Food & Drink

Chiffon cakes: Light as air

Heralded as "the first new cake in 100 years" when it was introduced, the chiffon cake — one of the darlings of mid-century cuisine — became famous for its wonderfully light and airy texture, seemingly weightless as angel food but with a moist tenderness almost like a rich butter cake.

The delicate creation was originally developed by a Los Angeles insurance salesman.

Though it may seem like a Betty Crocker-era relic, the cake is as relevant today as it was when it first revolutionized the baking world more than half a century ago. Chiffon is really a simple cake to make, lending itself to a host of flavor possibilities and accents.

Harry Baker is the salesman who came up with the original formula in the late 1920s. He moonlighted as a caterer and was soon baking the popular creation for the Hollywood elite. He even sold cakes to the Brown Derby restaurant, which featured the dessert on its menu.

Baker kept his original formula secret for decades. Finally, in the late 1940s, he sold the recipe to Betty Crocker's parent company, General Mills.

General Mills fine-tuned the method and ingredients over 11 months and released the chiffon recipe in 1948. With a heavy marketing campaign, it wasn't long before the cake became a national sensation.

The Los Angeles Times touted the release on Feb. 15, 1948, under the headline "Sensational New Recipe for Cake." The announcement prompted more than a thousand letters and phone calls from readers.

Chiffon was certainly a new kind of cake. A type of sponge cake, chiffon uses whipped egg whites for its light and airy "lift," giving it the look and feel of angel food. But to give it that almost buttery richness — and the moist crumb not normally found in a sponge cake — chiffon included a unique ingredient for cakes at the time: vegetable oil. Oil, unlike butter, remains liquid at room temperature, keeping the cake moist and tender.

Best of all, the method is simple, requiring a handful of basic ingredients and a few kitchen tools.

Because of that light structure, chiffon cakes work best lightly garnished. Don't weigh the cake down with a heavy frosting. Dust the cake with powdered sugar, maybe a little sweetened cocoa powder. Or leave the cake alone, sliced thin and served with a dollop of freshly whipped cream and fresh berries.

Chiffon Cake

This recipe calls for a 10-inch angel food cake pan (preferably a pan with a removable insert).

2 cups cake flour

1 1/2 cups sugar, divided

2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder

3/4teaspoon salt

7 eggs separated, plus 2 egg whites

1/2cup vegetable oil

3/4cup milk

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

3/4teaspoon cream of tartar

Heat the oven to 325 degrees.

In a large bowl, sift together the cake flour, 1 1/4 cups sugar, baking powder and salt. Whisk the dry ingredients well to make sure they are thoroughly combined. Make a well in the center of the dry ingredients.

In a small bowl, beat the egg yolks. Pour the egg yolks into the well, along with the vegetable oil, milk and vanilla. Beat the wet ingredients into the dry until completely smooth.

In the bowl of a stand mixer or in a large bowl using a hand mixer, beat the egg whites and cream of tartar until foamy. With the mixer running, slowly rain in the remaining one-fourth cup sugar. Continue to beat the whites until stiff peaks form when the beater is lifted.

Fold the beaten whites into the rest of the batter: Gently spoon one-third of the beaten egg whites into the large bowl with the batter. Slowly and carefully fold the whites into the batter using a spatula or whisk until mixed. Add another third of the beaten whites to the bowl and gently fold into the batter. Be very gentle as you fold in the whites as you do not want to deflate them; the whites lighten the batter and are largely responsible for the cake's ability to rise as it bakes. Gently fold in the remaining third of the whites.

Spoon or gently pour the batter into a 10-inch ungreased angel food cake pan. Place the pan in the oven and bake until the cake is puffed (it should rise over the top of the pan by 2 to 3 inches but will deflate a little as it cools), lightly browned on top and a toothpick or cake tester inserted comes out clean, 1 hour to 1 hour and 10 minutes.

Remove from heat and invert the pan over a wine or large soda bottle. Set the pan aside until cooled completely, 1 to 2 hours.

Loosen the sides with a thin knife or metal spatula and tap it gently to remove the cake (if using a two-piece pan, loosen the outside of the pan to remove, then gently work the knife or spatula along the top of the insert and inside to remove the cake) before serving. Makes 12 to 16 servings.

Each of 16 servings: 228 calories; 5 grams protein; 31 grams carbohydrates; 0 fiber; 9 grams fat; 1 gram saturated fat; 83 mg cholesterol; 20 grams sugar; 229 mg sodium.

The Wichita Eagle—05/18/11

Chocolate Chiffon Cake With Chocolate Glaze

This recipe calls for a 10-inch angel food cake pan (preferably a pan with a removable insert).

Chocolate glaze:

1/4cup ( 1/2stick) butter

1/2cup heavy cream

1/2cup water

3/4teaspoon vanilla extract

3 tablespoons corn syrup

Pinch salt

1 lb. bittersweet or semisweet chocolate (chips or finely diced)

Cake:

1 1/2 cups cake flour

1/2cup unsweetened cocoa powder

2 tablespoons instant espresso

1 1/2 cups sugar, divided

2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder

3/4teaspoon salt

7 eggs separated, plus 2 egg whites

1/2cup vegetable oil

3/4cup milk

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1/2cup cacao nibs (optional, see note below)

3/4teaspoon cream of tartar

Make chocolate glaze: In a medium saucepan, combine the butter, cream, water, vanilla, corn syrup and salt. Bring to a good simmer over high heat. Remove from heat. Stir (do not whisk) in the chocolate until melted and combined. This makes about 2 1/2 cups glaze, which will thicken as it cools. Rewarm slightly to thin, or stir in a little extra cream to reach the desired consistency. The glaze will keep, covered and refrigerated, for up to 1 week.

Make cake: Heat oven to 325 degrees.

In a large bowl, sift together the cake flour, cocoa, instant espresso, 1 1/4 cups sugar, baking powder and salt. Whisk the dry ingredients well to make sure they are thoroughly combined. Make a well in the center of the dry ingredients.

In a small bowl, beat the egg yolks. Pour the yolks into the well, along with the vegetable oil, milk and vanilla. Beat the wet ingredients into the dry until completely smooth. Stir in the cacao nibs, if using. (Note: Cacao nibs are roasted cocoa beans separated from their husks and broken into small bits. They can be purchased online or in some specialty stores. They lend crunch to the cake but are not essential in this recipe.)

In the bowl of a stand mixer or in a large bowl using a hand mixer, beat the egg whites and cream of tartar until foamy. With the mixer running, slowly rain in the remaining one-fourth cup sugar. Continue to beat the whites until stiff peaks form when the beater is lifted.

Fold the beaten whites into the rest of the batter: Gently spoon one-third of the beaten egg whites into the large bowl with the batter. Slowly and carefully fold the whites into the batter using a spatula or whisk until mixed. Add another third of the beaten whites to the bowl and gently fold into the batter. Be very gentle as you fold in the whites as you do not want to deflate them; the whites lighten the batter and are largely responsible for the cake's ability to rise as it bakes. Gently fold in the remaining third of the whites.

Spoon or gently pour the batter into a 10-inch ungreased angel food cake pan. Place the pan in the oven and bake until the cake is puffed (it should rise over the top of the pan by 2 to 3 inches, but will deflate a little as it cools), lightly browned on top, and a toothpick or cake tester inserted comes out clean, 1 hour to 1 hour and 10 minutes.

Remove from heat and invert the pan over a wine or soda bottle. Set the pan aside until it has cooled completely, 1 to 2 hours.

Loosen the sides with a thin knife or metal spatula and tap it gently to remove the cake (if using a two-piece pan, loosen the outside of the pan to remove, then gently work the knife or spatula along the top of the insert and inside to remove the cake).

Drizzle the warm glaze over the top of the cake as desired (you may not use all of the glaze). Makes 12 to 16 servings.

Each of 16 servings: 330 calories; 6 grams protein; 36 grams carbohydrates; 2 grams fiber; 19 grams fat; 7 grams saturated fat; 100 mg cholesterol; 22 grams sugar; 244 mg sodium.

The Wichita Eagle—05/18/11

Hazelnut-Orange Chiffon Cake

Note: This recipe calls for a 10-inch angel food cake pan (preferably a pan with a removable insert).

2 cups cake flour

1 1/2 cups sugar, divided

2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder

3/4teaspoon salt

7 eggs separated, plus 2 egg whites

1/4cup vegetable oil

1/4cup hazelnut oil

3/4cup orange juice

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 tablespoon finely grated orange zest

1/2cup chopped hazelnuts

3/4teaspoon cream of tartar

Heat the oven to 325 degrees.

In a large bowl, sift together the cake flour, 1 1/4 cups sugar, baking powder and salt. Whisk the dry ingredients well to make sure they are thoroughly combined. Make a well in the center of the dry ingredients.

In a small bowl, beat the egg yolks. Pour the yolks into the well, along with the vegetable and hazelnut oils, orange juice, vanilla and orange zest. Beat the wet ingredients into the dry until completely smooth. Fold in the chopped hazelnuts.

In the bowl of a stand mixer or in a large bowl using a hand mixer, beat the egg whites and cream of tartar until foamy. With the mixer running, slowly rain in the remaining one-fourth cup sugar. Continue to beat the whites until stiff peaks form when the beater is lifted.

Fold the beaten whites into the rest of the batter: Gently spoon one-third of the beaten egg whites into the large bowl with the batter. Slowly and carefully fold the whites into the batter using a spatula or whisk until mixed. Add another third of the beaten whites to the bowl and gently fold into the batter. Be very gentle as you fold in the whites as you do not want to deflate them; the whites lighten the batter, and are largely responsible for the cake's ability to rise as it bakes. Gently fold in the remaining third of the whites.

Spoon or gently pour the batter into a 10-inch ungreased angel food cake pan. Place the pan in the oven and bake until the cake is puffed (it should rise over the top of the pan by 2 to 3 inches but will deflate a little as it cools), lightly browned on top, and a toothpick or cake tester inserted comes out clean, 1 hour to 1 hour and 10 minutes.

Remove from heat and invert the pan over a wine or soda bottle. Set the pan aside in a quiet place until cooled completely, 1 to 2 hours.

Loosen the sides with a thin knife or metal spatula and tap it gently to remove the cake (if using a two-piece pan, loosen the outside of the pan to remove, then gently work the knife or spatula along the top of the insert and inside to remove the cake) before serving. Makes 12 to 16 servings.

Each of 16 servings: 250 calories; 5 grams protein; 33 grams carbohydrates; 1 gram fiber; 11 grams fat; 1 gram saturated fat; 81 mg cholesterol; 20 grams sugar; 224 mg sodium.

The Wichita Eagle—05/18/11

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