April: it is the cruelest month. My feed is full of asparagus and cherry blossoms and daffodils and tulips and strawberries and and and…. we’ve got nothing. Nothing. Nary a bud on the forsythia nor a peeping green shoot in the soil. Spring is coming: the snow is gone, temps have been in the 50’s and 60’s, we’ve even taken the extra quilt off of the bed(!), but – it doesn’t seem to be coming as quickly here as it is everywhere else. Le sigh.
I’ve reached that point in the year of seasonal eating when I just can’t stomach another bean & vegetable soup, slow-braised meat or savory roasted vegetable. I want light & bright, crisp & crunchy: I want Spring. And yet: no buds. No green shoots. No asparagus pushing their tight purple buds into the sun, no ramps waving in the spring breezes, no pea shoots artfully scattered across my plate like they just don’t care. What’s a local girl to do?
Orange chiffon cake, that’s what. This cake is everything Springy, without requiring any spring-only ingredients (except eggs, the ultimate sign of Spring!). Light, bright, floral, sweet but not too sweet, with an incredible soft, tender crumb and lovely flecks of orange zest throughout, this cake is just what the doctor ordered for the shoulder season blues. Best of all, it really does not need any accompaniment: no butter-laden frosting, no rich caramel or chocolate sauce, no heavy whipped cream: it’s perfect just as it is.
Technically speaking, chiffon cake is a little less rigorous than angel food cake, with a slightly more tender crumb and richer flavor due to the egg yolks in the batter. The basic theory is similar however; a longer, slower cooking time, allowing the cake to rise and puff, and an ungreased pan to aid in that rise, necessitating a bit of scraping and maneuvering to get it out of the pan. As you can see, my cake rose beyond the confines of the pan (likely due to an extra egg white that I tossed into the mix, rather than refrigerate one egg white), making de-panning even more challenging, but I’m quite fond of the rustic, collapsed look that this gave the top. Like Spring itself: a bit imperfect, a bit slow in getting here, but totally worth the wait.
Adapted (slightly) from Orange Glow Chiffon Cake in The Cake Bible by Rose Levy Beranbaum.
- 8 oz (about 2 ¼ cups) sifted flour (I used a mix of whole wheat pastry flour + whole wheat 00 flour; AP or cake flour would also do)
- 10 oz + 2 tbsp (1 ½ cups total) granulated sugar, divided (organic evaporated cane juice)
- 2 tsp baking powder
- ½ tsp salt
- zest + juice of 2 medium oranges
- 3 ¾ oz (½ cup) sunflower oil
- 2 large eggs + 1 egg yolk (4 ½ oz)
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
- 10 egg whites (10 ½ oz)
- 1 ¼ tsp cream of tartar
- powdered sugar, for garnish
- one 10-inch, removable bottom tube pan, ungreased
- Preheat oven to 325 degrees F. In a large bowl, combine flour, 10 oz sugar, baking powder and salt. Whisk until well mixed. Measure ¾ cup fresh orange juice: add juice and zest to the flour mixture. Add oil, whole eggs, egg yolk and vanilla. Beat for about 1 minute until thoroughly combined.
- In a second large bowl, beat egg whites (use scrupulously clean bowl & beaters) until foamy. Add cream of tartar and beat until soft peaks form. Add remaining 2 tbsp of sugar and continue to beat just until stiff peaks form. Gently fold egg whites into cake batter, using a large wire whisk, making sure to scrape batter up off of the bottom of the bowl. Scrape batter into tube pan, gently twisting the pan to level the batter: it should come up to about 1 inch shy of the top of the pan.
- Bake in the preheated oven until a cake tester inserted into the middle of the cake comes out clean and the cake springs back when lightly pressed in the center, about 55 minutes. Cool completely in the pan, inverted if you can (insert tube over the neck of a wine bottle to suspend cake high over the counter), about 90 minutes. Loosen sides and middle with a long metal spatula: invert onto a rack, loosen bottom with the spatula, and re-invert onto a cake plate. Dust lightly with powdered sugar to serve.
Serves 8 – 10.
- The original recipe called for 7 egg yolks in place of the 2 whole eggs + 1 egg yolk. I had a lot of egg whites leftover from a double-batch of lemon curd, so I chose to substitute whole eggs. Feel free to replace with 4 ½ oz of egg yolk if you choose.
- I used 11 egg whites and my pan was nearly full to the top, hence the overflow and the slightly collapsed “wings” on the top of my cake. If you like that sort of thing, feel free to toss in another egg white. If not, you should leave at least 1 inch of room when filling cake batter into your tube pan.
- I imagine this would work just as well with other citrus. A grapefruit version might be enticingly bitter, while floral Meyer lemon would be swoony.
- The crumb was simply gorgeous even with 100% whole wheat flour: if using whole wheat, however, try to find WW pastry flour and/or soft white wheat at a very fine grind.
- This cake is a nice choice for people who need to avoid dairy, as there is no butter, milk or cream. It is also low in cholesterol, with only 3 egg yolks in the whole cake.
In air-tight container, or well-wrapped, for 2 days at room temperature, 1 week refrigerated, or 6 months frozen.