Shortcake… or is it?

June 21, 2010

It was Mom’s birthday this weekend and she put in a double request for dessert: something with strawberry and chocolate and a chocolate pecan pie. So I suggested a chocolate angel food cake layered with cream and strawberries.

Like a shortcake, right?

Not really. This has been bugging me for a few weeks, now, after having seen an “expert” reply to this:

Q. Are strawberry shortcake and angel food cake the same

A. The cake is the same but the way you eat them are completely different.

Shortcakes versus Foam Cakes

Classic Strawberry Shortcake

Classic Strawberry Shortcake

A short cake is actually more like a biscuit or scone and takes it’s name from the “shortening” of the gluten from the solid fat (butter or vegetable shortening–no that name is not a coincidence) being cut in to the dry ingredients. Short cakes also use baking soda or powder for leavening.

Angle food cakes, on the other hand, are foam cakes, use absolutely no fat whatsoever and very little flour, for that matter. What gives them their lift and structure is the protein from the beaten egg whites that make up the majority of their volume.

Those little golden twinkie-textured things near the fruit in the produce section? Those are usually sponge cakes. Unlike foam cakes they often use outside leavening agents while still depending on the air beaten into the eggs (whether whole or separately and then combined).

So what is that shortcake-like dessert made with a split angel food cake, berries and cream?

A really yummy dessert. You could, I suppose, call it a torte after the process of splitting and filling the layers (commonly known as torting) though a traditional (German) torte is dense from the use of ground nuts instead of flour (though there are exceptions to every rule). But calling it a cake (even a strawberry cake) is really the safest bet out there.

Chocolate Angel Food Cake with Strawberries

Back to Mom’s birthday cake.

When in need of a fool-proof cake recipe, there’s one place I can turn: Rose Levy Beranbaum’s Cake Bible. Of course she has a chocolate angel food cake recipe and, of course, the instructions are incredibly detailed. It’s really tough to mess up one of her recipes unless you take a short cut somewhere.

Incredible Egg Whites

Incredible Expanding Egg Whites

The one thing I didn’t have was cream of tartar but I opted to just go without–it adds stability and helps you to form stiff peaks of the egg white but with my stand mixer I wasn’t too worried about that. The 2 cups of egg whites (from 16 large eggs) quickly grew to fill the 4.5 quart bowl. It’s a good thing to have a separate, larger bowl to do the folding of the scant dry ingredients in with the very stiff egg whites.

We also ran into a slight problem with the cooling step–it seems my angel food pan was made differently than most and the opening of the center tube was not large enough to fit over the neck of the wine bottle, as suggested, or anything else that we could find. Until, that is, Todd spied the lighthouse decoration in our bathroom–between the dowel-rod point on top and the upper cabinets to keep it from wobbling we managed to keep the finished cake from deflating too very much while it cooled the required 1 1/2 hours. Pans with the little arms on top can also serve this same purpose, sans lighthouse.

I had planned to use whipped cream in the layers, along with macerated (sliced and sugared) strawberries and fudge sauce but the 16 egg yolks were just screaming to be made into a batch of Deluxe Pastry Cream (all yolks instead of half yolks, half whole eggs). Granted, it yielded over 2 quarts of pastry cream and it took a little more time than the whipped cream would have, but the finished dessert was that much creamier for the extra effort.

Speaking of which….

The Interior Layers

The Interior Layers

I split the angel food cake into three layers and topped the bottom and middle layers with pastry cream, strawberries and drizzles of chocolate. The top layer, once in place, got pastry cream and chocolate drizzle and the 6 whole strawberries I’d saved out of the quart before slicing the rest. The finished cake tipped a little in towards the center but benefited from a 2 hour rest during which the pastry cream seeped into the cake and turned the airy layers into creamy ones.

And Mom loved it, which would have made it right even if it’d been technically wrong.

Chocolate Angel Food with Strawberries

the Finished Chocolate Angel Food Cake with Strawberries

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