I remember my grandmother as a stout little old lady who walked with a cane. But in her heyday, she loved to bake and was locally famous for her angel food cake. Weddings, picnics, and school outings were all made special by Anna Flanagan's cakes. For weddings, she had a special tube pan four times a large as a regular angel food cake, to bake the bottom tier.
I wish I could say that my grandmother taught me to make this cake, but by the time I came along, she had long since given up baking. And for some reason having to do with mother/daughter dynamics, she never passed this knowledge to my mother either. My mother taught me a lot of other baking things, and I picked up a good deal from Betty Crocker. And from a saintly, patient, good-humored home-ec teacher named Mrs. Nelson. But angel food cake, I specifically learned from Fannie Farmer. And I'm pretty sure it's made exactly the same way my grandmother made hers, 80 years ago.
Angel food cake is wonderful any time of year. Really, I should make it more often, since it's not very difficult, it's surprisingly delicious for something so simple, and people react to it as though I had spun straw into gold. I especially like angel food cake in the spring and summer, because it complements fresh fruits so well. The classic frosting for angel food cake is "White Mountain Frosting", but I usually serve it unfrosted, with sweetened sliced fruit.
This is a gluten-free cake. If you do not want a gluten-free cake, you can substitute cake flour for the gluten-free flour, and omit the xanthan gum.
Almost all angel food cake recipes instruct you to sift the flour and sugar together three times. Some of them specify four times, or five. My mother assures me that her mother did this too. It seems a little extreme to me, but I suppose it does ensure that the flour and sugar are well-blended before being added to the egg whites. This is important because you want to mix as little as possible after adding the flour to the egg whites: excessive handling will cause the egg whites to deflate, and your cake will not have that lovely lighter-than-air texture.
If you've never made angel food cake before, see the Tips section for various hints.
It turns out that half-sized angel food cake is even easier to make than the full-size version, because the volume of beaten egg whites is not so large.
Until I read Fannie Farmer on this subject, I would never have believed that you could use a mixer to add flour to beaten egg whites: I thought it had to be done very carefully by hand. But I've tried the mixer method, and it works great!
For this cake, I started with the Master Recipe in The Fannie Farmer Baking Book. I made it half-sized, and gluten-free. We all thought it was perfect, so I didn't mess with it any more. Thank you, Fannie.