Tag Archives: Jasper White

The Frugality of Angel Food Cake

Angel Food Cake with Strawberries and Cream

One of the biggest challenges I faced when switching from being a chef to food styling was the waste. Not the oh, this is moldy let’s throw it out waste, but this strawberry is too darn big or that bun has a little dimple on one side or the pith of this lemon is a quarter of an inch too thick or this slice of swiss cheese doesn’t have enough holes to read as swiss cheese. Some of these defects you can change or manipulate. Not enough holes in the swiss cheese? No problem, get out your trusty plain pastry tips and cut a few more holes. If the bun is dimpled on one side swivel it so the dimple is away from the camera’s lens. But a strawberry that is too shaped funny? There is not a lot you can do about it. You can’t send it to the gym or carve it into the right shape the art director wants. Instead you buy lots and lots and lots of strawberries. The rejects – those that are too big, too small, too light, or who might have a slight bruise – get used as stand-ins or nibbled on as we work with the perfect ones. If we have the time we’ll try to arrange for a food bank pick up at the end of the day, but it’s not always possible. A chef, on the other hand, buys what they need. They minimize waste. It does need to look good, but it also has to taste good, and food costs have to be kept in mind. As a chef I would use all of the strawberries below. As a food stylist I would reject all but the bottom one, and even that one is a bit iffy as a hero strawberry.

Unphotogenic Strawberries


As much as I am a food stylist with an eye for the most gorgeous, I am also a former chef who is frugal down to her bones. And the later is why I love to make Angel Food Cake because the former chef in me cannot throw away an egg white. If I make a batch of my Grammy Thompson’s Scandinavian Cookies or whip up my Mom’s hollandaise sauce to dip some steamed artichokes into I always slip the leftover egg whites into the freezer.  Yolks won’t freeze, but the whites freeze beautifully. Every time I open the freezer door I eyeball my stash of frozen whites, judging if I have enough to make an angel food cake. I’ve twiddled with Jasper White’s recipe over the years and have found that two cups is the right amount for this classic dessert.


Small Angel Food Cakes

I think this cake would be a wonderful cake to make for Mother’s Day. So if you don’t have a stash of frozen egg whites waiting for you then cook up a load of eggs benedict or something else that uses egg yolks and then get ready to whip up an angel food cake.

Egg Whites Soft Peak and Stiff Peak


Angel Food Cake before-after

Angel Food Cake

1  1/3 cups sifted cake flour (not self-rising)

1 teaspoon salt

2 cups egg whites, thawed to room temperature if they were frozen

1 teaspoon cream of tartar

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1  1/3 cups sugar

Preheat the oven to 375ºF. You’ll need a 10″ tube pan with a removable bottom. Cut out a parchment paper liner for the bottom of the angel food cake pan since this cake will want to stick otherwise. I usually trace a circle around the insert, then fold the circle in quarters and snip the pointy end so it will look like a giant doughnut and shimmy down the center tube. Do not grease the pan.

Normally I am not too much of a stickler about sifting flour, but for this recipe it is imperative. You sift it before you measure it, then sift along with the salt two more times. You want light, fluffy, aerated flour so your angel food cake can almost take wing.

Then it’s time to beat the egg whites. My stand mixer is on the fritz so I did this with a sturdy hand-held mixer. It took almost 15 minutes so be prepared if hand-held is all you have. It should be slightly quicker if you do have a good stand mixer. I cannot begin to guess what whipping this by hand would take. Start by putting the egg whites,  cream of tartar, and vanilla into a large mixing bowl. I used my stand mixer bowl since I knew it could hold the volume. As the mixture starts to get foamy slowly dribble in the sugar a few Tablespoons at a time while you continue beating. Keep going until you have stiff, glossy peaks. Do not overbeat.

Sift half of the flour/salt over the egg whites and with a large spatula or your hand (remember to take off your watch first) fold it in. Lumpy is ok. Sift the remaining flour/salt mixture and loosely fold that in too. It is a delicate dance of incorporating the dry mixture into the wet while at the same time not loosing too much volume from all the whipping.

Bake 35-40 minutes or until a cake tester comes out clean. Remove and if your pan has “legs” (3 short prongs riveted onto the top edge) turn the cake upside down on these. If not slip it onto an empty glass bottle.

I have some small angel food cake pans which required me to find some tiny things for them to rest upside down on as you can see in the picture. Why does the cake need to cool upside down? I don’t know, but it does.

To remove it from the pan once it’s cool simply slide a very thin paring or butter knife around the outside edge of the pan, with the knife blade slightly angled toward the pan rather than cake. Do the same around the tube in the middle. With a little jiggling the cake should come out and you can peel off the parchment paper.

Accompaniments are endless. Macerated* fresh berries and a dab of whipped cream. If you’re making this recipe in late June enjoy a slice of cake served with the Holy Trinity of Fruit. My friend Rick Ellis adds a little powdered ginger to his angel food cake then serves it with peaches which have been tossed with sugar and a shot of bourbon. I personally love a ladle full of stewed rhubarb and a scoop of vanilla ice cream. Whatever you serve it with remember that angel food cake needs to be torn or pulled apart with two forks. If you’re very gentle you can saw slices with a bread knife. A regular knife will just squash it.

Angel Food Cakes cooling

*Macerating simply means adding sugar to let the juices come out. If you have strawberries rinse, slice, and toss with a few spoonfuls of sugar. With self-contained berries such as blueberries or raspberries you may need to smush a few in order for the juices to run.

Macerating Strawberries


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Christmas Cookie Recipes

I felt a huge sigh of relief a few years ago when a friend at church pointed out that Christmas lasts for twelve days. Count them – twelve. With stores hanging lights in October, advertisers bombarding everyone with “holiday specials” pre-Halloween, black Friday shopping starting before I had fully digested my turkey dinner and three pieces of pie I feel that by the time Christmas actually rolls around it’s already over. But it isn’t, it is just beginning. I can breathe. If everything is not done by midnight on December 24th the world does not shudder and come to a stand still (or worse still blow up). With that extra 11 day buffer it doesn’t matter if I only have four batches of cookies done or all seven – Christmas will happen either way. There is much comfort in knowing this. I offer it to you, this gift of knowledge, Christmas lasts for twelve days. Do not feel the burden of trying to cram everything into one day because you have time.

"christmas tree with duct tape wrapped presents"

Pre-December 25th I managed to bake a bunch of cookies from my classic Christmas cookie list. Most of them I made using the cookie log trick. Here are two of the recipes I haven’t previously shared.

Shawn’s Pecan Butterscotch Cookies

"shawn's pecan butterscotch cookies"

My copy of Jasper White’s Cooking from New England falls open to the recipe for Mark’s Butterscotch Icebox Cookies. After years of making and tweaking them I’ve renamed my version after my husband who loves them. I’ve amplified the recipe by quadrupling the amount of pecans and doubling the vanilla. Interestingly this recipe calls for them to be made into cookie logs and refrigerated before slicing and baking.

Shawn’s Pecan Butterscotch Cookies

1 cup pecans

3/4 cup unsalted butter, softened (1  1/2 sticks)

1 cup packed brown sugar

1 egg

2 teaspoons vanilla

2 cups sifted flour (sift then measure)

1 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon salt

Either in the oven or on the stove top in a cast iron pan toast the almonds until lightly brown and fragrant. Cool, then chop into small pieces. Cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add the egg and vanilla creaming to incorporate. Sift in the flour, soda and salt and throw in the nuts. Stir until well combined. Make the dough into cookie logs, for directions on how to do that click here. Pop logs into fridge for a few hours or a few days.

When ready to bake preheat the oven to 350º F. Slice cookie logs roughly 1/4″ and place on parchment lined cookie sheets. Bake 9-11 minutes turning the sheet 180º  half way through baking. Cool and store in air-tight tins.


"Gertrude's cookies"

This recipe comes from my Grammy Caldwell’s friend Gertrude and has been a classic Christmas cookie in our family for more than half a century. Lovely butter-y shortbread dough rolled into balls which a small spoonful of jam cooked into the spot where you press your thumb. I have yet to meet someone who can eat just one of these.


3/4 pound unsalted butter, softened (three sticks)

1 cup sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla

pinch salt

3  1/2 – 3  3/4 cups flour

Seedless raspberry jam

Preheat the oven to 325º F. Cream the butter and sugar together in a mixing bowl until well blended. Stir in the vanilla and salt then add half the flour. You will most likely need to stir in the other half of the flour by hand, rather than with the mixer. If you need to work on your biceps cream the whole thing by hand.

When I went to write up this recipe I realized I have four different versions – all calling for various amounts of flour. Looking at the four different recipe cards spread across my counter was a moment where I wished I could wave a magic wand and be back in Grammy Caldwell’s kitchen. I could stand at her side one more time and take notes while she was cooking, and I would weigh the flour before she added it to the butter and sugar so I would know precisely how much she used. After all a cup of flour can vary hugely depending on if it has been sifted or not. Of course if I could wind back the clock I would also be able to giver her one more hug and tell her how much I love her and learned from her. I think she knew, but it would be pretty great to be able to tell her one more time.

Shortbread is simple, just a few ingredients, so each one needs to be in proper relationship with the others. Use the best butter you can afford. If you like your cookies a bit “shorter” use the lesser amount of flour. If you like them more cookie-like use the larger amount. Both variations are yummy.

Once you’ve mixed the dough roll it into small balls the size of shooter marbles. Place them on baking sheets lined with parchment paper and poke a depression in each cookie with a finger. Fill the the finger holes with a tiny spoonful (we’re talking the tip of a baby spoon) of seedless raspberry jam. The important part is no seeds. Bake for 16-20 minutes or until the bottoms are lightly browned, and the jam is nice and bubbly. I give the baking sheet a 180º turn half way through. You do not want to brown the upper part of the cookie.

Full disclosure: I have over-browned these cookies on more than one occasion, including twice in the past week as I was trying to write this post. Family and friends have selflessly come to my rescue and eaten all the overcooked ones. Not a crumb of evidence is left.

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