I'm calling it: Chiffon cakes are the most beautiful cakes in the bakery case. They are tall, with an airy, even crumb that promises every bite will be light and fluffy. They don't need lots of layers or fancy frosting to stand out; they just do.
A Secret History
Chiffon cakes were invented in Los Angeles in the 1920s by a baker who wanted to create a dessert that was both lighter than a pound cake and moister than a sponge cake . Chiffon cake was an overnight success, but the recipe was kept secret for 20 years until it was sold to General Mills and released to the public as one of Betty Crocker's signature desserts.
How "Light and Fluffy" Happens
The light texture of lemon chiffon cake comes primarily from beaten egg whites, which are folded into the batter and give it a high rise like an angel food cake . For guaranteed lift, most recipes (this one included) add some baking powder to the batter too.
Cake flour, a low-protein flour that is milled to an almost powdery texture, is also important. It generates less gluten in a cake batter than other types of flours, creating a finer crumb than all-purpose or bread flour can produce. The flour's light texture works well with the beaten egg whites to keep the cake fluffy.
Because cake flour has such small particles, it tends to clump WHEN stored. The easiest way to measure it is to spoon it out into a measuring cup, then level it as you would with other flours. Once you have measured it, be sure to sift it into your batter.
The Magic Ingredient
Surprise! It's vegetable oil. While the beaten egg whites have amazing powers, the vegetable oil is what keeps the cake soft and moist after it comes out of the oven. In fact, vegetable oil can keep a chiffon cake fresh for days.
The Right Pan
As with an angel food cake, you want to bake this lemon chiffon cake in a round tube pan. The pan should be ungreased, allowing the cake to "climb" the sides as it rises.
You also need to cool the cake upside down, as you would for angel food. If your pan has "feet" you can simply invert it onto the counter (as in the photo above). If your pan doesn't, you will need to invert it onto a bottle.
A basic chiffon cake is not only easy to make and impressive to look at, it is also a blank slate for other flavors. The recipe below is for a lemon chiffon cake, but you can easily switch out the lemon for orange or another citrus fruit. If you prefer a vanilla cake, replace the citrus juice with more milk and double the vanilla extract.
The cake needs no frosting, but you can finish it with a light glaze or a dusting of powdered sugar if you want to dress it up. It's gorgeous whatever you do.
Lemon Chiffon Cake
Yield: Serves 12
- 2¼ cups cake flour
- 1½ cups sugar, divided
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- ½ teaspoon salt
- 8 large egg whites, room temperature
- 7 large egg yolks
- ⅓ cup vegetable oil
- ½ cup milk
- ¼ cup lemon juice
- 1 tablespoon lemon zest
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1. Prep the Pan
Preheat oven to 325 F. Take out a 10-inch tube pan and set aside. Do not grease the pan.
2. Mix it All Together
In a medium bowl, sift together flour, ¾ cup sugar, baking powder and salt.
In another medium bowl, whisk together egg yolks, vegetable oil, milk, lemon juice, lemon zest and vanilla extract until smooth. Combine the flour mixture and the egg mixture and whisk until smooth. Set aside.
3. Beat Those Egg Whites
In a large bowl, beat the egg whites until very foamy. With the mixer on high speed, gradually stream in the remaining ¾ cup sugar. Continue to beat the egg whites until they form stiff peaks, from 3 to 5 minutes.
4. Add the Egg
Add one-third of the egg-white mixture to the egg-yolk mixture and whisk to combine. This will lighten the batter.
Add in another third of the egg-white mixture and fold in, using a spatula, until the egg whites are well-combined.
Add in the remaining egg-white mixture and fold it in until no streaks of egg whites remain. Pour batter into prepared pan.
Place the cake in the oven for 50 to 55 minutes, until it springs back when lightly pressed and appears to be set.
6. Flip It!
Take the cake out of the oven and immediately flip the pan upside down, standing it up on its "feet" or carefully placing the pan over a bottle. Cool the cake completely before up-righting.
Run a thin knife around the edge of the pan to loosen the cake, then transfer it to a cake stand to serve. Store leftovers in an airtight container.