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Monday, July 6, 2009

The secret lift

Ahab had his whale. Edmund Hillary had Everest. And I have manually made angel food cake.

Some day, I'll attempt it again, this solidified foam of a cake that uses all egg whites and no leavening, to create it without the use of machines (save the oven). I've so far failed twice at it.

Many are fans of angel food cake because it is practically fat-free. Troublesome as it is to make traditionally, don't you find it so surprising that ready made angel food cake can be found in most megamarts, usually right next to the strawberries, for a reasonable less than $4 a cake? Although the massive scale up in factories of whipping and folding egg white could be the reason for the lowered cost, I suspect the real revolution comes from the use of angel food cake mixes.

Looking at the instructions of a typical angel food cake mix box describes a ridiculous reduction in labor: a mere 90 seconds of beating to equal the lift of 12 eggs worth of meringue! What could be the secret? Looking through the ingredient list, I find the "whipping aid" : Sodium Lauryl Sulfate (aka, sodium dodecyl sulfate or SDS). Biologists and biochemists will recognize SDS as a denaturing agent in their protein gels - it is a detergent, very often the active ingredient in shampoos. In this case, it's the sudsing capability of SDS that is employed to make the lots of bubbles that traditional leavening agents provide. Of course, there are people who already object to the suspected harmful effects of having so much SDS in the environment (it's in practically most cleaning solutions) - how much more so when cooked and eaten?

1 comment:

  1. Delicious. Doesn't everyone add the sudsy deliciousness of dishsoap to their cooking?

    I never understood peoples' fascination with angel food cake until I made it from scratch. It's fairly boring as imagined as an industrial food product (not bad/not good). But it's something truly special when done properly.