It seemed impossible. I wanted to make a zero-sugar, low-carb version of a cake that is made from almost nothing but sugar and carbs.
And it took just 20-something attempts. But after many disappointing — and some downright disgusting — versions, I finally managed to bake an amazing and sweet angel food cake that rises beautifully and has the same delicate, almost spongy texture as traditional recipes.
My motivation was simple — Mom. A longtime vegan, she has lived without her (and my) favorite cake for decades. But she recently started eating egg whites again, which put angel food back on the table. Except she isn't eating sugar and is trying to limit carbohydrates.
Angel food cake has three primary ingredients — egg whites, sugar and flour. Egg whites and sugar are whipped until they form a thick, airy batter, then flour is gently folded in. Could I make a cake with only one of the key ingredients?
From the start, structure was the challenge. Using egg whites and the natural sugar alternative known as stevia, I was able to bake up cakes with the proper taste. And they would rise beautifully in the oven. But as soon as they came out, they wilted into near puddles of cooked dough.
To get the structure I needed, I turned to two ingredients popular in gluten-free baking — guar gum and xanthan gum. Most baked goods get their lift and structure by working the gluten (a type of protein) in wheat flour until it forms bonds that trap air. People who avoid gluten need to find a way around this, so they use other ingredients to replicate those bonds.
The cake still needed dry ingredients, and for that I turned to more egg whites. A blend of powdered egg whites and egg- or whey-based protein powder was a good start. A bit of almond flour completed the dry mix, giving the cake a bit of extra body.
This cake is easy to love because it is fast and simple to make, is delicious and is great for dieters. It makes a standard size angel food cake, but has just 160 calories, 4 grams of fat, 28 grams of protein and 8 grams of carbohydrates per quarter of the cake. That's right. Per quarter of the cake.
A couple things to keep in mind:
— Traditional angel food cake is made from a very delicate batter. This is why the flour is gently folded into the whipped egg whites by hand. The batter in this version is much sturdier and easily stands up to using the mixer to add the dry ingredients at the end.
— Whey or egg white protein powders are widely available in the grocer's natural foods or protein bar sections. Look for a brand that doesn't contain sugar. We used Biochem's 100 Percent Whey Protein vanilla powder.
— Powdered egg whites are exactly what they sound like. They are sold in the baking aisle.
— The recipe was written to be gluten-free. If you aren't avoiding gluten, it also can be made substituting 1/4 cup cake flour for the 1/4 cup almond flour called for.
— Want to make a chocolate version? Substitute 1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder for the 1/8 cup powdered egg whites called for.
— If you purchase packaged liquid egg whites at the grocer, be sure they are appropriate for whipping. Some brands will not whip; the cartons usually are marked to indicate this.
— Xanthan gum and guar gum are widely available in the gluten-free section of most grocers. Almond flour generally is sold in this section, too.
LOW-CARB, GLUTEN-FREE ANGEL FOOD CAKE
Start to finish: 50 minutes, plus cooling
12 egg whites (about 2 cups of liquid egg whites)
1 teaspoon cream of tartar
1 teaspoon xanthan gum
1 teaspoon guar gum
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
8 packets stevia sweetener
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon almond extract
1/4 cup vanilla egg- or whey-based protein powder
1/4 cup almond flour
3 tablespoons powdered egg whites
Heat the oven to 350F. Generously coat a large flute pan with cooking spray on the fluted center and bottom only, but not on the outer sides of the pan.
In the bowl of a stand mixer, combine the egg whites, cream of tartar, xanthan gum, guar gum, baking powder, stevia and both extracts.
Beat on low for 30 seconds, then increase mixer to high and beat until very stiff peaks form, about 4 minutes. The mixture will be airy, voluminous and quite thick.
Into a small bowl, sift together the protein powder, almond flour and powdered egg whites. Sprinkle half of the dry ingredients over the egg whites. Run the mixer at medium for 5 seconds, or just until the dry ingredients are incorporated. Sprinkle the remaining dry ingredients over the egg whites and mix again just to incorporate.
Increase mixer speed to high and run for another 5 seconds.
Use a silicone spatula to scrape the sides of the bowl and gently fold the mixture together once or twice. Transfer half of the mixture to the prepared pan, then use the spatula to smooth the top. Repeat with the remaining mixture. Firmly tap the pan on the counter to help eliminate air bubbles.
Bake for 35 minutes. Remove the pan from the oven and overturn the pan and cool upside down. When cool, to release the cake, run a paring knife along the outside of the pan.
Nutrition information per serving (values are rounded to the nearest whole number): 80 calories; 15 calories from fat (15 percent of total calories); 2 g fat (0 g saturated; 0 g trans fats); 0 mg cholesterol; 4 g carbohydrate; 14 g protein; 1 g fiber; 220 mg sodium.