The Food Issue

Heavenly angel food cake from Conception Abbey

One dreamy forkful of this angel food cake might leave you wondering: “Is this what heaven is like?”

“It’s just a little slice of heaven on earth,” says

Guerric Letter

, a monk, priest and the assistant kitchen manager at

Conception Abbey

in Nodaway County.

The abbey is home to 60 Benedictine monks. Their self-sufficient kitchen is key to the rich monastic tradition of feeding its community.

Letter helps prep three squares a day for at least 150 people on weekdays or up to 600 people on weekends, but he’s also enrolled in the culinary program at Johnson County Community College.

At school, Letter sheds his priestly cleric vestments for a chef’s coat, but his dream is to become a certified pastry chef and sell sweet treats nationally to help the abbey remain self-sustaining.

Cookies and granola are likely candidates for shipping, but for a taste of Letter’s devilishly good cake, you would have to venture to the abbey.

Until now: This recipe was handed down to Letter by Marianne Schnabl, a childhood neighbor from Black Creek, Wis., where he grew up the youngest of 11 children. The original recipe most likely required whisking egg whites by hand.

Heavenly Angel Food Cake With Fluffy Frosting Makes 10 servings

For the cake:

10 large egg whites, at room temperature
1/4 teaspoon salt 1 1/2 teaspoons cream of tartar 1 teaspoon vanilla extract 1/2 teaspoon almond extract 1 3/4 cups sugar 1 cup sifted cake flour

For the frosting:

1 1/2 cups sugar 1/2 cup water 1/2 cup light corn syrup 2 egg whites, at room temperature 1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar 2 teaspoons vanilla extract To make the cake:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

In a large mixing bowl, whip egg whites until frothy, using a stand electric mixer with a whisk attachment. Add salt, cream of tartar, and vanilla and almond extracts to egg whites. Continue to whip egg whites until they form stiff peaks, but do not overbeat.

With mixer set on medium speed, slowly add sugar, 1 tablespoon at a time, until entire amount is whipped into egg whites.

Slowly incorporate flour, ¼ cup at a time, by hand using a balloon whisk, taking care not to deflate egg white/sugar mixture. Carefully transfer batter to a round, angel food tube pan.

Bake for 1 hour. Remove from oven and immediately invert pan until cake has completely cooled. Turn out cake onto cake plate.

To make the frosting:

In a large sauce pan, whisk sugar, water and corn syrup together over medium heat. Stop whisking when sugar is dissolved and syrup mixture comes up to a simmer.

While syrup mixture continues to heat on stovetop, in a large mixing bowl, whip egg whites until frothy, using a stand electric mixer with a cleaned whisk attachment. Add cream of tartar and whip until stiff peaks form.

Check syrup mixture on stovetop. Using a candy thermometer, mixture should reach the thread stage, between 230 and 235 degrees. Also, mixture can be taken off heat when syrup drips off spoon in threads, as opposed to round droplets.

With mixer set on medium speed, slowly add hot syrup to whipped egg whites. Continue whipping mixture for 7 minutes. Frosting should be glossy and thick. Add vanilla extract and whip until incorporated.

Spread frosting on cooled angel food cake. Allow frosting to set before cutting into it using a serrated knife.

Per serving: 363 calories (none from fat), trace fat (no saturated fat), no cholesterol, 87 grams carbohydrates, 5 grams protein, 140 milligrams sodium, trace dietary fiber.