Why a tube pan?

Another very good question, reader Will. Heat penetration is the answer. Without that center hole, an angel food cake would be an extremely broad and thick mass. Heat from the oven would have a hard time reaching the center before the outside over-baked. Meringue-topped pies are a good illustration of this problem. Big as they are, the very centers are often under-baked or weepy, because it’s hard to get that middle region hot enough without overheating and breaking the rest of the meringue.

The importance of center heating can also be seen in cake-style doughnuts. They start as a dense batter and have to fry up fast in a very heat-intensive environment. The hole in the middle allows them to cook evenly, from the outside inward and from the center outward, so there are no under-done spots in the middle.

It’s a popular myth that the center tube gives an angel food cake more surface area to “grip” as it rises. The reality is that cakes don’t “hold on” to pan sides, nor do they receive “support” from pan walls other than to simply be contained by them. For cake layers the name of the game is heat. The quicker it penetrates the mass of batter all the way through to the center, the more evenly the cake bakes. Pan walls facilitate that heat transfer, which is why batter near pan surfaces rises and sets faster than the batter that’s further away. Great question, Will!

17 thoughts on “Why a tube pan?”

  1. Hi Joe,
    I know you need the money to support the site, BUT, could you please have Odwalla put their ad on the side? It is VERY annoying to have it at the bottom of the screen and there is no little ‘x’ to turn it off. It does disappear whenever we click on the individual post, thank goodness. And then “it’s baaack!” when we go to the list.

    1. Hey Melinda!

      I’ll give my ad network a call. I have to keep after them on these sorts of things. They keep promising “non-disruptive” ads but then some coder somewhere decides to get clever. I’ll see what I can do about it, thanks.

      – Joe

  2. Would a smaller surface are (like say a muffin tin) allow for baking without a tube pan? I understand the cakes would be smaller, but it’s more the concept than the execution I’m wondering about…

    1. Hey Mark!

      Certainly. You can bake angel food cake in any form you like, even a loaf pan…which is actually more common than you’d think. The shape is more traditional than functional. Great question!

      – Joe

      1. Now you made me ask if it makes a difference if the pan is non-stick or not. I’d always heard it had to grip the sides so you couldn’t use non-stick. Is that not true?

        1. Oh no, there are lots of nonstick tube pans it there. In fact I’d go so far as to say they’re the norm. You’re just to supposed to grease the pan, presumably because you don’t want to compromise the foam. I’d like to test that assumption one day as well to see if it really makes a difference. I have a hunch that a little nonstick spray won’t be a big deal.

          – Joe

          1. I hate to waste 12 egg whites on the experiment. I think I have a dry mix in the pantry. Maybe I’ll see if one of those works in a non-stick or not. Thanks!!

          2. I’m sure it ‘ll work, Linda. No worries, nonstick is the thing with angle food cakes these days.

            – Joe

  3. I noticed the same, Melinda, but Joe usually stays on top of this so I figured he’d get to it. Worse is one on a different baking site which caused the page to drop to microscopic size. Even more annoying. I’ve complained about that one but it didn’t seem to help. Joe’s site NEVER causes me that grief with the iPad view. Thanks for that, Joe!!

    Back to the topic. Though I like the tube pan and use it I have to say my favorite angel food pan is a 16″ in long skinny one with little feet. You don’t have the ease of the removable bottom (not sure why they didn’t add that option) but with some tapping on the counter the cake comes out and it’s so much easier to slice uniform pieces vs. the circular version. And as to cutting it…a great tool if you have it is an electric knife. They are pretty inexpensive and beat any angel food cake knife I’ve tried…and I’ve tried a few. The electric knife doesn’t compress the cake when slicing it.

    Just took my angel food cake out of the oven, Joe. Turned out beautiful (and in the pan mentioned above). I think it will ship better than the tube version which I have tried in the past. If you have ever had to handle an angel food cake much to pack it for shipping you will appreciate my desire to find a less “memory foam wannabe”. I felt every touch left a mark on the tube cake the last time I tried to pack one. We’ll see if the smaller one does better. Thanks again for a great cake recipe.

    1. Very interesting, Linda…and glad you had a good result. As I said, my grandmother made probably hundred of these. Also your electric knife suggestion is inspired!

      – Joe

  4. Re slicing the Angel food cake- I’ve seen this old time gadget specifically designed for the purpose. It looks like a big comb with thin prongs and wide spaces between them…supposedly they were very popular for the fact that they don’t squish the cake at all. Surely Joe’s grandma had one of them.

    1. I have no idea, Dani, but it’s worth checking her house! (An aunt and uncle now occupy it).


      – Joe

      1. Tried that. Also tried a cheese knife with the hole in the blade for less drag and the serrated blade. Electric knife does better than them all. Try it once you will be spoiled. Oh, and that cheese knife affectionately called the Klingon knife) works great to slice cheesecake…just saying.

      2. It’s only fair it goes to whomever the steward of her recipe is. As long as you ca convince Mrs Pastry there is still room in the basement 🙂

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