When chiffon cakes first hit the American baking scene in the late 1940’s, they created a huge sensation. It’s hard to believe that a cake could cause such a ruckus, but then we finally returned to peace-time, there was plenty of work for everyone, and people were celebrating life. I’m sure the introduction of the chiffon cake went unnoticed by many, but this new method of cake baking was a big deal to those who baked. General Mills (who introduced the recipe to the world via Betty Crocker in Better Homes & Gardens magazine) claimed it was the first really new cake in 100 years. In some respects they were correct, but the cake wasn’t really new.
The chiffon cake was developed by a California caterer in the 1920’s, who kept the recipe top-secret for decades. He made the cake for Hollywood stars and other important clients, and everyone wanted the recipe. Finally, General Mills bought the recipe from him, shared it with the world, and in doing so sold millions of boxes of their Softasilk cake flour. Whatever the motives, the chiffon cake got people making a new kind of cake and it remained popular throughout the 1950’s.
As is always the case, all things come in and go out of fashion. You couldn’t get the time of day with a chiffon cake in the 80’s! But I have always loved these cakes. They are light, delicate and beautiful. The flavor variations are endless. You can rich-them-up with a decadent frosting, drizzle them with a simple icing, or serve them plain with fruit or ice cream. Let’s put the chiffon back in our cake repertoire!
Orange Chiffon Cake
2 ¼ cups cake flour
1 ½ cups sugar
3 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
½ cup vegetable oil
5 egg yolks
¾ cup orange juice
Zest of one medium orange
6 egg whites
½ tsp cream of tartar
Preheat oven to 325 degrees.
In a large bowl, sift together cake flour, sugar, baking powder and salt. Make a well in the center of the dry ingredients. Add into the well IN THE FOLLOWING ORDER: vegetable oil, egg yolks, orange juice and orange zest. Stir until all is well combined. Set bowl aside.
Place egg whites and cream of tartar in a large mixing bowl. Beat with mixer until egg whites hold stiff peaks. Gradually pour cake batter over egg whites, gently folding them together. Do this slowly – you don’t want to deflate the egg whites.
Pour mixture into an UNGREASED 10-inch tube pan. Put into 325 degree oven and bake for 55 minutes. Then turn oven heat to 350 degrees and bake for another 10 minutes. Remove cake from oven and INVERT IMMEDIATELY. I use a wind bottle for this (see video), but a large funnel or other bottle can work. Allow cake to cool completely – it may take a couple of hours.
Once cake is cooled completely, use a thin spatula or knife to go around the edge of the cake so as to loosen it from the side of the tube pan. Remove cake from pan and run spatula or knife under the bottom of the cake to loosen it from tube pan bottom insert piece. Invert onto plate.
You can frost or ice the cake. Dust it with powdered sugar or serve it as-is with fresh fruit or ice cream. Enjoy!