When the chiffon cake debuted in 1920s Hollywood, it was hailed as the first new type of cake in 100 years, and like the movies of its day, it still holds a glamorous retro appeal. At first glance, it looks very much like an angel food cake—both are tall and light, with an airy texture. There are similarities in how the two cakes are made as well: Both rely on whipped eggs for height, a gentle folding technique to incorporate the egg whites, and a high-sided tube pan for their crown-like appearance. So what’s the difference? Chiffon cakes contain fat, mainly in the form of vegetable oil and egg yolks, making them more moist and tender than angel food.
Handling the egg whites with care is the key to a tall chiffon. It’s essential to whip them only to soft peaks. Over-beaten whites will deflate easily when folded into the batter and won’t have sufficient oomph to push the cake to its crowning height while baking. It’s equally important to fold the beaten whites into the batter carefully and purposefully so as not to deflate them.
The right pan is crucial, too. You’ll need a large tube pan that doesn’t have nonstick coating so that the batter can cling to the sides, which helps it rise. A two-piece tube pan with a removable bottom center tube is all the better for getting the cake out. Little feet on the rim of the pan are a handy, though optional, feature when it comes time to cool the cake upside down. This kind of pan is sold as an angel food cake pan.
The classic chiffon cake is orange or lemon, but recently, I’ve taken to playing with the flavors of my chiffons, adding spices, chocolate, coffee, or even a little cornmeal. The results are anything but old-fashioned.