Chiffon cake is probably the most complicated of the classic sponge cakes. It is like a combination of a genoise and a Victoria sponge. Like the genoise it is a whisked sponge but, unlike the genoise, there is a lot of fat in the recipe, much more similar to a Victoria sponge. The finished product is a flavourful, light cake with a texture far more spongey than any other cake I have had the pleasure to try.
A classic chiffon cake is baked in a tube pan. These are like bundt tins but have flat sides and a flat base – something I will discuss later. The pan provides several elements which are essential for a successful chiffon cake. The most important thing is to not line the tin, either with butter or parchment paper. This is because the cake will cling to the sides of the tin allowing it to rise magnificently in the oven. If the sides are greased, the cake cannot stick to them so will collapse around the edges dragging the rest down with it. The addition of the tube in the centre of the tin provides another wall for the batter to rise up, giving a more even shape and bake. Because the cake must adhere to the tin to rise properly, it must be cut off the tin when it is fully cooked otherwise you won’t be able to remove it. This is why the tin must have flat sides and a flat base. You need to be able to run a knife around the edge to release the cake which is not possible if you use a standard bundt cake tin.
One of the trademarks of the chiffon cake is its texture. It is absolutely jam packed with air. This gives it a light, fluffy feel in the mouth but like everything else to do with the chiffon cake, it introduces another requirement to prevent cake disaster – in this case, collapse under its own weight. We all know how aggravating it is when a cake you have spent time on collapses after baking leaving a huge dent in the top and a dense texture beneath but at least, with most cakes, there is an easy way to avoid this: cook the cake fully and do not open the oven during baking. With a chiffon cake, there is an extra step: you must cool the cake upside down (a technique also used when making angel food cakes). Cakes firm up as they cool but when they come out of the oven, they are still very soft and delicate. For a chiffon sponge, the structure inside is so fragile that its own weight can crush the cake. It will not spark joy. To avoid this, many chiffon pans have legs which will hold the tin upside down while the cake cools. Because the cake adheres to the tin, this will not crush it – in fact, the cake must now fight gravity if it wishes to sink!
There are four main flavours used for chiffon cakes: vanilla, lemon, coconut and pandan. This is because a light sponge requires a light flavouring. All of these can be paired very well with some sort of flavoured or unflavoured cream or even a curd. Cream and fresh fruit are the optimal items for decorating a chiffon because buttercreams are too dense so their texture would not match that of the cake. Pandan is a Chinese leaf which is normally blended with milk or water before the liquid extracted from the pulp is used to flavour the cake. If you want to try one of these, the pandan extract is used to replace the coconut milk in this recipe. You could even swap the coconut milk for normal milk for a vanilla or lemon sponge, or any flavoured milk if you want to experiment with flavours.
The cake in this recipe is a lightly coconut flavoured sponge which is split and filled with cream, fresh mango and passionfruit. I would definitely describe it as ‘tropical’ flavoured. Like most chiffon sponges, it is huge – despite having fewer ingredients than a normal cake – so you can feed a lot of people with it. I hope you enjoy the recipe.
80ml vegetable oil
80ml coconut milk
150g caster sugar
150g plain flour
1tsp baking powder
¼ tsp cream of tartar (or unflavoured vinegar)
½ tsp salt
Flavourings of your choice (eg. Vanilla extract, coconut essence, lemon rind, pandan)
300ml double cream
Fresh fruit of your choice
Preheat the oven to gas mark 3
Separate the eggs.
Add 75g of sugar to the yolks and beat until light and fluffy. This is easiest using a hand-held electric whisk.
Beat in the oil and then the coconut milk. If you have extra flavouring add it now.
Sift the baking powder and flour together.
Beat this into the egg yolk mixture and set aside.
In a large bowl, whisk the egg whites until soft peaks form.
Add the cream of tartar/vinegar.
Beat in the remaining caster sugar a little at a time until it is all added.
Continue to beat until the meringue reaches stiff peaks. It should be bright white, glossy and smooth.
Take one third of the egg white mixture and gently stir it into the egg yolks and flour. This is to loosen the texture of the yolk mixture so you can mix everything evenly later. If you try to fold the egg whites without doing this, you will end up with unmixed batter. I find a balloon whisk is best for this step.
Fold the rest of the meringue mixture through the batter in two additions and fold until you are certain that there is no unmixed batter or meringue left. The batter should be thick and smooth.
Slowly pour the batter into an unlined, ungreased tube pan from at least a foot above the pan. The slow pour stretches out large air bubbles and causes them to pop giving a nicer final structure to the cake.
Use a spatula to spread the batter evenly around the pan. Insert a skewer and swirl it through the batter to help release any air pockets that survived the trip into the cake tin.
Bang the base of the tin onto the counter a few times to pop the larger bubbles which have risen to the surface.
Bake for 60-75 minutes, until the top crust is a deep golden colour (but not burnt).
Remove the cake from the oven, invert the pan and leave to cool completely
To release the cake, run a knife around the outside edge and remove the cake and base of the tin.
Run the knife around the inside edge and also the base of the cake.
Invert onto a plate and remove the rest of the tin.
The cake can be served straight up or spit down the middle and filled with cream and even fresh fruit.
I hope you enjoyed the recipe. This cake is super light and airy with an amazing texture – it’s just so spongy! If you are a fan of cakes with less icing, check out my recipe for lemon drizzle cake.
Have a good one and I will be back next week with a recipe for…