Where does angel food cake come from?

That’s a bit of an unknown. It’s an American thing, that much we do know. What other culture holds five-inch-thick cake layers in such high esteem? As for exactly when and where angel food cake first appeared in America, that’s tougher to determine. People like to say Pennsylvania Dutch country, but that’s really just a guess, albeit a safe one since so much in the American home baking canon has come from that region.

As for when, another safe guess is the late 1880’s, since those are the days of the so-called home baking explosion, when post-Civil War industry turned its attention to supplying American households with consumer goods, notably stoves, baking forms and utensils. The first mentions of “angel cake” or “angel food cake” appeared in print about that time.

8 thoughts on “Where does angel food cake come from?”

  1. Interesting question, which I never even considered before. But now that you’ve raised the topic, I have been musing upon it! I don’t doubt that it’s an American cake, but the composition of the cake strikes me as very European, for several reasons. It’s meringue, which I always associate with Europe, although of course that might just be incorrect. (Lemon meringue pie came later, no? Pie altogether is very American, no?) I could easily see it being a “by-product” of all those yolk-intensive sauces and brulees European countries are known for (now what should we do with all these leftover egg whites?) Is it in any way connected to the financier? Perhaps we just didn’t have the luxury of almond flour, so we used regular flour with all those egg whites? Another thought — it’s a rather expensive cake (thinking mostly about the yolks that are not used) and I can’t envision it coming from the pioneer life of an emerging America. I still hesitate to make it unless I’m sure I know how I’ll use those yolks, or if I’ve frozen the egg whites over time as I’ve used the yolks for something else. Several years ago I bought a mini angel food pan (who invented the angel food pan!?) which makes a beautiful cake with half of all the ingredients, including those egg whites. (I don’t always need such a huge cake.)

    So although I don’t doubt that angel food cake is as American as, well, apple pie, it somehow doesn’t seem logical. Now I would never say the same about devil’s food cake, of course. That’s strictly American!

    1. Hey Chana!

      No question our baking traditions all come from other parts of the world, that’s America for you. So angel food cake almost certainly has some sort of roots in Europe, however obscure. However over the weekend I looked around to see what I could find in terms of European antecedents and couldn’t find a thing. But I’m honestly not joking when I say that it really seems true that Europeans tend to prefer shorter, denser cakes and we tend to like taller fluffier ones. The French will sometimes make a taller gateau, but that’s usually made of thinner layers of cake holding up thicker layers of fruit and cream fillings.

      The big tall cake layer seems to be our preference, and our ingredients (specifically our flours and butter to say nothing of the chemicals we’re willing to use) also seem to favor them. I don’t know which came first, the chicken or the egg, all I know is that for probably a variety of factors, Americans evolved their own cake aesthetics, and the angel food cake, at least to me, fits firmly into them.

      Great comment!

      – Joe

    1. Hey Chana!

      Yes I saw a good deal of this over my weekend research. There’s always so much speculation around these sorts of things, claims of invention too, but so little that’s actually documented or verifiable. Makes interesting reading though! Thanks!

      – Joe

  2. actually swedish “sockerkaka” (sugar cake” reminded me of angelfood cake, just a tad denser (and helluva lot easier) My former neighbor makes one that reminds me even more of angelfood, but she’s part Finnish. I suppose you could say it seems to be a mix of a yellow cake and a angelfood, and how fluffy really depends on how you mix it.
    So easy, anyone and I do mean anyone (“I’m bad at baking but I do make sugarcakes”… is heard quite often)

    1. Hey PD! It’s probably the fruit flavor extracts they use. Berry flavors are notoriously difficult to get right and much of the time they end up tasting like cough syrup!

      – Joe

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *