Angel food cakes are a bit unique in that they always come in the same size and shape. Recipes call for a specific pan and, while it’s possible to make smaller versions of angel food cakes in loaf pans or cupcake pans, a 9- or 10-inch tube pan with a removable bottom is standard. Lots of people who have never made an angel food cake at home ask if it is required to make a good angel food cake.
The answer is yes. Angel food cakes are foam cakes and, although there is some flour in the batter to add softness and help hold the cake together, they get most of their body from beaten egg whites. Air pockets in the egg whites expand as the cake heats up in the oven, lifting the cake. The pan is designed to ensure that the cake bakes evenly and rises as high as possible. The tube design – with the hollow core at the center of the cake – lets heat evenly reach the entire cake, so that the outside edge is not done long before the cake’s center. This is especially important with an angel food cake (although pans like the Baker’s Edge use a similar principle) because the cake is very delicate during baking and it needs all the help it can get to rise up. The other factors that helps the cake rise are the material and shape of the pan. The sides of the pan must be straight and should not be made of a nonstick material. This ensures that the cake can “grip” the pan and “pull” itself up. Since the delicate cake must be cooled upside down to prevent it from collapsing, a non-nonstick surface will also ensure that the cake remains firmly in the pan during this time.