Chiffon Cake
For a moist, tender cake that still has enough structure, decrease the flour, add an egg yolk, and beat only some of the egg whites.
Challenge: Like the Hollywood stars of the 1920s who were the first to taste Harry Baker's secret-recipe cakes, we were delighted by the uniquely light yet full richness and deep flavor of this American invention, which came to be known as the chiffon cake. We decided to go back to Betty Crocker's version, as first put before the public by General Mills in 1948, but were disappointed to find the recipe made a cake that was a bit dry -- cottony and fluffy rather than moist and foamy, the way we thought chiffon cakes should be -- and lacked flavor.

Solution: As we began to make adjustments to this cake it tended to collapse or explode because the structure base of this cake -- flour and eggs -- is highly sensitive. We found the answer in Carole Walter's Great Cakes (Ballantine, 1991). Rather than whipping all of the egg whites for this cake, Walter mixed some of them unbeaten into the dry ingredients along with the yolks, water, and oil. This proved to provide the structure we were seeking to hold the cake together and give us the perfect chiffon cake: moist, tender, and flavorful.

For Good Measure: If the egg whites are not stiffly beaten in this recipe, the cake will not rise properly, and the bottom will be heavy, dense, wet, and custard-like. Better to overbeat than underbeat. If you overbeat the egg whites and end up with dry and "blocky", you can simply smudge and smear the recalcitrant blobs with the flat side of the spatula to break up the clumps.


Serves 12

If the egg whites to be whipped are not at room temperature, set them in a pan placed in hot tap water and stir them until they are tepid.

1 1/2 cups sugar
1 1/3 cups plain cake flour (measured by dip-and-sweep)
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
7 large room-temperature eggs, 2 left whole, 5 separated
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon almond extract
1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar

1. Adjust rack to lower-middle position and heat oven to 325 degrees. Whisk sugar, flour, baking powder, and salt together in large bowl (at least 4-quart size). Whisk in two whole eggs, five egg yolks (reserve whites), 3/4 cup water, oil, and extracts until batter is just smooth.

2. Pour reserved egg whites into large bowl; beat at medium speed with electric mixer until foamy, about 1 minute. Add cream of tartar, increase speed to medium-high, then beat whites until very thick and stiff, just short of dry, 9 to 10 minutes with hand-held mixer and 5 to 7 minutes in KitchenAid or other standing mixer. With large rubber spatula, fold whites into batter, smearing in any blobs of white that resist blending with flat side of spatula.

3. Pour batter into large tube pan (9-inch diameter, 16-cup capacity). Rap pan against countertop five times to rupture any large air pockets. If using two-piece pan, grasp on both sides with your hands while firmly pressing down on the tube with thumbs to keep batter from seeping underneath pan during this rapping process. Wipe off any batter that may have dripped or splashed onto inside walls of pan with paper towel.

4. Bake cake until wire cake tester inserted in center comes out clean, 55 to 65 minutes. Immediately turn cake upside down to cool. If pan does not have prongs around rim for elevating cake, invert pan over bottle or funnel, inserted through tube. Let cake hang until completely cold, about 2 hours.

5. To unmold, turn pan upright. Run frosting spatula or thin knife around pan's circumference between cake and pan wall, always pressing against the pan. Use cake tester to loosen cake from tube. For one-piece pan, bang it on counter several times, then invert over serving plate. For two-piece pan, grasp tube and lift cake out of pan. If glazing the cake, use a fork or a paring knife to gently scrape all the crust off the cake. Loosen cake from pan bottom with spatula or knife, then invert cake onto plate. (Can be wrapped in plastic and stored at room temperature 2 days or refrigerated 4 days.)


Follow Master Recipe for Chiffon Cake, decreasing baking powder from 2 teaspoons to 1 1/4 teaspoons and adding 1/4 teaspoon baking soda. Decrease water from 3/4 to 2/3 cup and vanilla from 1 tablespoon to 1 teaspoon; omit almond extract. Fold in 1 cup very finely mashed bananas (about 2 large or 3 medium) and 1/2 cup very finely ground toasted walnuts or pecans to batter before folding in whites. Increase baking time to 60 to 70 minutes.


Combine 1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa (any type) and 2 tablespoons firmly packed dark brown sugar in small bowl. Stir in 3 tablespoons boiling water, mixing until smooth. Follow Master Recipe for Chiffon Cake, equally dividing batter into two separate bowls. Mix scant 1/2 cup of one batter portion into cocoa mixture, then partially fold this mixture back into the batter from which it came. Sieve or sift 3 tablespoons cake flour over the now-chocolate batter and continue to fold until just mixed. Pour half the white, then half the chocolate, batter into pan; repeat. Do not rap pan against countertop.


Follow Master Recipe for Chiffon Cake, substituting 1 1/2 cups firmly packed dark brown sugar for white sugar and adding 3/4 cup chopped or snipped dates, 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon, 1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg, and 1/4 teaspoon ground cloves to dry ingredients. Rather than mixing, process dry ingredients in work bowl of food processor fitted with metal chopping blade until dates are reduced to 1/8-inch bits and any lumps of brown sugar are pulverized. Continue with Master Recipe, omitting almond extract.


Follow Master Recipe for Chiffon Cake, substituting 1/2 teaspoon baking soda for baking powder, decreasing water from 3/4 to 2/3 cup and vanilla from 1 tablespoon to 1 teaspoon, and omitting almond extract. Along with vanilla, add grated zests of 2 large lemons and 2 tablespoons strained lemon juice. (For Lemon-Coconut Chiffon Cake, proceed as above, adding 2/3 to 1 cup lightly packed sweetened flaked coconut, chopped a bit with chef’s knife, to batter before folding in whites.)


Enough for 1 cake

Since lumps in the confectioners' sugar don't dissolve completely in the liquid, they really show up once the cake is glazed. Unless you are certain that your sugar is lump-free, better to sift it. Before you glaze the cake, the crumbs must be scraped. With a fork or paring knife, gently scrape all the crust off the cake. To keep the serving plate from becoming smudged with glaze, slip small pieces of waxed paper beneath the cake edge all along the bottom. If making the milk variation, stir in one-half teaspoon of lemon juice to cut the intense sweetness.

4 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
4-5 tablespoons orange juice, lemon juice, milk, or coffee (for date-spice variation)
2 cups sifted confectioners’ sugar

Beat butter, 4 tablespoons of the liquid, and sugar in medium bowl until smooth. Let glaze stand 1 minute, then try spreading a little on cake. If cake threatens to tear, thin glaze with up to 1 tablespoon more liquid. A little at a time, spread glaze over cake top, letting excess dribble down sides. Let cake stand until glaze dries, about 30 minutes. If you like, spread dribbles to make a thin, smooth coat.

May, 1996
Original article and recipes by Stephen Schmidt