According to various online sources, today is National Chiffon Cake Day. Until recently, I had no idea that such a day existed, and I'm still not sure how this confection earned its national day of distinction. But if it means I have an excuse to bake (and eat) cake, then I'll happily wish folks a "Happy National Chiffon Cake Day" all day long.
Back in 1927, an insurance man-turned-caterer named Harry Baker fulfilled the prophecy of his surname by inventing the chiffon cake. Twenty years later, he sold the recipe to General Mills, who named it chiffon cake and marketed it to the masses. And thus, a classic cake was born.
Similar in appearance to angel food cake, a chiffon cake is richer and slightly less sweet, with an ultra-moist texture and a fine, delicate crumb.
A chiffon cake gets its richness and lovely texture from the use of egg yolks and Baker's secret ingredient: vegetable oil. After testing hundreds of cake recipes, Baker found the use of vegetable oil (versus other fats like butter or shortening) gave his cake a superior moistness, even after days of refrigeration.
The wonderfully airy quality of chiffon cake comes from the addition of egg whites, which gives the cake some lift and helped mine rise to an impressive height of four and a half inches. The egg whites are whipped until glossy and stiff peaks are formed, then gently folded into the batter. A small amount of cream of tartar is added to help stabilize the whites during the baking process.
Just like an angel food cake, a 10-inch tube pan with removable base is required for a chiffon cake to achieve its signature shape. The pan is left ungreased, and its shape helps the batter climb up the sides as it bakes. I have used both non-stick and aluminum versions, and each time the cake rose significantly higher in the aluminum pan.
Once baked, the cake must hang upside down until completely cooled. If your tube pan doesn't have little feet attached for this purpose, you can invert it over the top of a bottle or funnel.
Chiffon cake can be made in a multitude of flavors, but orange chiffon was the first published version and it's the flavor I prefer. Both orange zest and juice are used in this recipe, and their intense aromatics will fill your kitchen with the loveliest fragrance as the cake bakes.
This orange chiffon cake is elegant and delicious on its own, so I like to keep it simple when serving. Instead of frosting the cake, I dust the top generously with powdered sugar and then serve each slice with whipped cream and fresh berries.
Let us all eat cake today!
Orange Chiffon Cake
Serves: 8 to 10
6 extra large egg yolks
7 extra large egg whites
2 ¼ cups cake flour, sifted
1 ½ cups superfine sugar, divided into 1 ¼ cup and ¼ cup
1 tablespoon baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons grated orange zest (be sure to wash oranges before zesting)
½ cup vegetable oil
¾ cup orange juice, freshly squeezed and strained
1 ½ teaspoons pure vanilla extract
½ teaspoon cream of tartar
For best results, separate the eggs while they are still cold, then cover each bowl with plastic wrap and let sit at room temperature for 30 minutes before using.
Preheat oven to 325 degrees and place rack in the lower center position. Have a 10-inch two-piece tube ready to use (ungreased).
In your stand mixer or a large bowl, place the sifted flour, 1 ¼ cups sugar (reserve the other ¼ cup for later use), baking powder, salt and orange zest. Use the paddle attachment or a hand mixer to beat on low speed until combined.
Make a well in the center of the flour mixture and add, in order, the egg yolks, oil, orange juice and vanilla extract. Beat on medium speed until smooth, 1 to 2 minutes, scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed.
In a separate mixing bowl, use the whisk attachment to beat the egg whites on medium-low speed until foamy, about 1 minute. Add the cream of tartar and continue to beat on medium speed until soft peaks form.
Gradually add the remaining ¼ cup of sugar, one tablespoon at a time, and beat on medium-high speed until stiff peaks form, about 3 to 4 minutes. In three stages, use a rubber spatula or large whisk to gently fold the egg white mixture into the batter until it is just combined.
Pour the batter evenly into the ungreased tube pan and gently cut through batter with a knife. Bake for about 50 to 60 minutes, until the top springs back when pressed and a wooden skewer inserted into the cake comes out clean.
Immediately upon removing from the oven, invert the cake pan on its feet or over a bottle, and let hang until cold, about 1 ½ to 2 hours.
To remove cake from pan:
Once the cake has cooled, run a long, serrated knife or a long offset spatula along the inside of the tube pan, around the center core and along the top. Invert cake onto a piece of parchment paper (to prevent sticking) and remove from pan.
Dust top generously with powdered sugar, serve with whipped cream and fresh fruit. Also good when drizzled with orange liqueur, served with fruit sauce or topped with a flavored glaze.
Store in an airtight container for several days at room temperature or in the refrigerator for at least a week. Can be frozen for 2 to 3 months, either whole or in slices.
- To make superfine sugar, mix white granulated sugar in a food processor for 2 minutes.
- Egg whites reach superior volume when whipped at room temperature.
"Home With the Lost Italian" is a weekly column written by Sarah Nasello featuring recipes by her husband, Tony Nasello. The couple owns Sarello's in Moorhead and lives in Fargo with their 12-year-old son, Giovanni. Readers can reach them at firstname.lastname@example.org.
All previous recipes can be found at thelostitalian.areavoices.com.