I thought I mastered the chiffon cake. So, armed with ample confidence I went about making one, intending to gift it to a friend. Oh it wasn’t terribly uncouth; no antics such as dropping out from the pan or painting exuberant cracks over the top. BUT.
It shrank rapidly the moment it left the oven (had to tilt it upside down quickly). When I scraped it out from the pan, the middle of the cake had condensed and twisted itself into a horribly hideous gnarl, not a hint of chiffon-ness to it.
This was a major setback. How had I gotten it so wrong?
Clearly, a string of successful bakes doesn’t make me proficient – which feels utterly humbling.
Some Rise, Some … Collapse
Half of all cake problems has to do with how the batter is made. If you are new to the recipe, follow the instructions faithfully, no short cuts, although I do think some recipes fuss over the methods unnecessarily.
The basic chiffon cake recipe is made of eggs, cake flour, sugar, oil, milk. Milk can be substituted with juice, tea, or make that a combination of milk and juice.
Generally, the flour:sugar ratio is 1 or slightly less than 1 (if you prefer it less sweet), the oil is 50% of the flour in weight and the milk/tea/juice is 75-80% of the flour in weight. These ratios may be varied for different types of chiffon cake.
Some recipes use an equal number of egg yolks and whites whereas some advocate more whites for a lighter texture. I think there’s merit to the latter.
There are only 2 main steps:
Step 1: mix the yolks, 2/3 of sugar, oil, milk/tea/juice, flour together thoroughly.
Step 2: make the meringue with the whites and remaining sugar and fold it into the batter. The meringue rises and holds up the cake.
Sounds simple? But the chiffon cake is such a delicate damsel (or a beast), there are 1001 opportunities to screw it up. Here comes the tips.
Tip #1: Mix the ingredients really well. Nothing should stick out when everything’s done, not flour flotsam, not speckles of meringue nor streaks of egg whites.
Tip #2: You want to have enough aeration going on in Step 1 but not too much. Cream the yolks, sugar, oil till pale yellow, fluffy or up to ribbon stage. Mix in the milk/juice/tea then fold in the flour/salt until well incorporated. I think I was a tad over zealous with my newly acquired hand mixer that’s why my cake collapsed.
Tip #3: Include a whole egg to the yolks mixture as advised by ieatishootipost to give the cake a hint of moistness.
Tip #4: You don’t really need baking powder. A well made meringue is more than enough to hold up the cake.
Tip #5: You don’t really need cream of tartar either. Make meringue using cold egg whites. Cold whites keep the structure better according to JOC; she’s right. Add sugar (all in) after a bubbly froth has formed and whisk it to a firm peak (I think firm peak is good enough). Cold egg whites take longer to whip but will achieve a beautiful glossy texture even without tartar.
Tip #6: It is easier and faster to fold in flour or meringue with a whisk.
Tip #7: To bang or not to bang? the cake batter before/after transferring it to the tube pan. Many recipes recommend banging/tapping the batter a few times before putting it into the oven. But I have seen 1 recipe that said ‘don’t’, because the batter is delicate and the last thing we want is for the batter to go into ‘shock’. No, we can’t have batter that’s petrified of course. Then there’s the other camp who is silent by which I assume it’s inconsequential whether you bang or not.
I’ve always banged (with gusto) yet I can’t be sure if it was really effective. I’m hoping someone has put this to the test and let me know.
To sum up, it is better to under aerate than over aerate. Over beating weakens the structure which can lead to a collapsed cake (yes, mine). Once the meringue is well incorporated, you want to avoid introducing more air to it.
Overall, a modest and gradual rise is infinitely better than a vigorous one – there are a host of other problems even if the cake doesn’t sink (but then these are minor compared to a sunken cake). See next section.
Mind Your Oven
When it comes to chiffon cakes, your oven is the killer app. No two ovens are alike. Get acquainted with yours thoroughly to avoid these problems: Over-risen top, charred top, cracked top, collapsed centre, lopsided rise etc.
Calibrating the oven to a temperature that enables the cake to rise gradually and evenly is your goal.
Tip #1: Small ovens heat up quickly so if you have a small oven like mine (Healsio steam oven AX-1300V), you probably need to step down the baking temperature from the recipe’s. Also, ovens age over time and may deteriorate.
Tip #2: Start baking on a lower temperature (mine’s set at 140°C) for about 40 mins then crank up the temperature by 10°C-20°C for another 10 minutes to get the nice browned top. With a lower starting temperature, the cake will not crack even if it’s risen a lot.
Normal sized ovens can start from 160°C to be pushed up to 180°C for the last burst.
Tip #3: The cake should rise gradually in the oven and not claw upwards too quickly. If it does, reduce the temperature again (for the next bake).
The chiffon cake should look like this after de-panned.
These are updated measurements I used for my 21 cm tube pan.
For Orange Chiffon
3 oranges, washed & brushed to remove wax. Zest and juice.
5 eggs yolks (room temperature)
7 egg whites (keep chilled after separated)
165g cake flour (1+1/4 cup)
150 g sugar (3/4 cup)
80ml canola oil (1/3 cup)
120ml fresh orange juice (room temperature)
salt (1/4 tsp)
For Pandan Chiffon
Replace orange juice with 45ml pandan juice & 125ml coconut milk/creamChiffon Cake Recipes
Replace canola oil with coconut oil
Add 1 drop pandan essence
Add 1 tsp vanilla oil
Putting It Together
1. Cream 1 whole egg + 4 yolks + 1/2 cup sugar + oil till pale yellow and creamy.
2. Add milk, juice, salt to (1) and mix well.
3. Sift cake flour + zest into mix. Fold the flour in until evenly mixed.
4. Beat chilled egg whites + 1/4 cup sugar. Beat whites at low speed till foamy (30s to 1 min), then add sugar. Beat till firm peaks.
5. Fold meringue into batter in 3 parts with a whisk. Finish off with a spatula.
6. Bang the bowl a few times to get rid of air bubbles. Pour into pan. Bang again.
7. Preheat oven. Bake at 140°C for 40 mins and 160°C for another 10 mins.
8. Remove from oven and cool upside down on a small bottle for 30 minutes.
I’m keeping fingers crossed that the next chiffon cake will behave exactly as expected.
References: Chiffon Cake, How to Make Classic Chiffon Cake Ultra Airy and Light, Pandan Gula Melaka Cake: Pandan Chiffon Cake Revisited, Eggs – Beating Techniques for Whole Eggs and Yolks, Batter Mixing, Can You Overmix A Cake, Heavenly Chiffon Cake