angel food cake

Angel food cake owes much of its consistency to egg whites.

Angel Food Cake

What is Angel Food Cake?

Angel food cake is a type of sponge cake made with egg albumen and without added egg yolks and butter. It is a good choice for low fat or low calorie dessert presentation.


Angel food cake originated in the United States. The Confectioners’ Journal published an angel food cake recipe in April 1883. The first cookbook to have an angel food cake recipe is the Boston Cooking School Cook Book of 1884.1

Functional Ingredients

Egg white: leavening agent. The quality of angel food cake is largely determined by the foaming properties of egg whites. When an egg white is whipped, air bubbles are trapped in liquid albumen. After heating, the air bubbles expand and egg white proteins coagulate around them, giving permanence to the foam structure. If egg whites are under-foamed, the volume and texture of the finished product will be less than desired. On the other hand, over-foamed egg white lacks elasticity and cannot expand properly when heated. Egg white with proper foaming properties is desired.2

Cream of tartar: is added to stabilize the egg white. Acid addition lowers the pH closer to the isoelectric point of the foaming proteins of the egg white. There are decreased electrostatic repulsions between proteins near their isoelectric points. Therefore, proteins pack closer at the air/liquid interface in the foam and viscosity increases. The stronger protein films are less permeable to entrapped air, creating a more stable foam.3 Compared to other acids, such as citric and acetic, cream of tartar produces cakes that are much coarser in texture.1

Key Reactions

There are several key reactions involved in the angel food cake baking process while the temperature of the batter is increasing:

  • expansion of the egg white protein-stabilized foam cells
  • gelatinization of starch
  • coagulation of the proteins so they can stabilize the air cells
  • evaporative loss of water to further enhance rigidity and texture development and chemical reactions of the sugars and proteins that develop color and flavor.

Research performed to improve the quality of angel food cake has focused on the areas below:

Egg white: Unfolding egg albumin at low or high pH, such as pH1.5, 2.5, 3.5, 10.5, 11.5 or 12.5, followed by partially refolding the proteins by adjusting the pH back to the pH range where most the food system falls in (pH4.5-8.5) leads to a substantial increase in foam firmness.4

The length of storage of eggs affects the ability of the egg white to produce a stable foam. Egg whites that are several days old resulted in less satisfactory cakes with an open, more porous texture, than cakes made from fresh eggs. When whipped, the older whites form larger bubbles than fresh egg whites. So cakes baked with older whites have an open texture that is not as tender as the tight texture one gets from fresh eggs.1 Oldham (2000)3 found that cold egg whites did not decrease cake quality, eliminating the need to warm egg, decreasing bacteria risk and decreasing preproduction time.3

Cream of tartar: Oldham (2000)3 found that ¼ tsp per egg white of cream of tartar was the best in angel food cake quality, evidenced by increased cake volume, crumb whiteness, and tenderness. Cream of tartar can be added before or after flour addition since measured objective and sensory characteristics were not affected by time of cream of tartar addition.3

Flour: Chlorinated cake flour, which is made from soft wheat flour, is used due to its light texture. This is beneficial for leavening and also contributes to the light texture of the cake.

Frozen batter: Hydrocolloids, which have high water retention capacity, can inhibit ice formation and growth and confer stability to the frozen products. One percent carboxymethyl cellulose (CMC) was found to be sufficient to contribute to the quality of angel food cake made from frozen batter and stored for 4 weeks.5

Egg white protein replacement: Egg white protein replacement cakes without additives were generally inferior to 100% egg white protein control cakes, whereas angel food cake made with 75% egg white protein/25% whey protein isolate with 0.1% xanthan gum closely resembled 100% egg white protein cakes. Xanthan gum improved the volume and air dispersion in the egg white protein replaced cakes.6


  1. Patent, Greg. “Angel Food Cake.”Gastronomica: The Journal of Food and Culture 13.2 (2013): 9-12.
  2. Mleko, S., H.g. Kristinsson, Y. Liang, M.p. Davenport, W. Gustaw, and M. Tomczynska-Mleko. “Rheological Properties of Angel Food Cake Made with PH Unfolded and Refolded Egg Albumen.” LWT – Food Science and Technology 43.9 (2010): 1461-466.
  3. Oldham, A. M., D. R. Mccomber, and D. F. Cox. “Effect of Cream of Tartar Level and Egg White Temperature on Angel Food Cake Quality.” Family and Consumer Sciences Research Journal 29.2 (2000): 111-24.