Scratch those chiffon cake advice in my earlier blogs. I have been making chiffon cakes wrong all these while. Here’s why.
Chiffon cake is made of 2 parts: the batter which gives it body, texture and flavour and the meringue which provides structure and makes it rise.
Getting the meringue right is basic but crucial. When the meringue is whipped to firm peaks and folded into the batter properly, you will get a nicely risen chiffon cake. The whites can be cold or at room temperature (both have no problem whipping up as long as there are no traces of yolk or grease). Add a dash of rice vinegar/lemon juice/cream of tartar before you start – acid helps to stabilise the structure. Beat at higher/est speeds in the beginning then bring it down when you are reaching firm peaks. This helps to reduce the size of the air bubbles and prevent large air pockets carving large cavities in the cake.
The key to getting a soft and moist texture is in the batter or more specifically, how the batter is made. Liquid + flour creates gluten; this is why when flour is added last, we are often told to ‘fold it in gently’. Mixing oil and flour first has the reverse effect. Oil interferes with gluten formation, making it harder for the gluten to form a strong network; when this network is weak, we get a delicate and moist texture.
Some recipes call for scalding flour with hot oil or liquid; the former destroys some of the protein that contributes to gluten-forming (take care not to overheat the oil and destroy all the protein), the latter turns some of these protein into starch. Starch is also great at locking in moisture.
That said, the easiest method is to mix (room temperature) oil with flour first. You wouldn’t even need to sift the flour and you can stir the mixture as vigorously as you like even after adding the liquids.
Back to the First One
With these, I went back to the first chiffon cake I attempted – The Pandan Chiffon. I also adjusted some of the ingredients to test the effect. Let me summarise the outcomes here.
1. Fresh coconut milk vs pasteurised coconut milk
Coconut milk is frequently paired with pandan because it accentuates the aroma of the pandan and freshly squeezed coconut milk does this perfectly. I have been using pasteurised coconut milk because it is easier to find but pasteurised coconut milk can be overly ‘full-bodied’ and ‘aromatic’. Its coconut flavour is so strong it completely overpowers the pandan. If you are only able to get pasteurised coconut milk – choose one that is not so ‘full-bodied’ or dilute it with water/pandan juice (ratio: 70-30).
2. More oil and milk
Higher proportions of milk and oil do make the cake extra moist and soft but if you use the oil+flour first method, it is not necessary to tweak these proportions. I increased the oil by 21% and coconut milk by 30% – the cake structure was even more delicate. There was some shrinkage but the cake held its shape though my testers didn’t like it commenting the texture was too soft.
3. Vegetable oil vs coconut oil
As with #1, too much of the coconut flavour will overwhelm the delicate pandan unless you are making a coconut cake. Sticking to a neutral vegetable oil is a better option.
4. Caster, brown or Gula Melaka
I use a mix of brown sugar and caster sugar. Brown sugar infuses the cake with a subtle caramelised flavour. You can also swap out some of the caster/brown sugar for Gula Melaka but my testers couldn’t discern a difference in the taste, only in the smell.
The Final Recipe
This lazy bum’s cardinal rule for making cakes is minimal or zero pre-preparation. I eschew squeezing, chopping, grinding pandan leaves and just stick to pandan extract. In any case, those pandan leaves make my hands itch.
For a 21/22cm tube pan
70g vegetable/coconut oil
100g cake flour (sifting optional)
2 tsp pandan powder (optional)
1/2 tsp baking powder (optional)
100g fresh coconut milk (if using pasteurised version, use 70g milk + 30g water/30g pandan juice)
2 tsp pandan extract
4 large eggs, separated (75-77g each with shells or 5 small ones, 55g with shells)
1/2 tsp vanilla extract (great for getting rid of eggy smell)
pinch of pandan paste (so that the cake will look green rather than yellow)
80g sugar ( 40g caster, 40g brown sugar or 100g gula melaka)
1/2 tsp vinegar (or lemon juice or cream of tartar)
pinch of salt (optional)
I use eggs straight out of the fridge because they are easier to separate. I also microwave the coconut milk cold from the fridge (20 seconds) till it feels warm to the touch.
Here are the 5 steps to making a successful chiffon cake.
Step 1 Whisk cake flour + baking powder + pandan powder with vegetable oil until well-combined.
Step 2 Add egg yolks, coconut milk, vanilla extract, pandan extract, pandan paste (all in). Whisk until well-combined. Set your batter aside.
Step 3 In a separate bowl, make the meringue. Add the vinegar to the egg whites, beat it @ Speed 4/5 till its frothy then add the sugars (all in). Turn down to Speed 3/2 when the meringue is reaching firm peaks (I used a 5-Speed hand mixer). Beat until the peaks are firm (peaks are straight with a slight curve in the tip).
Step 4 Fold the meringue into the batter (in 3 portions) till all meringue has been incorporated (no white streaks). Pour batter into tube pan, swivel pan to level out the batter then tap pan lightly (once or twice), to release excess air bubbles.
Step 5 Bake in a pre-heated oven at 170°C for 45 mins. Tent after 30 mins to prevent the top from overbrowning. If using a dark tube pan, reduce the temperature to 160°C.
Remove cake from oven, cool it upside down on a bottle for 30-45mins before demoulding. You should be able to release the cake with your fingers.
Stuff I’d Done (but Shouldn’t)
Folded chunks of Gula Melaka into batter. The chunks sank to the bottom creating pits of brown molasses that resembled those crater pockmarks on our Moon. I had a hard time prying the cake out of the mould. The Gula Melaka should be in smaller bits and sprinkled on top of the batter before sticking it into the oven.
Extra egg white. I used to think my chiffon cake needed more whites in order to rise well. Not any more. If the meringue is done right, the cake will rise.
Yolk in whites. Once in a while specks of yolk do get into the whites (haven’t mastered the skill of cracking eggs). It took me double the time to whip up the meringue and a rather wimpy one to boot (but still a workable meringue).
Baked chiffon cake using convection mode (same temperature, same time). This one actually turned out ok though it didn’t help save time or electricity.
Ate the cake (part thereof) before I took a photo of it.