For people who like their desserts rich, chewy, creamy and preferably chocolate, angel-food cake is a definite disappointment. But it can be a compromise between unwanted flab or no dessert at all. Considered a diet dessert, the cake -- made mostly with egg whites, sugar and flour -- has no cholesterol and only trace amounts of fat. One slice -- about 1.9 ounces -- has 125 calories and 3 grams of protein, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Most of the calories in the cake come from sugar. A recipe in Rose Levy Beranbaum's "The Cake Bible" calls for 1 3/4 cups of sugar for a 10-inch cake. It is the amount of sugar that makes the cake less than angelic in the eyes of some nutritionists.
If people are replacing a fatty, sugary dessert -- like chocolate truffle torte -- with a sugary cake like angel food, then they are better off, said Jayne Hurley, an associate nutritionist at the Center for Science in the Public Interest, a health advocacy group. "But if they are eating a sweet cake instead of fruit salad, they are not coming out ahead nutritionally," she said.
Despite its more healthful reputation, the cake is currently about as popular as chicken a la king or tomato aspic. "Angel-food cake is simply not in," said Shirley Corriher, an Atlanta-based food writer and cooking instructor. "But cover a slice with some fresh strawberries and a little Grand Marnier and people will go crazy over it."
Many area bakeries do not sell the cake. "When people want dessert, they will indulge in something a little more luxurious," said Ann Brody, senior vice president of Sutton Place Gourmet, a food specialty store. Sutton Place does not sell angel-food cake, Brody said, because no one has requested it.
"I find angel-food cake boring," said Ann Amernick, a former assistant White House pastry chef and specialty baker. "If people are going to diet but occasionally want dessert, chocolate is what they will go for."
For those who want dessert without the fat, angel-food cake is easy to make. It requires working with egg whites, which scares some people, said Amernick. "Just don't overbeat them," she said. For a softer cake without a rubbery texture, Corriher suggests substituting 1/4 cup of water for one or two egg whites.
A traditional American sweet, angel-food cake dates back to the 1850s. According to William Woys Weaver, a food historian in Devon, Pa., the dessert was invented by a Pennsylvania Dutch baker.
Biting into a slice of the white, spongy dessert will never give people that melt-in-the-mouth, creamy texture that comes from butter or egg yokes. What it will provide is the satisfied feeling of eating something sweet, without a lot of fat or cholesterol.