Going up

With chiffon cakes, the lighter the better

By Adam Ried
January 30, 2011

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Our fundamental choices can define us. Religion and politics aside, think basic: Are you a dog person or a cat person? Is your peanut butter chunky or smooth? Come dessert time, do you go for pie or cake? For me, the answers are dog, smooth, and cake – definitely cake.

One of my favorites is chiffon cake, which I think of as the love child of an angel food cake and a poundcake, with loft and lightness as well as a tender, rich, almost velvety crumb. Chiffon cakes take beautifully to citrus, so my first recipe here is flavored with orange zest and juice – and chocolate for good measure. Variations flavored with green tea and coconut and Chinese five spice powder and chocolate give chiffon modern twists.

Orange and Chocolate Chip Chiffon Cake

Makes 1 9½-inch cake

You can dust this cake with confectioners’ sugar or top it with a simple orange glaze: Whisk 1½ cups confectioners’ sugar with 2 tablespoons orange juice, 1 tablespoon thawed orange juice concentrate, a pinch of salt, and ¼ teaspoon vanilla. Rest the glaze for about 15 minutes so it will thicken, then spread it evenly over the top of the cake and allow it to drip down the sides. Rest the glazed cake another 30 minutes before serving.

1½ cups cake flour

2 teaspoons baking powder


7 large eggs, separated, at room temperature

½ teaspoon cream of tartar

1 1/3 cups sugar

3 tablespoons finely grated zest and ¾ cup juice from 3 oranges

1½ teaspoons vanilla

1/3 cup pure olive oil (not extra-virgin)

1½ cups mini chocolate chips

Confectioners’ sugar, optional

Adjust oven rack to lower-middle position and heat oven to 325 degrees. Line the bottom of a 9½-by-4-inch (16-cup) tube pan with parchment; do not grease the pan. In a medium bowl, whisk the flour, baking powder, and ½ teaspoon salt, and set aside.

With an electric mixer, beat egg whites and cream of tartar at medium speed until frothy. Adjust speed to high, gradually add 1/3 cup sugar, and beat until whites are glossy and hold soft peaks. Scrape into a large bowl and set aside. In the empty mixing bowl (don’t clean), stir remaining sugar and the orange zest until moist and fragrant. Add egg yolks and beat at medium-high speed until thick and pale, about 1 minute. Add orange juice and vanilla, and beat to mix. With mixer at medium speed, gradually add oil. Add the dry ingredients and whisk until just combined and smooth (do not overmix). Set mixer aside. Using a flexible spatula, gently stir in the chocolate chips and a quarter of the whites until just combined. Add remaining whites and rapidly but gently fold to combine. Scrape batter into tube pan, smooth top, and bake until golden brown and springy, about 50 minutes, rotating pan halfway through baking.

Remove pan from the oven, invert it (resting on the neck of a sturdy bottle if pan does not have feet), and cool to room temperature, at least 2 hours. When cool, run a flexible knife around central tube and outer edge of cake to loosen, grab exposed top of tube, and pull cake out of pan. Invert the cake onto cake plate and remove tube section of pan and the parchment from cake. Reinvert the cake and dust with confectioners’ sugar, if using. Slice the cake with a serrated knife and serve.


Green Tea and Coconut Chiffon Cake

Green tea powder, sometimes called matcha, is available in most supermarkets.

Follow the recipe for Orange and Chocolate Chip Chiffon Cake, making the following changes:

Substitute 2 teaspoons grated lemon zest for the orange zest, room-temperature green tea for the orange juice, and sweetened shredded coconut for the chocolate chips.

To the sugar and zest, add ¼ cup green tea powder.

Reduce vanilla to 1 teaspoon.

Chinese Five Spice and Chocolate Chiffon Cake

Adapted from Chocolate Cakes, by Elinor Klivans (Chronicle Books, 2010).

Follow the recipe for Orange and Chocolate Chip Chiffon Cake, making the following changes:

Add 1 tablespoon Chinese five spice powder to the flour mixture and whisk to combine.

Omit the orange zest and juice and the chocolate chips.

In a medium heat-safe bowl, whisk 6 ounces finely chopped bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, ¼ cup Dutch-process cocoa powder, 1 teaspoon instant espresso powder, and ¾ cup very hot water until smooth, and cool briefly. Add this mixture to the beaten yolk and sugar mixture in place of the orange juice.

To make a glaze, in a medium bowl, whisk 4 ounces finely chopped bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, 1/3 cup hot heavy cream, 1½ tablespoons light corn syrup, ½ teaspoon each vanilla extract and Chinese five spice powder, and a pinch of salt until smooth. Pour over the cooled cake, spread evenly on top, allowing it to drip down the sides. Rest the glazed cake at least 30 minutes before serving.

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Lining a tube pan

Chiffon cakes get their ring shape from the pans in which they bake. Like Bundt pans, tube pans allow for air circulation and even cooking at the center of a cake. The pan’s shape and the fact that recipes leave the pan ungreased allow chiffon and angel food cakes to cling to and crawl up the sides and middle of the pan, and thus rise taller. I prefer heavy tube pans, without a nonstick finish, with a removable bottom, and with feet extending from the rim. This last detail allows for upside-down cooling, which prevents the cakes from deflating.

Lining the bottom with parchment is tricky, but makes it a little easier to remove the tube once the cake has been pulled out of the pan. Fold a square of parchment diagonally to make a right triangle. Fold that triangle in half to make a smaller triangle; repeat several times, ending up with a wedge shape. Cut off the tip of the wedge. Hold that end against the tube and trim the other end of the wedge to fit the pan’s outer rim. Unfold the parchment and you’ll have a circle the size of the pan with a hole in the middle (you may have to trim the parchment further for a good fit).