How to Make Angel Food Cake That's Fluffy and Light as Air

Celebrate holidays and special occasions with a sweet, pillowy angel food cake using these step-by-step instructions from our Test Kitchen.

Angel food cake is one-of-a-kind, and no other cake recipe matches its super fluffy, airy texture. Though it's a type of sponge cake, it differs from other popular recipes because it's traditionally made using no butter or oil in the batter. Instead, beaten egg whites are the secret to its ultra-light texture. Most angel food cake recipes usually have a light vanilla flavor that lets you dress them up any way you want with icing, fresh fruit, or other sweet toppings. Follow these tips to make the best angel food cake from scratch, including what to do if you're craving cake but don't have a tube pan.

Heavenly Angel Food Cake
Greg Scheidemann

How to Make Angel Food Cake

Follow along step-by-step to perfect this classic cake recipe.

cracking egg through separator into glass bowl
Peter Krumhardt

Step 1: Separate the Egg Whites

Separate the yolks from the whites immediately after taking the eggs out of the fridge (cold eggs separate more easily). An egg separator ($7, Bed Bath & Beyond) makes easy work of this. Carefully separate each egg white into a small bowl, such as a custard cup. If any yolk gets into the egg white during separation, refrigerate that white for another use—even the tiniest bit of yolk can affect the beating quality of the whites. Let the whites stand at room temperature for 30 minutes—this will allow them to reach their full volume when beaten. (Refrigerate the yolks for another use.) For food safety reasons, don't let the whites stand at room temperature for longer than 30 minutes.

Transfer egg whites to an extra-large glass bowl. The bowl should be perfectly clean and wide enough to keep the beaters from being buried in the egg whites as they fluff. Don't use a plastic bowl, which may have an oily residue that can minimize the volume of beaten egg whites.

Step 2: Sift Powdered Sugar and Flour

While the egg whites stand, mix the flour and powdered sugar together, then sift the mixture three times. Sifting will help remove any lumps from the flour and aerate the mixture, which will help make your cake light and fluffy.

soft peak egg whites
Scott Little

Step 3: Beat Together Ingredients

Beat the egg whites, cream of tartar, and vanilla on medium to high speed until soft peaks You should see the tips of the egg whites curl when beaters are lifted. The cream of tartar stabilizes the egg whites and produces a whiter cake.

beaters above glass bowl of meringue
Scott Little

Step 4: Beat in Sugar Until Stiff Peaks Form

Gradually add the granulated sugar, about 2 tablespoons at a time, to allow the sugar to dissolve completely in the egg white mixture. Beat at medium to high speed until stiff peaks—tips of the egg whites stand straight up— Don't overbeat or underbeat egg whites—they should be stiff but not dry or your cake may fall. Once you start beating the egg whites, it should take about 4 minutes with a hand mixer on high speed for stiff peaks to form.

folding flour into egg whites
Scott Little

Step 5: Fold in the Flour

Fold the sifted flour mixture, one-fourth at a time, into the egg whites. To fold:

  • Cut down vertically through the mixture using a spatula.
  • Move the spatula across the bottom of the bowl.
  • Bring it back up the other side, carrying some of the mixture from the bottom over the surface.
  • Repeat, rotating the bowl, until ingredients are combined.

The goal is to gently mix the ingredients without losing all of the air you just beat into the egg whites. Do not overmix, which can decrease the volume of the batter and result in a tough cake.

eliminating air bubbles in cake batter
Scott Little

Step 6: Eliminate Air Bubbles

For a fine, even cake texture, eliminate large air bubbles by gently cutting through batter with a thin metal spatula after pouring the batter into an ungreased tube pan ($16, Bed Bath & Beyond). But if you don't have a tube pan, can you make angel food cake in a bundt pan? It might seem like the two are interchangeable, but the intricate details on most bundt pans make it very tricky to get an angel food cake out of the pan in one piece. Tube pans have flat tops and straight sides to make the cake easier to remove, and the batter clings to the sides and center tube as the cake bakes, which helps it rise. So stick to a tube pan, if possible.

If you don't have a tube pan, you can make angel food cupcakes instead. Just be sure to reduce the baking time to follow a cupcake recipe instead.

taking angel food cake out of pan
Scott Little

Step 7: Bake and Cool Angel Food Cake

Bake angel food cake in a preheated oven according to recipe directions. The cake is done when it turns a golden color and springs back when lightly touched. Unlike a lot of other baking recipes, you can't rely on the toothpick test to tell when angel food cake is done. Since the batter is so light and airy, a toothpick can slide in and come out clean before the cake is completely finished baking. Cool angel food cake upside down (in the pan) to set.

More Tips for Baking the Best Angel Food Cake

Just following your recipe's instructions will help you turn out a delectable angel food cake. But if a flawless dessert is your goal, these extra tips might help:

  • Always use the ingredients called for in the recipe, like cake flour and powdered sugar. Cake flour is lighter and has less protein than all-purpose, which helps give an angel food cake its fluffiness. Likewise, powdered sugar has much smaller granules than regular white sugar, which will help it easily mix into the cake batter without weighing it down.
  • If you're in a pinch for ingredients and need to know how to make angel food cake without cream of tartar, substitute lemon juice or white vinegar. Cream of tartar stabilizes the egg whites and helps create more volume, but both substitutions will also work.
  • It probably goes against most of your baking instincts, but use an ungreased pan when baking angel food cake, and leave the nonstick spray in your pantry. You actually want the cake to cling to the sides of the pan, because it helps the super-light batter rise. Greasing the pan can result in a flat, dense cake.
  • If you want to skip a few steps and learn how to make angel food cake from a box mix, you can save yourself a little time. Some box mixes even eliminate the egg whites; all you have to do is add water, mix, and follow the package instructions to bake! Premade angel food cake mixes are especially helpful for speeding up recipes that use angel food cake as a base, such as trifles.
  • Always flip the cake pan to cool your angel food cake with the open side down. Angel food cake will continue to set as it cools, and it can sink down in the pan and collapse if you don't flip it to cool.
  • Use a serrated knife to cut angel food cake once you remove it from the pan. Non-serrated knives can smash the delicate cake.

Now your cake is ready to serve as part of your Easter menu, birthday celebration, springtime gathering, or any occasion that could benefit from a light dessert.

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