Saturday, January 2, 2010

Cake Notes: All About Chiffon Cakes

Howdy folks!

Today I had the pleasure of making a chiffon cake for the first time as I found myself stranded at home and with enough milk for one sippy cup.

I had planned on making a cake for a friend today while my husband was at work with the car, but when I was getting a cup for the kiddo, I discovered my lack of lactose.  So as I lay on the couch, drifting in and out of sleep with Dora the Explorer playing on the telly (that provided some weird trippy dreams), I tried to think of what I would do.  If I had the car, I'd just take a trip around the corner to my store.  I could call my best friend and see if she'd bring over some milk or at least pick some up for me, but I didn't want to bug her just yet.  Then I remembered an episode of Good Eats in which Alton made a chiffon cup cakes.  I searched my memory and could not remember him using butter or milk for the recipe.  Sure enough, chiffon cake is made of sugar, flour, eggs, and oil.  I had three dozen eggs, cake flour, sugar, and a big ol' bottle of veggie oil.  DONE!

If you're scratching your head and wondering what the heck a chiffon cake is, let me enlighten you.  When you eat a boxed cake mix, essentially you're eating a chiffon cake.  It's a cake that is light and fluffy in texture and made with eggs and oil as opposed to using butter for the fat.  An angel food cake is also similar in texture.   It shares it's name with the fabric because it's texture is similar to chiffon–airy and fluffy.  It was created back in 1927 by a fella named Harry Baker who was an insurance salesman turned baker (he definitely had the name for it!).  He stumbled upon the formulation for an amazingly light and airy cake that was delicious and kept it secret for 20 years until he sold it to General Mills.  GM then released it in a Betty Crocker pamphlet in 1948 and the rest as they say, is history!

Ever since 1948, America has has a love affair with chiffon cakes and it's no wonder.  They're darn tasty and the texture is moist, which appeals to the palate more than a drier genoise.  It's also less dense than a butter cake and does taste nearly as rich.  I guess in a culture where we like to super size our portions, a chiffon cake makes us feel like we can have more than just one bite, lol!  Chiffon cakes also tend to stay moist longer than a butter cake because of the oil.  The loft of a chiffon cake is due to whipping egg whites which are then folded into the batter.  It's difficult to beat air into oil, so the egg whites are essential to this recipe.

See the bubbles?  That notes the amount of air within the batter that contributes to the loft and texture of the cake.  If you were to press on the cake, it would feel spongy.

So how did my foray into the land of chiffon cakes go?  First off, I started with my mise en place and put everything together.  I had originally calculated on using four batches of American butter cake batter for the cake, so I quadrupled the chiffon cake recipe.  While it was good in theory, it was not so much in practice! Not only did I end up with enough batter to make a three tiered cake and three dozen cupcakes, I also ended up using every bowl in my kitchen including my new 6 quart bowl for my Kitchen Aid!  Because chiffon cakes end up using whipped egg whites to fluff up the batter, it takes up a lot of room so I had to separate it out into different bowls to avoid making a huge mess and screwing up the folding part.  Two batches would have been a better bet to start with.  Then I could have whipped up another two later to make the cupcakes.

I also learned that if you're going to dye the batter a different color, like I did, it's best to do that before you add the egg whites so that you don't lose the volume.  I dyed it towards the end of adding my egg whites and the mess was horrific.  It came out to be a beautiful color and still rose nicely, but my execution could have been better.

I guess I could call them silver!

Thirdly, Alton's recipe and method is great, but a little salty.  Fortunately the salty taste will be offset by the buttercream frosting, but I prefer my cakes to have a sweet overtaste.  And if you use his recipe, reduce the time to ten minutes for cupcakes and 20-25 minutes for cakes.  His recipe states that it will make 1 dozen cupcakes; I got two dozen decent sized cupcakes with nice domes.

Lastly, sky blue and pink make gray when mixed together in cake batter.  Oops.  Oh well, at least I have some tasty cupcakes to send to work with my husband!

I don't know that I will abandon my trusty butter cake just yet, but a chiffon cake is definitely a nice diversion from normalcy every once in awhile!

Happy Baking,

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