Cold weather and dry air seem to favor chiffon cakes as whipped egg whites seem to hold better when it’s cold. So I tend to make chiffon cakes in the fall and winter. I’ll make this lemon chiffon cake again when it gets warmer, just to see if humidity really is a factor.
Making the batter is a three-step process. Here are the ingredients for part one. One cup of sugar is used for the first step, and ½ cup is reserved for the second step.
Eight egg whites, ½ cup of sugar and ½ teaspoon cream of tartar are whipped together to make the meringue. The mixing bowl that’s used for the egg whites has to be absolutely devoid of any trace of oil to ensure the egg whites can whip properly. Even when the bowl is clean, I always wash it in hot, soapy water before whipping egg whites. To separate the whites from the yolks, I just crack the egg carefully in half then transfer the yolk from left shell to right shell, allowing the egg white to fall into a small bowl.
If even a tiny speck of egg yolk gets mixed with the separated egg white, the meringue won’t whip to full volume. When I’m sure there is not a slightest trace of yolk, I then transfer the egg white into the large mixing bowl. In case the egg yolk breaks and mixes with the white, I only have to discard the egg in the smaller bowl instead of having the egg whites in the main bowl mix with the broken yolk. If a small piece of egg shell falls into the egg white, use the half shell to remove it. The half shell somehow works like a magnet.
Step one: move the oven rack to slightly lower than the middle of the oven, then pre-heat to 325 F. In a large mixing bowl, sift together the flour, one cup of sugar, baking powder and salt together and whisk lightly. I prefer to use a mixing bowl that is wider than it is deep so it’s easier to cut and fold the meringue later on. It’s important to use a large bowl to give ample room to work the batter; also, once the meringue is added, the batter will triple in volume.
Make a well in the center of the sifted dry ingredients, then add the water, oil, vanilla, lemon zest, lemon extract and egg yolks. Whisk this batter together until smooth, creamy and free of lumps.
Step two: using the wire whip of a stand mixer, and make sure this attachment, too, is clean and free of any kind of oily residue, start whipping the egg whites on medium speed. When the egg whites start to take shape, add the cream of tartar and continue to whip for about two minutes.
Adjust the speed to medium low, and then very gradually add ½ cup sugar. When all the sugar is added, increase the speed to medium high and whip until soft, medium peaks. If the meringue is whipped to stiff peaks, the tiny air bubbles will have no room to expand since they have already reached their maximum size, thereby resulting in a cake that won’t rise to full height once in the oven.
The whipped egg whites, now ready to be folded into the batter.
Step three: cutting and folding. First take a small amount of the whipped egg whites and mix it with the batter just to lighten up the texture of the batter. Lightly mix until there are just a few streaks of the meringue left.
Now get a huge dollop, about a third of the meringue, and place it on top of the batter. With a rubber spatula, cut right in the center of the meringue all the way down, making sure to scrape the bottom of the bowl.
Then fold the batter over the top, at the same time turning the bowl clockwise. With only a few, swift strokes, repeat cutting and folding just until a few streaks of the meringue are visible. It’s important not to get carried away, as fun as it is, lest you deflate the egg whites. Add half of the meringue to the batter and repeat cutting and folding.
The last third of the meringue is added to the batter. At this point, the batter has increased in volume, and, were my bowl not large enough to accommodate the expansion, the batter would surely have overflowed. The photo on the right shows the batter almost ready needing just a few more strokes to get the texture all smooth, light and fluffy.
Pour the batter into an ungreased 10-inch tube pan. I used a two-piece pan that had a removable bottom. Chiffon cake batter is so airy that it will not seep through the bottom of the pan. Bake at 325 F for 55 – 60 minutes. This cake was done in 55 minutes in my oven, but it might take a few minutes longer in some ovens.
The cake is done when it springs back when touched lightly. Remove the cake from the oven and immediately invert it over a heat-proof, glass bottle. Let the cake hang until completely cool, about 1 – 2 hours.
Here’s the cake looking so unglam.
When the cake is completely cool, run a knife along the outer edges and also along the edges of the center tube. Holding the center tube, lift the cake out of the pan. Insert a knife again, this time along the bottom of the cake to separate it from the tube. Carefully flip the cake onto a plate.
The cake would be fine just as it is, or I could pour a quick lemon glaze over it and just call it a day.
I decided to frost the cake with a light meringue frosting that required heating sugar syrup to 245 F – 250 F, then slowly, very slowly pouring a thin stream of this molten syrup over egg whites being whipped at low speed. When the syrup is all added, the egg whites are whipped to very stiff peaks until cool. The result is a very light frosting that tastes almost like melted marshmallows.
Chiffon cake is my personal favorite type of cake. As for the rest of the family, they like it well enough but not as much as butter-based cakes. I love the airy, fluffy texture and the fact that it does not weigh as much as a cake made with butter.
What’s more, there’s something about cutting and folding whipped egg whites that I kind of like doing.
Chiffon cakes can also be baked in a regular round cake pan. This earlier chiffon cake I made was baked in two spring-form pans. I then torted the cake layers to get a total of four.
It’s also a nice change from all the other treats I’ve been making over the holidays.
I don’t know if it’s my imagination, but chiffon cakes seem to get even more moist, the flavor more pronounced the following day; and even two days after.
Chiffon cakes can be stored at room temperature in a tightly covered container, or underneath a cake dome.
- 2⅓ cups all-purpose flour
- 1 ½ cups sugar
- 3 teaspoons baking powder
- 1 teaspoon salt
- ¾ cup water
- ½ cup vegetable oil
- 2 teaspoons vanilla
- 1 tablespoon grated lemon zest
- 1 teaspoon lemon extract
- 8 egg yolks
- 8 egg whites
- ½ teaspoon cream of tartar
- 2 ½ cups sugar
- ¾ cup water
- ½ teaspoon cream of tartar
- 6 egg whites
- 1 teaspoon vanilla
- ¼ teaspoon lemon extract
- Move oven rack to one rung lower than medium height.
- Heat oven to 325 F.
- Sift flour, one cup sugar, baking powder and salt in a large bowl, and whisk lightly.
- Make a well in the center of the dry ingredients and add water, oil, vanilla, lemon zest, lemon extract and egg yolks. Beat with a wire whisk until smooth and well blended.
- In a mixing bowl of a stand mixer, whip egg whites with wire whip until frothy.
- When the egg whites start to hold shape, add the cream of tartar and continue to whip at medium speed for about two minutes.
- Lower the speed and gradually add ½ cup sugar.
- Increase speed to medium high and whip until soft to medium peaks.
- Scoop a small amount of the meringue into the batter and mix to lighten the texture of the batter.
- Add ⅓ of the whipped egg whites into the batter, mixing by carefully cutting and folding.
- Repeat until the last third of the meringue has been folded in and fully incorporated.
- Pour batter into an ungreased 10-inch tube pan and bake at 325 F for 55 – 60 minutes.
- Cake is done when the surface springs back when lightly touched.
- Remove from the oven and immediately invert the cake onto a heat proof bottle. Allow to hang until thoroughly cool, about 1 – 2 hours.
- Slide a knife along the edge of the pan and around the center tube. Holding onto the center tube, lift the cake out of the pan. Run the knife along the bottom of the cake to release it from the tube, and then carefully turn onto a plate.
- Pour a simple lemon glaze over the cake or frost with a vanilla or lemon-flavored frosting.
- Place sugar in a small, heavy sauce pan. Pour water over the sugar. Swirl the pan so the water is evenly distributed.
- Turn the stove on medium high. The syrup must boil on rapid speed to achieve a whiter frosting.
- Once heated, do not stir the syrup.
- Use a candy thermometer to measure the temperature. When the syrup reaches around 225 F – 230 F, start whipping the egg whites.
- Add the cream of tartar to the egg whites once it starts to hold shape.
- When the syrup reaches 245 F – 250 F, remove from heat.
- Change mixer speed to low, and then very slowly, in a thin stream pour half of the hot syrup over the egg whites, taking care not to let the syrup touch the beater.
- Increase mixer speed to medium high. Return the remaining half of the syrup to heat to return temperature up to 245 F – 250 F.
- Switch mixer once again to low speed, then again in a thin stream, slowly pour remaining half of the syrup over the egg whites.
- Increase speed to medium high and beat meringue frosting until stiff peaks, about 5 minutes or until the bowl is thoroughly cool. Add vanilla and lemon extract and mix well. Spread immediately on cake.