Friday, June 19, 2009

Chiffon Cake Catastrophe

For the longest time, about four months, I've been hankering to make a tall, fluffy chiffon cake like the one I made in Birmingham while I lived with Donna Florio (Senior Food Writer for Southern Living, and a good friend). The one I made there, as you can see, was nearly perfect. Tall, lemon-scented, and very moist.

Chiffon cakes are pretty close to angel food cakes, which you've probably seen/heard of/tasted at some point. Angel food cakes are basically whipped egg whites (meringue) combined with dry ingredients like flour, baking soda, etc. The only difference for chiffon cakes is that instead of dry ingredients being folded into the meringue, it's a batter (usually flavored) being folded gently into the egg whites. It's a fun, versatile cake that generally yields gorgeous results.

Not last night.

I finally found a pan that would work at Jo-Ann, Etc.

Do you like the kittens in the background? I do.

The thing about the cake is that it needs to creep up the sides of the baking vessel and stick to something to achieve that height. Non-stick pans just don't do the trick. I'm not sure why the only kind of pans I found for angel food cake/chiffon cakes were non-stick, because that totally defeats the purpose. I finally found a non-non-stick pan, and set to work.

The book I used is called Baking Illustrated, by the magazine Cook's Illustrated, a generally reliable magazine for extremely...well...we'll say "picky" cooks. Cook's Illustrated tests and retests their recipes over and over and over again using different methods and different varieties of ingredients to eventually end up with the flagship recipe for brownies, grilled steaks, banana bread, or other classic recipes. I figured this would be a good starting place. For the cake I made in Birmingham, I used Rose Levy Berenbaum's The Cake Bible, another go-to favorite for bakers.

There were several variations listed for the Chiffon Cake. Banana nut, Chocolate marble, Date-Spice, Lemon/Lemon-Coconut, Mocha-Nut, and Orange/Orange-Cranberry. I'd just bought some new T-discs for my Tassimo, so I settled on the Mocha-Nut, which calls for 3/4 C espresso instead of water, and some shaved chocolate, and ground toasted walnuts. YUM!

While mixing up the batter, it felt extremely loose to me. Not like a cake batter at all, more like a crepe batter, or...just not a cake batter.

Here is the result.


The cake didn't rise, and for some reason, the batter just sunk to the bottom of the pan and made this rubbery, eggy layer on the bottom. Gross.

I pored over the recipe for about an hour, trying to figure out what went wrong. Then I went to the Joy of Baking website to compare. There's an obvious typo in the Baker's Illustrated book. It calls for 1 1/3 C cake flour, and every other formula I looked at called for 2 1/4 or 2 1/3 C of cake flour. That extra cup sure does make a difference.

I'll be trying again tonight; I'm just mildly pissed that I wasted 7 eggs and 4 Tassimo Espresso T-discs. But that's cooking, right?

Here's the recipe from the Joy of Baking that I'll be using this evening for the Orange Chiffon Cake.

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