come up with a really amusing implement, one of which I inherited from my mother. It's interesting that this cake was thought to need a knife all its own! Someday I'll try to make one. Thanks for this post, and for all your posts.