Monday, November 2, 2009

The Beauty of a Chiffon Cake

I love celebrating birthdays. Many of you know that I am just as excited about my friends’ birthdays as I am about my own summer birthday. Once we enter Scorpio territory in late October, this is a particularly fun period as several of my closest friends have their birthdays within two weeks of each other. It is now that time of year when I don my proverbial party hat or at least kick up a fancy pair of stilettos heels, ready to celebrate with the birthday girls.

Actually, I’ll probably spend more time wearing comfy clogs in my kitchen because I have a few spectacular birthday cakes to make for some truly extraordinary women. Alissa’s birthday was on Thursday, while Cenovia, Lorra and Kristina each have their birthdays in this next week. Since I’m of the philosophy that one should celebrate all month long, we definitely got a jumpstart on the November birthdays last night when four of my beloved Scorpios came over for dinner.

I had been saving two crazy-good zinfandels for such an occasion, and my favorite Sumac Skirt Steak with Pomegranate-Shallot Reduction was the perfect dish to showcase these beautiful wines last night. After a hearty main course accompanied by powerhouse wines, I didn’t want to wallop everyone with a death-by-chocolate kind of dessert, so I swung to the opposite end of the birthday cake pendulum and made a lighter-than-air chiffon cake. When filled with a gorgeous passion fruit filling and topped with whipped cream and coconut shavings, it was nothing short of heavenly.

This chiffon cake is so lovely on its own, I’m going to include the recipe for it here, and I’ll get to the passion fruit filling in a separate post. This is a great recipe to have in your repertoire, for it provides a good building block and lends itself well to variation. I’ve often sliced it horizontally into layers, filled it with prepared lemon curd lightened with fresh whipped cream and fresh seasonal berries. Torn into pieces and liberally sprinkled with your favorite liqueur, this chiffon cake can form the basis for an excellent trifle when paired with pastry cream and sliced fruit. For a Persian-themed dinner once upon a time, I added a little ground cardamom to the billowing cake batter and infused the whipped cream with saffron and rosewater to ecstatic effect. (I don’t know which person at the table was swooning the most, but that’s another story!)

Chiffon cake now, with passion fruit and coconut delirium to be continued soon enough…

One Year Ago: Escarole Salad

Adapted, barely, from a recipe in Tartine by Elisabeth M. Prueitt and Chad Robertson

Chiffon cakes are similar to angel food cakes, as they both have a light delicate texture, with lots of whipped egg whites folded into the batter. But unlike the fat-free angel food cake that gets most of its moisture from a high amount of sugar, the chiffon cake is a bit richer with egg yolks and oil, and a little citrus provides the key to its moist tender crumb. Depending on what I’m pairing this cake with, I sometimes replace the lemon juice and zest with lime or orange. I’ve reduced the sugar a bit from the original Tartine recipe, but otherwise this recipe is very faithful to the original.

2-¼ cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1-¼ cups sugar, divided
¾ teaspoon salt
½ cup vegetable oil (I like using sunflower oil)
6 large egg yolks
½ cup water
¼ cup fresh lemon juice
1-½ teaspoons freshly grated lemon zest
10 large egg whites, at room temperature
¼ teaspoon lemon juice

Preheat the oven to 325°. Prepare the bottom of a 10-inch springform pan with 3-inch sides with a circle of parchment paper cut to fit exactly. Don’t grease the sides of the pan.

Sift the flour and baking powder into a large mixing bowl. Whisk in 1 cup of the sugar plus the salt and combine well. In a small bowl, whisk together the vegetable oil, egg yolks, water, lemon juice and lemon zest. Make a well in the dry ingredients; add the egg yolk mixture and combine together thoroughly for about 1 minute until very smooth.

Place the egg whites in another large mixing bowl. Using an electric mixer beat on medium speed until frothy. Add the ¼ teaspoon lemon juice and beat on medium-high speed until the egg whites hold soft peaks. Gradually add the remaining ¼ cup sugar while beating on medium-high speed until the whites hold firm shiny peaks. Using a rubber spatula, gently fold one-third of the egg whites into the batter to lighten it. Carefully fold in the rest of the egg whites until just combined.

Pour the batter into the prepared pan, smoothing the top. Bake for 45 to 55 minutes until a cake tester inserted into the center comes out clean. Let the cake cool in the pan on a wire rack. When it has completely cooled, run a small thin knife around the sides of pan to loosen the cake, then release the springform pan sides and remove. (Make sure to peel off the parchment paper before using the cake! Spoken by one who has sometimes forgotten to do that, to great embarrassment…)

The cake can be made ahead and stored, well wrapped in plastic wrap, for up to 4 days in advance.

No comments: