Popularity of chiffon cakes rises impressively

October 04, 1995|By Sylvia Carter | Sylvia Carter,NEWSDAY

Chiffon cakes are an idea whose time has come -- again.

In the '50s and '60s these delicately crumbed cakes were all the rage. These days bakers are adapting recipes to get rid of the butter, but tall chiffon cakes with only half a cup of vegetable oil are the original butterless cakes. If you want to substitute more healthful oils for butter or if you are trying to cut down on butter, they're an ideal solution.

I rediscovered these cakes recently, and thereby hangs a tale.

My chocolate mahogany chiffon cake scored high enough at the county fair to go on to statewide competition. And at the Missouri State Fair in Sedalia, it won a blue. I proudly typed up the recipe, gleaned from a 4-H handbook, changed the name to "State Fair Blue Ribbon Mahogany Chiffon Cake" and added it to the recipes in a red tin file box.

Years later, that box disappeared. With it went Cousin Lorene's fudge icing, the scalloped oysters Aunt Mae made at Thanksgiving and dozens of other treasures, including my blue-ribbon cake. I searched everywhere for the recipes. I mourned them. As time passed I learned to make everyday cakes without recipes. Still, when I thought of that recipe box, I sighed with regret.

Then a wonderful thing happened. While I was visiting a friend, she said, "Oh, I was cleaning the closet, and I found something of yours." She handed me the precious box.

I was reunited with the blue-ribbon cake. It is excellent in its original version, but I tinkered with the recipe to create an even richer version, substituting strong coffee for water.

In the tin box I discovered a bonus recipe for banana chiffon cake on which I had written in my junior-high hand, "yum!" It is yummy still.

I hauled out the 1975 "Country Fair Cookbook" by the editors of Farm Journal, edited by Elsie Manning. I found recipes for orange and spice chiffons and gussied them up just a little. Next I tried the chiffon method with one of my favorites, burnt-sugar cake. It tasted so good nobody missed the butter, and a friend who eats no dairy products was thrilled.

Here are a few tips on chiffon cakes:

* Don't try to cheat on the pan size. A too-small pan could cause the cake to collapse. If you don't have a tube pan the right size, fill a smaller pan no more than three-quarters full and bake cupcakes with the leftover batter. If you do not have a tube pan with a removable bottom, cut a piece of wax paper to fit the bottom of the pan.

* Never use outdated baking powder.

* The traditional cake-testing method of sticking a toothpick into the cake -- it's done when the toothpick comes out clean and is no longer sticky -- may not suffice. In a very high cake, such as these, my mother's method was to use a broom straw plucked from a clean, new broom. Or you may be able to find a long metal cake tester.

* Canola oil, besides getting good ratings in terms of health, seems perfect for chiffon cakes because it doesn't have much taste. But other light vegetable oils may be substituted.

* If using cake flour, do not use self-rising. If substituting all-purpose flour, sift several times before measuring to aerate it.

* Cut through batter with a knife or spatula after pouring it into the pan, so there are no air bubbles.

Chiffon cakes rise to impressive heights. They are a variation on

angel food, but less dry and more substantial.

Mahogany Chiffon Cake

(State Fair Blue Ribbon Cake)

Makes 12 servings

3/4 cup boiling water or strong, hot coffee

1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa, preferably Dutch processed (see note)

1 3/4 cup sifted cake flour

1 3/4 cup sugar

1 1/2 teaspoons soda

1 teaspoon salt

1/2 cup canola oil

7 egg yolks 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract

1 cup (about 8) egg whites

1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar

Combine water and cocoa. Cool. Sift cake flour, sugar, soda and salt into a large bowl. Make a well and add oil, yolks and vanilla. Beat 1 minute with electric mixer or with a wooden spoon until smooth.

In another bowl, beat egg whites and cream of tartar until stiff. Slowly fold into chocolate dough. Pour into ungreased 10-inch tube pan. Cut through batter with a spatula. Bake at 325 degrees for 65 to 70 minutes.

Invert over a bottle or funnel to cool. Run a thin knife around the edge of the cake pan and gently release cake. Frost with fudge icing or serve with whipped cream.

Note: I have successfully increased the cocoa by 2 tablespoons, compensating by adding the same amount of extra liquid (strong coffee, or coffee liqueur).

I sometimes decrease the sugar by 1/4 cup, as I like a bittersweet-chocolate taste. But the original recipe works fine on its own.

Lorene's fudge icing

Makes enough to frost 1 large cake

1/3 cup butter

1/4 cup water

1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa

3 cups sifted confectioners' sugar

1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

In a saucepan melt butter in the water. Do not boil. Add cocoa immediately. Add confectioners' sugar and beat until smooth. Add vanilla last.

Orange chiffon cake

2 cups sifted cake flour

1 1/2 cups sugar

1 tablespoon baking powder

1 teaspoon salt

1/2 cup canola oil

8 eggs, separated

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