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What nationality is angel food cake?

Angel food cake is a type of sponge cake that originated in the United States in the late 19th century. Despite its name, angel food cake does not have a specific nationality associated with it. The cake was likely created by American bakers and cooks sometime in the late 1800s. While the exact origin is unclear, angel food cake became popular across the United States in the early 20th century and is widely considered an American dessert today.

What are the key features of angel food cake?

Angel food cake has a few defining features that set it apart from other cakes:

  • It is made with egg whites instead of whole eggs, giving it a light and airy texture.
  • Angel food cake does not contain any egg yolks, butter, or oil, making it lower in fat and calories compared to other cakes.
  • It relies on beaten egg whites incorporated with sugar to give it volume and structure.
  • Angel food cake uses cake flour, which is lower in protein than all-purpose flour, resulting in a softer and finer crumb.
  • The cake is leavened entirely through the whipped egg whites rather than chemical leaveners like baking powder or baking soda.
  • It is baked in a tube pan, which allows the batter to rise evenly around a center tube.

These ingredients and techniques give angel food cake its signature light, fluffy, and airy texture that differs from denser cakes like pound cake or butter cake.

When and where did angel food cake originate?

While the exact origins are uncertain, food historians trace angel food cake back to the late 19th century in the United States. Some key pieces of evidence for its origins include:

  • The earliest known published recipe for angel food cake appeared in the 1898 edition of The National Cook Book by Mrs. Martha Wilcoxson.
  • Earlier recipes for similarly airy sponge cakes date back to the 1870s and 1880s in American cookbooks. However, these did not include all the signature ingredients and techniques of modern angel food cake.
  • The name “angel food cake” came into common usage in the early 1900s, indicating it likely developed in the late 1800s.
  • Pennsylvania and Ohio have both tried to claim origination in their respective regions in the late 1800s.

While a specific inventor is unknown, the cake seems to have originated and been popularized in the United States toward the end of the 19th century. By the early 1900s, recipes for angel food cake were widespread across American cookbooks, newspapers, and magazines as it gained nationwide popularity.

Why is it called “angel food cake”?

There are a few possible explanations for why this cake came to be known as “angel food cake”:

  • Its light, delicate, and white color was said to resemble an angel’s food or bread.
  • The fluffy texture was thought to be similar to what angel’s food might taste like in heaven.
  • It used more egg whites than yolks, and angel food cake was considered more pure, like angels.
  • The name may have been influenced by other angel-named foods like angelica herb or angel’s kiss cookies.
  • Marketers may have chosen an exotic name to increase appeal and distinguish it from other cakes.

However, most food historians agree the name comes primarily from its white color and light, airy texture being reminiscent of the imagined food of angels. This ethereal quality made “angel food cake” a fitting name as it grew popular in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

How did angel food cake become a staple American dessert?

Angel food cake expanded from a regional dessert to a beloved American staple through:

  • Increasing availability of key ingredients – Wheat flour, granulated sugar, and eggs became more affordable and accessible nationwide by the late 1800s.
  • Adoption of new cooking technology – The invention of more efficient hand mixers and tube pans enabled home bakers to make angel food cake successfully.
  • Rise of cooking schools and bakeries – Professional recipe development and food manufacturing spread new cooking techniques and recipe ideas like angel food cake across the country.
  • Coverage in women’s magazines and cookbooks – National publications like Good Housekeeping and The Boston Cooking-School Cook Book featured angel food cake recipes, increasing its visibility.
  • National shipping of baked goods – Railroad infrastructure and mail-order catalogs allowed bakeries to ship angel food cakes to customers nationwide.

By the early 20th century, these factors aligned to make angel food cake widely known and accessible to home bakers and consumers across the country. Its delicious taste, affordable ingredients, and uniqueness from other cakes contributed to its enduring American popularity.

What ingredients and equipment are needed to make it?

Making a classic angel food cake requires:


  • Egg whites
  • Granulated sugar
  • Cake flour
  • Salt
  • Cream of tartar
  • Vanilla extract (optional)
  • Food coloring (optional)


  • Stand mixer or hand mixer
  • Tube pan with removable bottom
  • Sifter
  • Mixing bowls
  • Spatula
  • Cooling rack

The key ingredients are the egg whites and sugar whipped into a meringue to give the cake lift. The tube pan allows even rising and cooling upside-down to prevent collapse. While simple, requiring the right techniques and equipment results in angel food cake’s signature light and fluffy texture.

What are some fun variations that build on the classic cake?

Some popular spins on traditional angel food cake include:

Variation Changes from Classic Recipe
Lemon Angel Food Cake Adds grated lemon zest and lemon extract to the batter
Chocolate Angel Food Cake Replaces cocoa powder for a portion of the flour
Rainbow Angel Food Cake Divides batter into separate bowls and colors each one before layering and baking
Marble Angel Food Cake Swirls vanilla and chocolate batters together before baking
Confetti Angel Food Cake Folds in sprinkles, chocolate chips, nuts or other mix-ins to the batter

The basic angel food cake batter lends itself well to creativity in adding new flavors or textures while still resulting in that signature light and fluffy crumb when baked properly. Home bakers have endless options for inventing their own unique angel food cakes.

What are some key tips for successfully baking it at home?

Baking perfect angel food cake relies on a few key tips:

  • Allow egg whites to come to room temperature before whipping for greater volume.
  • Use cream of tartar to stabilize the whipped egg whites.
  • Gently fold the batter rather than stir to retain air bubbles.
  • Do not grease the tube pan so the cake can “cling” while rising and baking.
  • Cool the baked cake upside-down on a rack to prevent collapsing.
  • Use a serrated knife to gently cut slices from the cooled cake.
  • Store tightly wrapped at room temperature since refrigeration causes drying.

Following these best practices will help homemade angel food cakes achieve a perfect bake with the iconic light, tender crumb.


While its exact origin is uncertain, angel food cake came to prominence in the late 19th century and quickly became a cherished American dessert. The invented name evoked its heavenly texture, and its accessibility through modern baking methods and ingredients allowed it to spread nationwide. Though simple in ingredients, successful angel food cake requires specific techniques to achieve its signature airy lightness. This delicate cake remains a popular choice for its versatility, simple flavor, and nostalgic charm over a century after its creation.