It was always going to happen. Another year, another Great British Bake Off, another rush of trying the show’s recipes.
This week I decided to finally have a go at 3 recipes I’ve been meaning to for a while.
On Tuesday, after much anticipation, the new series of The Great British Bake Off finally started! Having worked up to the last minute before the show and with no time left to cook, I got myself a bowl of cereal and settled for an hour of emotional cake rollercoaster. The nerves, the suspense, the laughter, the oohs and ahs at the creative talent coming up with Gaudi-inspired tower cakes, it all left me exhausted. Mel and Sue remain at once hilarious and very sweet and protective of the contestants; Mary Berry delivered the authoritative yet benevolent presence. And Paul Hollywood remained the fair judge with a firm hand. It’s such a predictable formula, but, just like the sandwich cakes on the first round, it’s comforting and never seems to get old. My only criticism: they could have given us a double bill season opener. I had to spend the next hour on Twitter to get the GBBO chatter out of my system.
The technical challenge was an angel food cake. I had this cake on my to-try list since I first read about it a while ago on David Lebovitz’s blog. It looks very white, light and pure, and I imagine very easy to mop up with a glass of cold milk. Or champagne. Looking at American recipes online, there seems to be a firm division between camp pure and simple, and those who prefer adding a bit of jam for the taste and colour contrast. Mary Berry apparently likes hers with sweet whipped cream. I’m not a fan of whipped cream on cakes, but an alternative quickly sprang to mind: I’ve also been meaning to try a coconut frosting for some time. I love coconut a great deal. It always annoys me when I come across coconut cake recipes, and it’s actually vanilla cake with vanilla buttercream, the only coconut in it being the shredded variety on top of the frosting. That’s not a coconut cake! So, I quickly got excited about making the angel food cake and topping it up with actual coconut icing. For a bit of colour, my own technical challenge: angel hair. Or Fios de Ovos, as I know them.
Now, please hear me out. I KNOW this may sound strange and possibly repulsive, but it is a truly marvellous addition to desserts, and I am amazed it is not more widespread outside its native Portugal. Made with a gargantuan amount of egg yolks and sugar, these eggy threads are very popular in Brazil – I suspect possibly more well-known there than in Portugal. It is one of the sweets I dedicate hours to every time I visit Sao Paulo, marvelling at the resilience of my liver. It is surprisingly delicate and light for something that uses so much sugar, and juicy and sweet at every bite. I had never made it before, but this looked like the perfect opportunity. Since the cake took 12 eggs whites, I’d use the yolks for the angel hair.
The angel food cake: it requires a special ‘non-non-stick’ tin with legs, to allow the cake to rest upside down after baking without falling out. Since it’s made with a lot of stiff egg whites and little else, it’s very airy and fragile when warm, and it risks collapsing under its own weight if you remove it too quickly from the tin. And so I toured the cooking shops and department stores of London looking for the special tin, feeling like a right fool running to the shops whenever the telly tells me to do so. (yes, I could have ordered online, but I wanted it NOW!) The standard reaction was: ‘ah, you’ve been watching the GBBO, haven’t you? No, we don’t have them.’ Now, a word to the British entrepreneurial minds: this is a massively – massively – popular show. It attracts the sort of obsessives like me who of course will run and make the recipes they see on the show. Is it really much of a leap to work with the show’s PR, anticipate and prepare for the obvious demand? I had the same problem over a decade ago when cupcakes started becoming popular after the famous Sex And The City episode and the success of Magnolia Bakery. It took a good 3 or 4 years for cupcake cases or stands to be available in shops over here. Anyhow, I didn’t find the tin, but used the trick of resting a bundt cake tin upside down on the neck of a bottle. I also spread a thin layer of raw batter over the surface of the cake to try to make sure it stuck to the tin, which was non-stick and the only one I had. It worked! The cake rose beautifully, stayed put in the tin after baking, and finally came out once cool in one glorious piece. It did not collapse. It was springy and very, very light. And at this point, I want to take a moment to say Thank You, America, for Angel Food Cake. If the world was a logical place, this would be known as wedding cake, because it would fit so well with most wedding decorations I can think of, and the lightness of it would be so welcome after a wedding feast. Although it is hard to improve on a name such as angel food.
The coconut frosting: is it too sad to admit that I dedicated a great part of my 4 day long weekend to perfecting this? None of the recipes I found quite did the trick, so I made this up with cream cheese, double cream and reduced coconut milk. It’s fresh and tangy and has a hint rather than a full-on taste of coconut.
And now for the fios de ovos (angel hair): it seemed the week was determined to throw obscure kitchen utensils at me. If you want to make this like a pro, you’ll need a special mug-funnel that I did not even attempt to look for. What you need to do with this dessert is have a cup of hardly beaten eggs yolks, then slowly and steadily pour a drizzle of yolks over a pan with steaming flavoured sugar syrup. Yes, it is essentially sugared egg yolks, but you really must try this to understand just how special it is. You could do this with a small sieve, but the specially designed funnel has larger holes that ensure continuous and long threads. I improvised: I got a small tin and made 5 large holes in it. It worked. The bright yellow threads looked striking over the fluffy white frosting. And the cake was as unique and delicious as described by every angel food cake enthusiast I met. If only Mary Berry could see me now!
Angel Food Cake: David Lebovitsz’s recipe
I went with almost the exact same recipe from David Lebovitz’s blog, which I am copying here with a few comments. I’ve adjusted the amount of eggs slightly, and replaced cake flour – not easily available in the UK – with a mix of all-purpose flour and a small amount of corn starch. His recipe states 45 minutes baking time. Mine was ready in just under 40, so start checking early.
- 1 cup all-purpose flour with 2 tbsp taken out (120g)
- 2 tbsp corn starch
- 1 1/2 cups (300g) granulated sugar
- 1/2 tsp fine salt
- 12 egg whites, at room temperature
- 1 tsp cream of tartar
- 2 tsp fresh lemon juice
- 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
If you have an angel food cake tin, use that. Do not grease it. Otherwise, a tube or bundt cake tin will do the job, but do not use non stick ones. As soon as the cake is ready, turn the improvised tin over the neck of a bottle – see step 6 below.
1. Preheat the oven to 180C (350F)
2. In a small bowl, sift together the flour, corn starch, 1/2 cup sugar, and salt.
3. Whip the eggs with an electric mixer. When they start becoming foamy, add the cream of tartar and lemon juice.
4. Increase the speed to high and continue to whip the egg whites until they just begin to hold their shape in soft, droopy peaks. Gradually whip the remaining 1 cup of sugar into the whites, 1/4 cup at a time. Do not overwhip; the egg whites should not be overly dry or stiff, but soft and cloud-like. At the last moment, mix in the vanilla.
5. With a rubber spatula, fold the flour and sugar mixture into the whites gradually, a small amount at a time.
6. Spoon the batter in the pan, smooth the top, and bake for 40 -45 minutes. Remove from the oven and immediately invert the tube pan over a cooling rack. If the pan doesn’t have “feet”, set it over the neck of a heavy bottle or overturned metal funnel, using the center hole of the pan to hold the cake, until completely cool – at least an hour.
- 2 tins of coconut milk (800 ml/ 4 cups )
- 200 ml (1cup) double cream. You may not need all of it. Keep the rest and add to to a cup of coffee to go with the cake.
- 200g (3/4 cup) cream cheese
- 6 tbsp caster sugar
- In a heavy bottomed saucepan, bring the coconut milk to a boil. Reduce the heat to medium and let it boil for 30 min or until it has reduced to 200ml (cup). Let it cool completely.
- In a medium bowl, add the cream cheese and a splash of the double cream. Whisk it with a fork until it’s lose and the cream completely incorporated into the cheese.
- In a separate medium bowl, whisk the double cream until it has firmed up to soft peaks. I prefer to do this by hand to avoid over-whisking. You want a soft consistency, so that cream still drops from the whisk when you lift it.
- Add the reduced coconut milk (which should have a much thicker consistency now that it’s cooled down) to the softened cream cheese and mix well.
- Add the whisked double cream and sugar, one tablespoon at the time, and mix until you achieve the taste and thickness you want. I added 6 tablespoons of cream and 3 of sugar, then stopped.
- Keep the frosting in the fridge and frost the cake just before serving.
Fios de Ovos/Angel Hair:
- 12 egg yolks.
- 1 cup caster sugar
- ½ cup water
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
- 1 clove and 1 small stick of cinnamon (optional)
- If you don’t have a special angel hair funnel: either use a small sieve (only large enough to fit over a mug) or wash a small empty tomato tin and with a nail or sharp knife, make 5 holes in the bottom of the tin.
- Pass all the egg yolks through a sieve into a bowl. Mix it well with a fork, but don’t whisk it.
- In a wide heavy bottomed saucepan, mix the water and sugar and warm it over a medium heat until all the sugar has dissolved. Add the vanilla and, if using, the cinnamon and clove. Bring it to the boil, reduce the heat to low and let it boil for 5 minutes. Remove the clove and cinnamon.
- With the water and sugar still boiling on low heat: half fill the tin and stand it over the pan, making wide circles over the water. Keep the tin only a couple of inches above the water surface to ensure a continuous flow. Make about 5 circles and stop. Return the tin to the bowl with egg yolks.
- Watch the saucepan closely and allow about 2 minutes for the threads to solidify and turn bright yellow. You should see long threads forming. If they’re sticking, use a fork to separate them.
- Transfer the cooked threads to a large sieve over a bowl. Wet your fingers in cold water and slightly separate the threads. Leave them on the sieve while you cook the next batch.
- Repeat the process until all the eggs are cooked. If the sugar syrup becomes too thick, add more water, half a cup at a time. Just drop new batches over the old ones on the sieve, and remove them all to a plate when you’ve finished. You should end up with a small cereal bowl of the final product, which is a bit more than what you’ll need to cover the cake.
- Serve cold from the fridge.