Having Your Cake and Giving It, Too

A simple yet satisfying coffee-orange angel food cake.

There are people who accept gifts graciously, no matter what may lie under that heap of ribbon and wrapping paper.

My late-Mom was not one of those people.

My siblings and I joke that whenever we gave my Mom a gift, we braced for what would come next.

She’d pull the present out of the box, inspect it thoroughly, turning it this way and that, before putting it back down. She’d furrow her brows, and hem and haw that we shouldn’t make such a fuss. Then, she’d flat-out say, “Don’t spend your money. I don’t need anything. Here, just take it back.”

Sigh. Once again, after my brothers and I had wracked our brains to come up with what we thought was the perfect gift, my Mom would burst our bubble.

It’s not that she meant to do so. It’s just that Mom was being a mom.

When I was little, I would save my quarters and dollars to go to the store to buy my Mom a card and a tiny box of See’s candy or a Walt Whitman Sampler for her birthday or Mother’s Day.  I do believe I remember her smiling, too, whenever I presented them to her eagerly in my outstretched arms.

The irony, of course, is that once I got to be an adult and could afford to buy her much nicer gifts — such as clothes or jewelry — she didn’t want them.

For years, I was downright perplexed by that until I realized the lesson she was teaching me. For her, it truly was the thought that counted. As long as you remembered her with something as simple as a phone call or note, that’s all that mattered. She didn’t need anything beyond that to know that you cared. Everything else was just superfluous.

It's not fancy, but it's a cake that's sure to please.

That hit home after my parents both passed away four years ago, and I found tucked away in a drawer, every card I had ever given them since I was a child. Some were hand-drawn, others store-bought. But there they all were, stored away like some precious treasure worth more than any fancy cashmere sweater or snazzy electronic gadget ever could be to them.

Even though she’s no longer with me, I still think of my Mom each and every Mother’s Day. That’s why I couldn’t resist making this simple “Coffee-Orange Angel Food Cake” in her honor. The recipe is from the new cookbook, “The Fearless Baker” (Little, Brown and Company), of which I recently received a review copy. The book is  by San Francisco Pastry Chef Emily Luchetti of Farallon and Waterbar restaurants, and Bay Area food writer Lisa Weiss.

My Mom's old angel food cake pan.

I even baked it in the shiny angel food cake pan that used to belong to my Mom.

This light-as-air cake is flavored with instant coffee and orange juice, both of which I remember my Mom sipping every morning at our kitchen table.  It’s a simple cake, with sweetness and subtle bitterness, unadorned except for maybe a fluff of whipped cream, if you like.

It’s a cake for times when you want to make a gesture, but not a grand one, just to say that you remembered.

Made in a hand-me-down pan with ingredients already in my fridge and pantry, it’s one gift that I think even my Mom would have sweetly approved.

Coffee-Orange Angel Food Cake

(Makes 1 cake, serving 8 to 10)

Emily Luchetti and Lisa Weiss write, “Don’t grease the angel food cake pan or use a nonstick pan because the cake needs the ungreased sides to stick to as it rises)

1 1/4 cups cake flour

1/4 teaspoon kosher salt

2 teaspoons instant coffee granules

12 large egg whites

1 teaspoon cream of tartar

1 1/2 cups granulated sugar

Grated zest of 2 oranges

2 1/2 tablespoons orange juice

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Over a bowl or piece of parchment, sift cake flour in a sifter or in a fine strainer by gently tapping your hand against the edge. Add salt and coffee granules. Set aside.

Put egg whites into a clean, dry, large bowl and, using a stand or hand mixer, begin beating on medium speed until frothy. Add cream of tartar and increase mixer speed to high. Slowly add sugar in a steady stream. When the egg whites have reached a stiff, shiny peak that looks like thick marshmallow fluff, decrease mixer speed to low and mix in orange zest and juice.

Add half of the sifted flour and, with a rubber spatula, fold the flour into the whites until they’re almost but not quite completely combined — you still want to see some streaks of flour. Add remaining flour and finish folding it into the whites so that the mixture is thoroughly combined and no pockets of flour are visible.

Using a spatula, drop big scoops of the batter evenly into a removable-bottom angel food or tube cake pan. Gently smooth out the top of the batter. Lift the pan up a couple of inches from the counter and let it drop to get rid of any air pockets.

Bake until a bamboo skewer inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean, about 35 minutes. Turn pan upside down onto its “legs” or invert over a wine bottle and let the cake cool completely. To remove the cake from the pan, use a serrated knife and move it in a sawing up-and-down motion along the inside of the outer edge. Holding the pan by the tube, lift the cake out. Next, “saw” along the bottom surface to release the cake from the pan entirely. The can can be made 3 days in advance and kept at room temperature wrapped in plastic.

To serve, cut cake with a serrated knife using a sawing back-and-forth motion. Serve each slice with a dollop of whipped cream, if you like.

From “The Fearless Baker” by Emily Luchetti and Lisa Weiss

More Emily Luchetti Recipes: Lemon Squares

And: Gingerbread with Warm Apples and Cider Sabayon

And: My Q&A with Emily Luchetti

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  • Lovely lesson and wonderful remembrance.

  • What a beautiful post! I also kept all the cards and letters that my grandparents sent me…

    That angel cake is very original! I love those flavors.



  • Wow, it must have been so lovely to learn that the thought really did count when it came to your mom. What a touching post!

  • Beautiful post!

    And the cake sounds wonderful!

  • I can feel the love in that cake, baked in her tin and the flavors she was fond of.

    I made my mom a paper ring out of craft paper, some yarn and tape when I was still in kindergarten. I made a little box out of craft paper as well. I know she still has the ring with her in a little jewelery box.

  • This sound fantastic. We have a little brunch spot that serves orange infused coffee so this flavor combo sounds fantastic to me.

    I also appreciated the story about your mom. Mom’s can be difficult but they generally mean well. 🙂

  • Oh, my mom is kind of like that about gifts, but instead of saying that we didn’t need to buy her anything, she says “just give me money.” LOL

  • Angel food cake infused with coffee and orange flavor sounds absolutely fantastic!

  • What a wonderful lesson in “receiving”, Carolyn. I am definitely a Mom who tends to cringe at the thought of the kids spending any actual money on me. I’d much rather have some of their time, or even just one of their inestimably wonderful hugs. You have provided a timely reminder that indeed it *is* the thought that counts, even if that thought takes the form of something completely unnecessary.

    Now, next up…will you be giving the thrifty among us a recipe that requires those 12 leftover egg yolks??


  • Carroll: I hear ya on all those leftover egg yolks. Meat Boy ate a few of ’em for breakfast. And the rest went into a super easy custard recipe, which I’ll post on in another week.

    Single Guy Ben: I know plenty of THOSE types of moms, too! 😉

  • Wow, what an interesting combination, coffee and orange…as I was trying to guess the flavors from the first picture 🙂 The cake looks light and fluffy, love the idea of non fat. Carolyn, beautiful post about your mom, I enjoyed it very much. Have a great week ahead 🙂

  • I just have to ask you, how do you keep your pan so shiny? I have used mine so much that it is very dull and scratched, but still makes good cakes. The angel food recipe sounds wonderful and your post was very heartwarming…..

  • Ohh. Angel food cake and lemon squares! They made me drool.

    And your heartfelt story brought a tear to my eye.

    Thanks for sharing!

  • Good thing I wasn’t driving after reading your thoughts, Carolyn, when you found that stash of saved cards—and ‘getting* the message they conveyed. It’s hard to drive with stuff in your eyes …

  • What a great heartwarming post Carolyn 🙂 And i totally agree with what you said about its the thought that counts with mothers…ive come to find that my mum appreciates my constant ‘care’ (e.g. phone calls/emails) more than me taking her out to fancy restaurant for her bday/special occasions! 😉

  • What a beautiful story. My mother-in-law gave me an angel food cake pan that looks similar to the one you have from your mom. It’s been awhile since I’ve baked with it. Think it is time to pull it out again.

  • Gina: I confess that I don’t know why the pan is still so shiny. I know my Mom had it for years. But I don’t think it got used all that much in later years until now. My older brother and I were the ones who baked, and once we left home for school and work, I don’t think my Mom used the pan very often. That might be why it still looks so new. 😉

  • Wow, Carolyn…such a touching post!

    I’ll definitely try this recipe. My parents loved angel food cake, and I still bake one for my dad when we can share his birthday in the Midwest. I know he will love this recipe, too.

    Thanks, Carolyn, for another wonderful post.

  • Very touching post Carolyn. Once of the reason for my blog is to record all the wonderful recipes of my grandmother who passed away in 2007. My mum has wonderful recipes too and I told her I would record hers too.

  • My father is the exact same way. Which is why I’ve just started baking my gifts. He appreciates them more and I really do put thought into making something that I know he would like. What a sweet post! The cake looks delicious!

  • This is such a beautiful post and your mom sounds like a pretty amazing woman. The cake looks truly wonderful!

  • I totally teared up when I read your post cuz I know my mom treasures everything I ever give her rather it be a hand-drawn card from when I was 5 or the $5 pair of earrings I bought her at a school auction. Nowadays I can afford to send her flowers for every occasion and she actually takes pictures of them so that she’ll never forget them. Moms are just the most wonderful people on earth!

  • Beautiful post Carolyn and indeed we are long lost sisters because my mum wasn’t a good present acceptor either. Everything was regifted. But as you say it’s the thought that counts so perhaps once she had received it, the thought was acknowledged and then she moved on 🙂

  • My mom worries we won’t get our money’s worth whenever we take her out to eat outside of Chinatown. She is also use to eating family style and not just one dish.

  • this is a twist on angel food cake that i’ve certainly never seen or considered. tasty!

  • This does sound like a perfect cake for Mother’s Day. I like it’s understated-ness, and the orange and coffee flavors in it sound great.

  • Such a touching post and the cake surely will make a perfect mother’s day cake!

  • My mom couldn’t really cook, so I can’t share recipes for mother’s day. But like you, I did find every card I’d ever made her in a drawer after she died. I didn’t quite know what to do with them all!

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