October 22, 2011

Chiffon cake

On yet another raining day, I'm in the kitchen whipping egg whites and attempting to make use of that angel food cake pan.  Working with egg whites on a humid day is probably not the smartest thing to do but armed with some cream of tartar and a determination to make my investment in that tube pan worthwhile, I was raring to go.
This time, the experiment was chiffon cake.  I was watching Cook's Country From America's Test Kitchen and they were making this cake.  And I wanted to try it because I love plain, "egg-y" cakes without any frosting.  And oh, you know the people from Cooks Illustrated, right?  Their magazine looks like a big pathlet, is essentially black & white, with no advertising, and has diagrams and drawings in place of photography.  They study and test every recipe until they've got it down to a science and then explain it to you and me.  Their food always looks amazing and I've tried a couple of their recipes with success (I follow their technique for cooking Thanksgiving turkey) but it's usually a bit too technical and complicated for me.  But this cake was easy and sounded excellent.

If you recall my angel food cake experiment, I discovered that I really didn't like angel food cake all that much.  I missed the egg yolks.  Well, the chiffon cake is one great alternative.  Here, you have both egg whites and egg yolks.  The lofty texture comes from the whites but you get the richness from the yolks.  The cake is extremely moist like a sponge cake with the use of vegetable oil and water.  I love recipes that use water.  It makes me feel like I must be eating light.  If you like pound cake, this cake is a lighter option.  Of course, you won't get quite the robust richness you'd expect from a pound cake (that comes from lots of butter) but it's still rich and satisfying.  Even my 6-year old liked this cake and he rarely likes anything that isn't chocolate or covered in frosting.
The people on that America's Test Kitchen show make everything look so easy and perfect.  The woman was able to remove her chiffon cake with all the crust intact so that the cake was beautifully browned all around.  I did not fare so well, losing quite a bit of the crust to the pan.  But more importantly though, the texture was moist and spongy (even after a few days).  The taste is light and rich at the same time.  This is definitely more my cup of tea.  I'll be making this again and maybe I'll have better luck removing that crust next time.

The recipe for this chiffon cake from America's Test Kitchen is quite easy to put together.  One thing I do love about using the angel food cake pan is that there's no need to treat it (i.e., no buttering and flouring)

Start by separating 5 eggs.  The whites will be whipped in a stand mixer while the yolks get mixed together with vegetable/canola oil, water, and vanilla extract.  The dry ingredients (cake flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt) should be whisked together in a large bowl.  Pour the wet ingredients into the dry and combined together.  Use a bowl larger than the one shown (I had to swap it later).  The bowl should be large enough to hold all the ingredients as well as the whipped whites. 
Whip the whites, along with a teaspoon of cream of tartar (this stabilizes the whites and that basically means it makes the job of whipping the whites up easier) on medium-high speed.  When it reaches soft peaks, slowly add 2 tablespoons of sugar and whip until it gets to stiff peaks. 
Whisk 1/3 of the whites into the batter to lighten it up. 
Then add the remaining whites, a couple of spoonfuls at a time, and gently fold in.  Avoid overmixing so don't completely incorporate one installment of whites before adding the next. 
I think the batter is ready for the pan at this point.  
Pour it into an untreated angel food cake pan (I'm so happy I found another use for it!) and bake in a preheated 325 degree oven for 55-65 minutes.  The cake is ready when a toothpick inserted comes out clean. 
It's a quirky thing but turn it upside down and cool the cake for about 3 hours.   
Remove by taking a knife and angling it towards the cake pan to leave as much of the crust intact on the cake as possible.  As I mentioned up front, the woman did a perfect job on the show.  I did not but that's OK.
I love to eat cakes like these plain but you could certainly serve it with some macerated (sweetened) berries and whipped cream, as they did on the show.  My husband had some with whipped cream and he said it was really good that way.

Update (August 17, 2012):  I couldn't help but notice that lots of folks have done online searches for this chiffon cake from America's Test Kitchen, and I am so glad!  I've made this cake more than half a dozen times since the first time I posted this and it comes out consistently moist, light, fluffy, and delicious every time.  I crave it very often and it's become one of my favorite everyday cakes.  Here are a couple pictures of the cake I made just yesterday.  I even somehow managed to keep most of the sides of the cake on the cake instead of stuck to the pan!

I would rename this post "The Perfect Chiffon Cake", I like it that much!


Chiffon Cake

- Approximately 10 servings -

5 eggs, separated
1 teaspoon cream of tartar
2 tablespoons sugar
1 1/3 cups cake flour
1 cup and 6 tablespoons sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup vegetable or canola oil
3/4 cup water
1 tablespoon vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 325 degrees.  Place egg whites along with cream of tartar in the bowl of a stand mixer.  Whip with the whisk attachment on medium-high speed until it reaches soft peaks.  Continuing on medium-high, gradually add 2 tablespoons of sugar and whip the whites until they are just stiff and glossy.

In a large bowl, combine the cake flour, sugar, baking powder and salt with a whisk.  In a medium bowl, whisk together the yolks, oil, water, and vanilla.  Add the wet ingredients to the dry and mix (with the whisk) until just smooth.

Whisk 1/3 of the whipped egg whites into the batter to lighten it up.  Then add the remaining whites, a few spoonfuls at a time, and gently fold in.  Avoid over-folding so do not fully incorporate one installment of whites before adding the next. 

When all the whites have been folded in, pour the batter into the untreated angel food cake or tube pan.  Bake for 55-65 minutes, or until a cake tester or toothpick inserted into the cake comes out clean.

Turn the cake upside down (over a bottle if your pan does not have "legs") and cool for about 3 hours.  Remove the cake by running a knife around the pan, angling the knife towards the pan to try and get the full crust on the cake.

Serve the cake on its own or with some whipped cream and/or macerated berries.  You can also consider frosting the cake with whipped cream and decorating with strawberry slices.   


  1. I've tried this cake a million times and have only had it work twice. (But it was terrific when it did.) I've practiced beating egg whites - without putting ibto a recipe- just to make sure I'm not over or under whipping. Watched videos on folding and whipping. Not much luck for me. I have all the tell tale signs of properly beaten whites, but still no luck.

  2. (I thought I had replied to this comment...) Sorry to hear your chiffon cake doesn't turn out right consistently. I know how that feels - I've had one or two recipes that when I go to make again, unexpected issues crop up and I'm not sure why.

    I wonder if you are using this exact recipe from ATK...I have made this cake many times and it has worked each time (don't mean to rub it in!). I wish you luck and hope you figure out what's going wrong. I really adore this cake too!

  3. I've been wanting to try baking a chiffon cake for simply ages. I am not an experienced baker and have searched the net and cook books for a friendly recipe. Then I found your post and bingo! clear instructions and illustrations for the whole process from start to finish. I made the cake this morning and wow, . I cannot believe that I have actually baked it. It is fabulous! Light, foamy and totally delicious, Thank you so much for posting this recipe.

    1. Ruby, thank you so much for taking the time to tell me that! You made my day! I love this recipe, this cake - it's one of my favorites that I make often, and I'm so glad you found it simple to make and liked it too!

      I always tell people baking isn't hard (at least not the everyday things we make at home...) if you really want to do it. I'm sure your cake is just delicious - have a big slice for me and thanks again for the sweet comments! : )

  4. Thanks for this post. I do have an angel food cake pan, but I was looking to make it in a 13x9 non-stick rectangular pan. Do you think it will fill one of those well? Thanks!

    1. I seriously just baked this cake this morning and it is cooling upside down at this moment!

      I have never made this chiffon cake in another type of pan. I'm guessing it is possible but there is quite a lot of batter so you might not get it all into a 13x9...it might be better to split it into two 9-inch round cake pans? The other major issue is the cake needs to cool upside down so it stays fluffy and doesn't collapse. That would be tricky with other pans. Good luck. I'd love to know if you attempt it and how it goes.

  5. I have 12x8 pan, do I need to double up the recipe?
    by the way do I need the leave the cake upside down for 3 hours??
    I had tried few chiffon recipe.. but the cake collapse, maybe because I dnt leave it upside for hours.. :)

    1. I use a 10 inch tube pan. Sounds like you are not talking about a tube or angel food cake pan. I believe a chiffon cake can be done in a regular pan but yes, you definitely do need to leave the cake upside down for a few hours until it is fully cooled. Or it will collapse. I have not tested this but I have read that rule in every chiffon cake recipe, etc. It needs to be inverted during cooling so it stays fluffy.

      I do not think you would double the recipe to make in your pan (bare in mind the cake rises quite a bit) but I suggest you take a look at this conversion site that I think could be useful: http://allrecipes.com/howto/cake-pan-size-conversions/

    2. No problem. I hope it works out for you. This cake is really delicious!

  6. So I tried the recipe in New Best Recipe which is nearly identical to this one barring an extra two eggs. My cake came out with the bottom (top after inversion) dark and gummy and the other half was perfect chiffon cake. Not sure what the problem was, but I must say that its eggs/flour ratio is much higher than most recipes I have seen online.

    1. Hmmm...that's really too bad. I can't imagine ATK recipes not working...wonder if there's anything off with your oven temp. I have made this cake (the recipe here) many times and it has always worked. Hope you try it...and good luck!

    2. This is so late, but the first time I baked chiffon cake I had the same problem. It's the pan. Do not use non-stick pan as the cake deflates under its own weight while cooling, making the bottom half gummy and dark. Also when cooling the cake it has to be upside down.

  7. Your cake looks yummy. How did you loosen the cake from the bottom of the pan?

    1. Thank you. To remove the bottom of the pan, I run a knife around it. So begin by running a knife, angled a bit towards the pan, around the sides of the cake to the sides. Then sit the cake down and run a knife the same way around the bottom and inner tube of the pan. Then just carefully flip it over. The first few times I did it, it was a bit messy but with practice, it just seems to come out a lot neater.

  8. Any tips on making a chocolate version of this cake? Just add in some cocoa powder?

    1. I haven't made a full chocolate one but what a great idea. I have made this banana-chocolate one here: http://www.playingwithflour.com/2013/10/when-two-favorites-become-onebanana.html#more in case you're interested.
      I agree there would definitely be cocoa powder involved. You might want to take a look at a recipe like this one: http://www.joyofbaking.com/cakes/ChocolateChiffonCake.html . In fact, I want to make it!

    2. I have just made and posted about a chocolate chiffon cake with cocoa cream filling, if you are interested: http://www.playingwithflour.com/2014/09/chocolate-chiffon-cake-with-cocoa-cream.html#comment-form
      Thanks for the inspiration! : )

  9. this looks so light and fluffy. I wonder if it will be ok with the flour I have here, until I get more P45 from France. I have the perfect little tea set to serve it with!

    1. Hi Abbie - yes, this cake is a favorite of ours. I have made chiffon cakes that call for regular flour. I've never used anything other than the finer cake flour for this one though. My guess is it will work but the texture will not be quite as fine. Hope you have chiffon cake with a nice cup of tea soon. : )



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