Does angel food cake contain dairy?

Angel food cake is a light and airy cake that relies on whipped egg whites to provide lift and structure rather than fat and oil. With its delicate texture and sweet flavor, angel food cake has become a popular choice for those seeking a lower-calorie dessert option or a cake that can be eaten by those with dairy allergies. But with angel food cake’s signature ingredients of whipped egg whites and sugar, many wonder whether dairy products make their way into this classic cake recipe.

What is Angel Food Cake?

Angel food cake belongs to the sponge cake family. Sponge cakes rely on beaten eggs as the primary leavening agent rather than chemical leaveners like baking powder or baking soda. The whipped egg whites expand and set during baking, giving sponge cakes their characteristic fine, airy crumb.

Unlike other sponge cake recipes, angel food cake contains no added fat such as butter or oil. The lack of fat allows the cake to absorb more air when the egg whites are beaten, giving it an especially light texture. Additional structure comes from the sugar which helps stabilize the foam created by whipping the eggs.

While called a “cake”, angel food cake has a unique preparation method that sets it apart from typical cake recipes. Angel food cake batters must be baked in a tube pan to support the egg foam structure as it bakes. And the cake is baked upside down. These special steps allow the cake to achieve maximum height and lightness.

Basic Ingredients

While ingredients can vary slightly based on the recipe, the basic components of angel food cake include:

  • Egg whites
  • Granulated sugar
  • Cake flour or flour with a low protein content
  • Cream of tartar
  • Salt
  • Vanilla or almond extract (optional)

Egg yolks are notably absent from the ingredient list. The yolks would add fat, weight, and color that would bring down the distinctive lightness.

Unique Preparation Method

Creating angel food cake relies on a specific preparation sequence:

  1. Egg whites are whipped until they reach soft peaks.
  2. Sugar is slowly added as whipping continues to form stiff, glossy peaks.
  3. Flour is sifted over the top and gently folded in along with salt and cream of tartar.
  4. Batter is very carefully transferred to an ungreased tube pan.
  5. The tube pan is baked upside down so the cake can cling to the sides as it rises.
  6. The cake is left in the pan upside down as it cools to maintain structure.

This careful step-by-step method allows the egg foam to fully expand before baking locks it in place. Relying on the interactions between the eggs, sugar, and flour gives angel food cake its signature lightness.

Does Angel Food Cake Contain Dairy?

With its lack of butter, oil, milk, and egg yolks, angel food cake is one of the more popular cake choices for those avoiding dairy products. But does angel food cake actually qualify as dairy-free?

The answer is that classic angel food cake recipes do not contain dairy ingredients.

Avoiding Dairy

Angel food cake avoids dairy products for multiple reasons:

  • Fats from ingredients like butter or milk would interrupt the formation of air bubbles and deflate the egg foam.
  • Milk or cream would add unnecessary liquid and thin down the batter.
  • The added weight and density from dairy ingredients would prevent the cake from rising properly.
  • Dairy sugars like lactose could cause the cake to brown prematurely.

Eggs provide the only animal-derived ingredient, making angel food cake a smart choice for vegans avoiding dairy and vegetarians avoiding eggs. Those with lactose intolerance or milk allergies can enjoy angel food cake without issues arising from milk-derived ingredients.

Hidden Dairy

Of course, bakers can choose to adapt angel food cake with dairy additions. Small amounts of milk or cream are sometimes used, though too much risks deflating the batter. Butter is also an avoidable but occasional addition.

So while classic angel food cake should always be dairy-free, customized versions may introduce some hidden dairy ingredients. Those needing to strictly avoid milk products will want to evaluate recipes carefully or stick with more traditional versions.

Substitutes for Dairy in Angel Food Cake

While milk and butter have no required place in angel food cake, bakers may want to experiment by adding dairy substitutes. Using non-dairy alternatives allows you to modify the flavor and texture while keeping the cake free of lactose and animal products.

Non-Dairy Milks

Non-dairy milks made from plants like almonds, oats, and coconut provide the easiest substitute for small amounts of milk in angel food cake. They add moisture and flavor without weighing down the batter significantly.

Substitute an equal amount of non-dairy milk for the dairy milk in any recipe. Be aware that thinner milks like almond milk may slightly change the final texture. Thicker, creamier non-dairy milks most closely mimic whole dairy milk.

Non-Dairy Creamers

Powdered coffee creamers made from vegetable oils and sugars offer a direct non-dairy swap for powdered dairy creamers. They dissolve easily into batters without compromising the lift of the egg whites.

Use powdered non-dairy creamer in a 1:1 ratio for any powdered dairy creamer called for. Be aware that some non-dairy creamers contain trans fats, so check nutrition labels if avoiding these.

Non-Dairy Butters

Vegetable-based margarines provide an easy substitute for small amounts of butter in angel food cake recipes. Stick with non-hydrogenated vegetable oil spreads to avoid dense tropical oils.

Swap softened non-dairy butter in equal amounts for regular dairy butter. The flavor may be simpler, but the texture will remain tender.

Vegan Egg Replacers

To make angel food cake completely plant-based and vegan, the egg whites must be replaced. Commercial egg replacers made from starches, gums, and leaveners mimic the lift that real eggs provide.

Use vegan egg replacer powder blended with water following the package instructions. Expect the final texture to be a bit coarser and denser, since eggs provide unique aeration.


For a more natural vegan egg white replacement, aquafaba can work well. Aquafaba refers to the viscous liquid in a can of chickpeas. Drain and whip aquafaba to similar peaks as egg whites before folding into your vegan angel food cake batter.

The amount of aquafaba may need some adjustment to match the lift of the number of egg whites originally called for. But with some trial and error, you can achieve a fluffier, egg-free angel food cake crumb.

Common Questions About Dairy in Angel Food Cake

Angel food cake’s lack of classic dairy ingredients leads to some common questions for thosenew to baking it.

Does angel food cake contain milk?

Angel food cake recipes do not contain added milk or cream. A small amount of non-dairy milk may sometimes be used as an optional ingredient, but angel food cake avoids dairy milks that could deflate the whipped egg whites.

What can you substitute for milk in angel food cake?

Non-dairy milks like almond, oat, coconut, or soy can be easily substituted in a 1:1 ratio if a recipe calls for dairy milk. For best results, use thicker, creamier non-dairy milks.

Can you use butter in angel food cake?

Butter is not traditionally included in angel food cake, as the fat would interrupt the foam structure. But small amounts of butter or non-dairy butters can be used if you don’t follow a strictly vegan or dairy-free diet. Expect a slightly richer flavor and denser texture.

What can I substitute for eggs in angel food cake?

To make a vegan angel food cake, commercial egg replacers work well for partial egg substitution. For more natural egg-free lift, whip aquafaba as an egg white substitute. Expect a slightly denser crumb without eggs.

What kind of frosting goes on angel food cake?

Since angel food cake is so delicate, rich buttercreams and decadent frostings can overwhelm it. Simple glazes, whipped cream, or fruit purees are better compliments. If using frosting, stick with lighter, fluffy options like seven minute or Swiss meringue frostings.

Angel Food Cake Without Dairy

Angel food cake’s meringue-like texture gives it universal appeal. The lack of cholesterol-spiking egg yolks and saturated fat from dairy products make it a smart dessert choice for health-conscious eaters and those avoiding animal products. Sticking with basic angel food cake means you don’t have to worry about hidden milk-derived ingredients.

But creative bakers can also substitute non-dairy milks, creamers, butters, and egg replacers to put new spins on this classic while keeping it dairy-free. Light, sweet, and low-fat yet still moist and fluffy, angel food cake proves cakes don’t require dairy to satisfy your cravings.


Angel food cake is considered dairy-free by nature due to its primary ingredients being egg whites, sugar, and flour. Traditional recipes avoid dairy products like milk, cream, butter, and cream cheese that would weigh down the whipped egg foam that gives angel food cake its characteristic lightness. While small amounts of dairy products can be substituted into angel food cakes, those needing to avoid dairy can enjoy plain angel food cake without issue. Using non-dairy milks, creamers, butters, and egg replacers allows you to update classic angel food cake with dairy-free alternatives for flavor and texture modifications. So if you want a dessert that skips the dairy while still feeling indulgent, angel food cake is a perfect choice.

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