Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Fat Tuesdays: Lemon Chiffon Cake

National Lemon Chiffon Cake Day

According to Punchbowl it is indeed National Lemon Chiffon Cake Day, and for me, a day to celebrate the lighter than air texture and flavor of a delicious, simple chiffon cake. Oh, so yummy!

The chiffon cake was created by Harry Baker, a Los Angeles insurance agent, in 1927.  Baker carefully guarded his secret technique for almost two decades, only selling his cakes to celebrities and the famous Brown Derby restaurant. The popularity of his cakes grew quickly, and he eventually sold the recipe to General Mills in 1947. All I have to say is thank goodness Mr. Baker finally agreed to play nice and share 'cause life without chiffon cake would be unbearable. Not really, but I wouldn't like as much :)

Now, I personally didn't develop a fondness for citrus flavored desserts until recent years... terrible right? I just could bring myself to separate my mouth from the chocolate.  It's a shame too because their refreshing quality has a particular draw, and they are appropriate for just about any occasion.


Alright, I know, enough yapping already!  Go! Go gather up all the lemons you can muster. Let's celebrate and make your friends and family happy with lemon chiffon cake!

When I make citrus desserts that call for zest, I like to rub the zest and sugar together with my fingers until the sugar is moist, grainy and very aromatic. I think this step makes a big difference in the flavor intensity of the end product.

Now, Mr. Baker had two big secrets with his chiffon cake recipe. The first is that chiffon cakes use oil instead of butter, which aides in the airy quality of the cake. It is also nice because the cake can be refrigerated without firming up. The second secret of the chiffon cake is to whip the egg whites separately from the yolks and to fold them ever so gently into the batter.  If done correctly, the results are divine. If not, you can end up with an ooey-gooey mess in your pans.

No joking, it took me 10+ attempts before I was able to perfect the whipping and folding technique. The key for me was visually seeing it done and the biggest balloon whisk I could get my hands on. I mean huge :) The video below from the brilliant Rose Levy Beranbaum describes perfectly the process for whipping the perfect egg white.

Wait, we are not done yet. Here is another excellent example of how to properly fold egg whites into batter. The chef here is making pancake batter, but the same basic concepts apply. You can use a spatula, but I stand by my giant balloon whisk :)

Not so bad, right!? Once the basic techniques are mastered, you are on your way!

Lemon Chiffon Cake (Printable Version)
Adapted (with changes) from The Cake Bible by Rose Levy Beranbaum

Rose's recipe as written is excellent, however, I did make a few changes to suit my personal tastes. I upped the sugar by 2 tablespoons, the lemon zest by 1 tablespoon and the vanilla extract by 1/2 teaspoon. I also used canola oil in place of safflower oil.

2 1/4 cups (8 ounces) cake flour
1 1/2 cups plus 2 Tbs granulated sugar
2  Tbs lemon zest
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 cup canola oil
7 large eggs separated, room temperature
3 large egg whites, room temperature
2/3 cup water
2 Tbs lemon juice
1 1/2 tsp pure vanilla extract
1 1/4 tsp cream of tartar

Preheat your oven to 325 degrees.  Grab your 10-inch tube pan with a detachable bottom, but do not grease it as the batter needs to climb up the sides :)

In a large mixing bowl, combine 1 1/2 cups of the sugar and the lemon zest. With your fingertips, work the zest and sugar together until the sugar is grainy and very aromatic.  Add the cake flour, baking soda and salt to the bowl.  If using a stand mixer, use the beater attachment and beat on low until the ingredients are well incorporated. You can also do this by hand with a whisk. Once incorporated, make a well in the center of your mixing bowl.  Add the oil, egg yolks, water, lemon juice and vanilla to the well. Mix for about 1 more minute on medium speed until the batter is smooth and there are no lumps. 

In a second large mixing bowl, beat the egg whites until they are foamy.  Add the cream of tartar and continue to beat on medium speed until they reach soft peak stage. You will know your egg whites have reached this stage when the beaters start to leave a trail or when the peaks fall over when the beaters are raised. Add the remaining 2 Tbs of sugar, and continue to beat the egg whites until they form stiff peaks when the beaters are raised.

Using a large spatula or whisk, add 1/3 of your egg whites to your cake batter and gently stir them until they are incorporated. Add the remaining egg whites to the batter and very gently fold them into the batter until they are incorporated and no traces of egg whites remain.  

Pour the batter into the pan and bake for 50 to 55 minutes or until the cake bounces back when lightly pressed in the center.  You can try the 'ole toothpick test, but it can be tricky since you can't get all the way into the center. Mine baked in 50 minutes to perfection. Remove the pan from the oven and immediately invert it onto a wine bottle (or something similar) to allow for proper cooling, which can take up to 90 minutes.

Serve this heavenly cake with a dusting of powdered sugar or drizzled with your favorite glaze.  Either way, enjoy and Happy Lemon Chiffon Cake Day!

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