Achieve sweet success with a light, airy chiffon cake
Chiffon cakes are, as the originator Harry Baker opined, “something cosmic.” A chiffon cake is in the family of aerated, egg-based foam cakes — like sponges and angel food cakes — all sky-high and light. With the addition of oil, a chiffon cake bakes up into one of the most versatile cakes in the baking repertoire.
They’re great with a simple glaze; they can be cut in half and filled with flavored whipped cream, mascarpone or custard; or used instead of ladyfingers in a Charlotte cake or a trifle.
Olive oil cakes are having a well-deserved resurgence. Olives are a fruit, after all, and although we think of it with savory Mediterranean foods, its underlying sweetness makes it a wonderful choice for baking when you want the flavor to sing. Meyer lemons are a very special fruit, with their famously smooth and orange-tinged skin, they still pack a tart, lemony wallop. Together the pairing just works.
Chiffon cakes aren’t common anymore, but maybe, just maybe, this recipe can help restart the great chiffon revolution.
Meyer Lemon-Olive Oil Chiffon Cake
2 1/4 cups cake flour
1 tablespoon double-acting baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
6 Meyer lemons (1 pound)
1/4 cup water (2 ounces) or enough water needed to add to the lemon juice to get to 3/4 cup total
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
7 large egg yolks
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
2 teaspoons vanilla bean paste
10 large egg whites
1 teaspoon cream of tartar
For the lemon glaze
2 cups confectioners’ sugar
4 tablespoons milk, or more as needed
Zest of 1 Meyer lemon
Preheat the oven to 325 degrees and position an oven rack in the center of the oven.
Place a sheet of parchment paper on a work surface and sift the flour, baking powder and salt onto it. Set aside.
Zest the Meyer lemons. Squeeze the juice and strain into a glass measuring cup. You should have about 1/2 cup. Add enough water to make 3/4 cup. Set aside.
Pour the sugar into the food processor and process for about 30 seconds until it is light and fine. Scoop about 1/2 cup of the processed sugar into a small container and set aside.
In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a whisk attachment (or if you are using a handheld mixer, in a mixing bowl), combine the remaining 1 cup sugar and the egg yolks and mix at medium speed for about 3 minutes, until it is thick, light in color and texture, and creates ribbons in the bowl when the whisk is lifted. Add the oil and vanilla bean paste, and mix until well combined.
Add 1/3 of the flour mixture and half the juice mixture, and mix to combine. Add another 1/3 of the flour mixture and the juice and zest mixture and mix to combine, and then the remaining flour, mixing to combine — always ending with flour possible when making a cake. Pour the mixture into a large mixing bowl, scraping the bottom, and set aside.
Clean the stand mixer bowl and whisk (or detach the handheld mixer blades and clean them and the bowl) with hot soap and water and dry very well, making sure there’s not even a speck of grease on anything.
Return the bowl and whisk attachment to the stand mixer (or reassemble the handheld mixer and set up the mixing bowl), add the egg whites, and mix at medium speed until they are foamy. Add the cream of tartar, and mix at medium speed until the mixture forms soft peaks. Add the remaining sugar, a little at a time, and beat the whites until they hold stiff and glossy peaks (see note).
Stir 1/3 of the whites gently into the batter to lighten it. Fold in half of the remaining whites until there are a few streaks remaining. Fold in the last of the egg whites just until mixed.
Carefully spoon the batter into an ungreased 10-inch-by-4-inch tube, with feet and an ungreased removable bottom. The batter should come about 3/4 of the way up the sides.
Bake for 50 to 55 minutes, or until a tester or toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.
With oven mitts, invert the pan immediately onto a cooling rack. Let the cake cool completely in the pan.
When ready to serve, turn the cake upright on the rack, and run a thin flexible knife or offset spatula around the outer and inner edges of the pan. Turn the cake out of the pan: Place a serving plate on top of the pan and, pressing the plate firmly with one hand, invert the whole thing with the other, allowing the cake to release onto the plate.
Prepare the glaze: In a small bowl, whisk the sugar, milk and lemon zest until blended. Drizzle liberally over the cake, letting it drip.
Recipe notes: The Meyer lemon is a hybrid variety of lemon that is sweeter and less acidic than other lemons, and very fragrant. It is in season from October through May. It is named for the importer who brought it to the U.S. from China in the early 20th century. Makes 1 cake or 12 servings.
Per serving: 408 calories; 12 g fat (2 g saturated fat; 26 percent calories from fat); 70 g carbohydrates; 46 g sugar; 109 mg cholesterol; 248 mg sodium; 7 g protein; 2 g fiber.