Explain the Wide Variation in Angel Food Cake Recipes
I've recently surveyed several angel food cake recipes and found extremely wide variation in the amount of sugar used for the same amount of egg whites and flour. For example, three recipes use 12 egg whites but Ina Garten's recipe uses 2 c. sugar, Alton Brown's uses 1 3/4 c. sugar and Martha Stewart's uses just 1 1/4 c. sugar. Ina Garten uses 1 1/3 c. flour while both Alton Brown and Martha Stewart use 1 c. flour, respectively.
I know more sugar will yield a much sweeter cake but what other impact will it have on the final product? Will it make a more stable foam that's less likely to collapse? How will it change the texture of the cake?
Also, most recipes say to bake the cake for about 35 mins at 350 degrees but one cookbook says to bake the cake at 325 for 50 mins. My guess is that the longer, slower bake will yield a more stable cake, but please tell me if I'm wrong.
For the record, I used Martha Stewart's recipe because I wanted the least sweet cake, but I sifted half the sugar with the flour, which is what Alton and Ina do. The result was a very tasty cake with a nice texture. It wasn't rubbery at all, which I gather is a common problem among angel food cakes.
Angel food cake is a balanced blend of flour/sugar/egg whites. More flour = heavier texture; more sugar = higher moisture (sugar=liquid) and spring (some call it rubbery) more egg whites=higher lift. The one aspect that varies most in angel food cake (and rarely discussed) is the consistency of the finished beaten egg whites and how they are combined with the other ingredients. The best formula can be ruined with improper handling. Under-beaten eggs won't hold up and over-beaten eggs turn to a watery mass. That's a skill the takes a lot of experience to master. As for baking time/temperature, I like the lower temperature longer baking time - chiefly because I like a darker brown coloring on the finished cake and I think it contributes to better flavor overall.
My first angel food cake (I was ten years old) was prepared under the tutelage of an aunt who refused to allow me to use a powered mixer - hand beaters or whisks only. I thought my arm would fall off before the egg whites met with her approval.