Wednesday, 23 March 2016 13:41

Cream puffs and angel food sheet cake

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We were all set. My mom and sister and I had just received our copy of the “Let’s Go Band!” fundraiser cookbook, and found the first recipe we wanted to try.

 “Butter, milk, eggs, flour, water. Should be easy enough,” Mom said, glancing to the pot on the stove.
We were making cream puffs. Just like the ones from the bakery downtown. And the first step was to cook the ingredients for choux pastry in a pot on the stove, stirring like mad, until it formed a glossy mass.
Altogether, the method didn’t seem any more difficult than making home made play dough, a thing we’d long since mastered.
The difference here, though, was that this paste was meant to puff into perfect little shells, into which we’d spoon sweetened clouds of whipped cream.
Even before measuring the flour, the three of us were anticipating the final result, dusted with a snowfall of icing sugar.
Step One: Into the pot went the milk, water, butter and a pinch of salt.
Step Two: Bring to a boil. And then, having scorched the milk, change pots.
Step Three:  Add flour and stir stir stir!
Step Three: Beat in eggs, then drop by heaping tablespoonfuls onto a cookie sheet.
Step Four: Bake.
Now, perhaps it was all of our peering into the oven, when steam was meant to be building inside the pastry.
Perhaps it was a failure of the recipe to note exactly how the baking and drying should be accomplished.
Or, perhaps it was because, the moment the oven timer dinged, we removed the puffs from the oven, split them in half, and into the still hot, still goo-ish centres, dolloped our whipped cream. Cream that, naturally, puddled back into our hands.
Suffice to say, our cream puffs were nothing like the pastry shop cream puffs from downtown.
Over the years, other kitchen disasters have taken their place alongside the cream puffs.
There was my sister’s runny fudge, which my niece’s Kindergarten teacher stealthily disposed of.
And then, there was my own very first ever Angel Food cake.
I believe I was 10, and the cake, a Betty Crocker, was meant as a surprise for my mother, after she’d spent the evening coffee-ing with friends.
It all seemed to be going so well.
Even after peeking several times during baking, the cake stayed near the top of the pan, and hardly fell more than an inch.
And so, while I waited, I imagined easing the cake from its pan and having it stand tall upon a plate.
I imagined slathering it with pudding icing and leaving it on the table for Mom to find.
I imagined how proud she’d be to discover a baker in the family.
I imagined becoming a baker, and someday baking a cake that did not come from a box.
And then, well, I unmolded the cake and re-learned an important lesson about oven doors and steam.
Angel food sheet cake
12 large egg whites, room temperature
1 tsp lemon juice
1 1/4 cups granulated sugar
2 tsp pure vanilla extract
1 cup cake flour (spooned into measure and leveled)
1/4 tsp salt
Prepare a 17x13-inch sheet pan by lining the bottom with parchment paper.
Add lemon juice to the bowl of a stand mixer and swirl. Fit into mixer along with whisk attachment. Add egg whites. Beat 1 minute on medium until foamy. Increase speed to medium-high; beat another 4 minutes.
Continue beating while adding vanilla. Add sugar, about a heaping tbs every few seconds, until stiff, glossy peaks have formed.
Transfer whites to an extra large bowl. Sift in flour and salt in thirds, folding gently after each addition.
Spoon batter into sheet pan and smooth evenly, sealing batter along the edges, with an offset spatula.
Bake at 350F for 25 minutes, until cake springs back when lightly touched. Let cool for 20 minutes. Run a sharp knife around the edge of the pan to loosen cake, then slide onto a cooling rack to cool completely.
Slice cake, down through paper, into 12 rectangles. Peel away paper.
Serve layered with fresh berries and whipped cream.

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