Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Ratio Rally! Gluten-Free Lavender Angel Food Cupcakes

I so didn't think I was going to make it for this month's Rally challenge.  Even now, I'm pinching myself.  Between opening a show this weekend, teaching dance intensive camps every week, and maintaining my regular day job, I have been going a wee bit insane with the overscheduling.  But alas, here we are at the beginning of another month and another Ratio Rally.

If you're wondering what this "Ratio Rally" is all about, allow me to give you a bit of backstory.  Michael Ruhlman wrote a book called, Ratio, which focuses on the advantages of baking and cooking using weight (e.g., grams, ounces, pounds) rather than volume (e.g., teaspoons, cups). Communicating recipes in ratios and weight not only helps to ensure consistency in replication, but it also helps when multiplying or adapting a recipe using different ingredients.  So just over a year ago, Shauna James Ahern (aka gluten-free girl) started the Gluten Free Ratio Rally Challenge - a monthly event where bloggers from all over the world tackle a given baked good and its 'Ruhlman ratio" to see if and how that ratio changes given gluten-free ingredients.

And this month's challenge?  
Angel food cake, hosted by the lovely Caleigh of Gluten Free[k].

[cue harp flourish]

I can't say that angel food cake was something I've had very much of.  I recall a few instances from my childhood, but it was always at a potluck or party, or the end of a buffet line - never something that we had at home.  So when I saw that it was the July challenge and began reviewing the density of my schedule, it didn't necessarily bother me that I wouldn't be able to get to the test kitchen anytime soon.  There was also the issue of eggs - lots of them.  I'm not vegan, but I have strong tendencies, especially when it comes to baking.  How do you make something that is basically a meringue cake egg-free?  My internet search for "vegan angel food cake" that yielded exactly one recipe result only confirmed my original thought: you don't.

So just when I was set on not participating this month, I was reminded by a tweet where someone was gushing about the wonders of angel food cake what the Rally is truly about.   It isn't about me and what I do or don't eat.  It's about spreading awareness and knowledge regarding gluten-free baking, strengthening the gluten-free community, and sharing recipes that can help others to enjoy desserts and baked goods they thought they would never have again after going gluten-free.  It's about contributing.

Trail #1: I love "Proud Papa" moments.

So, with four days until the deadline, I got cracking. [pun not intended but totally appropriate]  Taking Ruhlman's recipe and scaling it down, I was impressed by how beautifully my first attempt at angel food cake turned out.  Sugar crust on top, fluffy like white cotton candy throughout.  But it was really, really sweet.  

Trail #2: The unmolding was tragic, but the taste was anything but.

While the sweetness was a bit much for my palate, I know that the amount of sugar is necessary for achieving the trademark structure and texture of angel food.  So for the next trial, instead of beet sugar, I traded out coconut sugar.  It definitely was not white, the texture was similar to the first trial but a little less cotton candy-like, but overall, I preferred that level of sweetness - earthier and more rounded, reminiscent of caramel in both color and flavor. 

Did I mention that I attempted vegan angel food cupcakes?  Moving on...

Trial #3: Egg-free - not so bueno, particularly on the inside.

And even though the vegan angel food cake was less than successful, I still liked the idea of cupcakes.  Individual, cute, two or three bite-size angel food cakes.  And beyond being adorable, which is very important, there's also the massive cut in labor, time, and clean-up  from not using the traditional tube pan or springform cake pan.  And when you're a busybody like me where time is always of the essence, that's huge.

Ruhlman's proposed ratio for angel food cake is

 1 part flour : 3 parts egg whites : 3 parts sugar 

And for the first time while participating in the Rally, my ratio is no different.  I stuck with it, and it worked every time (so long as I used real eggs).

Crushing the lavender buds before sifting.

My final touch for this recipe was to add ground lavender and blueberries, to help corral some of that sweetness and give the tastebuds something else to focus on besides sugar.

So without further ado, this is my contribution to this month's Gluten Free Ratio Rally.

Lavender Angel Food Cupcakes
Gluten-Free & Dairy Free / adapted from Ruhlman's recipe in Ratio

Active Prep Time: 10-15 minutes
Inactive Prep Time: at least 1 hour for tempering eggs and 30 minutes for cooling
Baking Time: 20-25 minutes
Yield: 12 regular sized cupcakes

4 oz egg whites (or the whites from 4 large eggs)

4 oz or generous 3/4 c blonde coconut sugar (divided)
1 oz or 1/4 c King Lion multipurpose cassava flour
1/3 oz or 1 tablespoon Bob's Red Mill GF all-purpose flour
1/8 teaspoon salt

1/3 teaspoon cream of tartar
1/3 teaspoon GF vanilla extract
1 1/2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice 
1-1 1/2 teaspoons ground and sifted culinary lavender buds 

blueberries, fresh or frozen (optional)

1.  Preheat oven to 350 degrees and prep your cupcake tin.
2.  In a food processor, blend all the coconut sugar until it's finer in consistency.  Separate half of it (two ounces) to a separate container and then add the cassava, all-purpose flour, and salt to the remaining sugar and pulse to combine.
3.  Sift flour/sugar/salt mixture.
4.  Make sure that you have all your ingredients ready before making your meringue.  Using a hand-mixer, start on a medium setting.
  • When the egg whites are frothy, bubbles are starting to get smaller, and it's just beginning to hold a very weak peak, add cream of tartar.  Increase mixing speed to medium-high.
  • When meringue is beginning to come together and gentle peaks are forming,  add vanilla extract, lemon juice, ground lavender, and begin to gradually drizzle all the sugar in.
  • When sugar has been incorporated, peaks are beginning to stiffen, and the meringue begins to look glossy from the sugar dissolving, stop mixing.
5.  Begin to sprinkle the sifted flour/sugar/salt mixture on top of the meringue a few tablespoons at a time, and using a spatula, begin to gently fold the dry mixture into the meringue.  Gently is key in order to preserve as many air bubbles as possible, but you also need to work relatively quickly.  I repeated this sprinkle/fold process about six to seven times.
6.  Spoon mixture into cupcake liners, filling them halfway and then adding about three blueberries before filling them until nearly full.  Before baking, tap the cupcake tin a couple times on the counter to eliminate any large air pockets.
7.  Bake for 20-25 minutes, until the tops are  light golden brown and rebound after firm pressure.  Allow to cool for 30-45 minutes.  Best eaten same day but can be stored at room temp and covered for up to three days or covered and chilled for up to five.

Ready for cream of tartar.

Time to add lemon juice, lavender, vanilla, and sugar.

Time to stop.

Sprinkle, fold, repeat.

About to put blueberries in the front ones.

About 15 minutes in.  They won't stay this way, so enjoy it while you can.

Fresh out of the oven and beginning to settle.  Don't be alarmed.

Using coconut sugar, I was never quite able to get the same crust on top, and I found that it would become sticky after the first day.  I think it had to do with the unrefined nature of the coconut sugar, and part of me wonders if the granulated, refined sugar (with all the things they remove from it) is just more conducive to the trademark crust of angel food cake.  But, alas, beyond that, the flavor and texture is wonderful, and the combination of juicy blueberries and backnotes of lavender is something I could write a song about.

Here are some tips I found useful in making angel food cake (regardless of gluten):
  • Allow eggs to sit out at room temperature for at least one hour to come to temp before separating the yolks from the whites.  Meringue works best when using room temperature eggs.  
  • Keep the yolks and white truly separate - this is crucial to making meringue.  To avoid the ambush of renegade yolks in your whites, I recommend separating the whites into a measuring cup one at a time and then transferring each one individually to the mixing bowl.  That way, if some yolk does jump ship you won't have wasted the previous egg whites.
  • Use a low-protein flour.  You'll have plenty of protein from the egg whites, so choosing a flour /starch on the opposite end of the spectrum will help to encourage that fluffy, cloud-like texture that angel food cake is famous for.
  • Before you even crack an egg or preheat the oven, make sure you have all your ingredients and all your tools in place.  Good mise en place will be your best friend in making angel food cake.
  • While it's different for cupcakes versus a whole cake, I did make a couple cakes (albeit smaller ones).  Balancing the cakes upside down to cool was funny and a bit scary, but totally worth it to maintain as much spring as possible in your finished product.  Allow the cake to cool completely before even thinking of releasing it.
  • Enjoy it with a hot beverage and with good company.

Big thanks to Caleigh from Gluten Free[k] for being our fearless leader for this month's challenge.  To see her angel food cake, as well as the heavenly creations of my other fellow Ratio Ralliers, please visit the links below.

Adina / Gluten Free Travelette / Cacao Spice Angel Food Cake
Angela / Angela's Kitchen / Grilled Lemon Angel Food Cake with Lemon Curd
Aunt Mae / Honey from Flinty Rocks / Angel Food Cake with Lemon Glaze
Caleigh / Gluten Free[k] / Almond Angel Food Stars
Caneel / Mama Me Gluten Free / Angel Food cake "Pudding" with Fresh Cherry Sauce
Charissa / Zest Bakery / Saffron Angel Food Cake
gretchen / kumquat / Caramel Macchiato Angel Food Cake
Heather / Discovering the Extraordinary / Coconut Lime Angel Food Cake
Mary Fran / FrannyCakes / Angel Food Cake with Roasted Cherries and Earl Grey
Pete & Kelli / No Gluten, No Problem / Caramel Peach Angel Food Cake
T.R. / No One Likes Crumbley Cookies / Peach Angel Food Cake


  1. Cupcakes and lavender?

    Two of my favorite things :)

    Great job this month!

    1. Thank you, Mary Fran! It was quick turnaround from deciding to participate and writing this post, but it was worth it. A lot of fun and a delicious result!

    2. Find all the GFRR recipes here:

  2. Lavender and blueberries in angel food cupcakes. Be still my beating heart!

  3. I love this idea of Angel Food Cupcakes! I'll have to try that!

    1. I was wary of the idea at first, but it totally worked. And such a wonderful way to share angel food cake with a group of people. I will definitely be doing it again. :)

  4. The cupcake idea is definitely a winner! (and I'm with you about saving time/ingredients/labor, too!...although you wouldn't be able to tell by my recipe this month, haha...)

    1. Lol..I feel you, Heather. "Simplify" has become my mantra now when I bake.

  5. I adore lavender in cakes and the pairing with blueberries sounds delicious. I'm adding this recipe to my 'must bake' list!

    1. It was a blueberry-lavender jam I had had a few years ago that inspired this combination. The pairing is truly delicious. Honored that you're adding this to your list - I hope you enjoy it, Caleigh!


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