Okay so I may have jinxed the spring thing last week when I said that it was finally here because it was 30⁰F most of this week. I’m not going to say anything about my weather predictions anymore. I just can’t take the disappointment.
But on the bright side, my mom was able to visit this weekend! My apartment looks amazing because she’s always improving bits here and there. So to reward her after putting her to work, I bake for her! I think it evens out…
After dreaming of warm weather, I decided to try my hand at a summer dessert. For me, that means strawberries and cream make a center stage appearance. And what goes better with strawberries and cream than cake? But not just any cake. A chiffon cake! Light and airy, it makes a great co-star.
Chiffon cake is a little difficult to make mainly because of its telltale texture. You can actually tell that it’s chiffon cake just by picking it up. One of these cupcakes weighs about half of the weight of a regular vanilla cupcake. And probably a third the weight of a chocolate cupcake.
What makes chiffon cake so light? Egg whites.
Chiffon cake recipes will always have one thing in common. The egg whites are beaten separately from the rest of the batter. Beating the egg whites causes the proteins to take up more space and grab ahold of the air. This means that the egg whites will start to foam and get bigger due to the inclusion of air. The proteins will eventually get larger and larger, grabbing more and more air. They end up taking up so much volume in the water of the egg whites that the foamy liquid becomes a solid. This is called increasing the “sweeping volume”.
I like to think of it like women twirling really fast in big skirts. The skirts lift up and sweep the air.
Cream of tartar is often added at this step because of its acidity. The acid helps to slightly denature the proteins speeding up the whipping process and keeping them in their solid state. In basic terms, it keeps the egg whites stable.
Mixing the egg whites into the batter should be a gentle process. You don’t want to break the protein structure because that is going to act as the main structure of your cakes. The flour is generally cake flour to keep the crumb extremely tender, but that means that there is hardly any protein available in the flour to cause gluten development. It’s all about the egg whites.
Say it with me: it’s all about the egg whites!
So be gentle, and get to baking! Also, if you don’t have a stand mixer, I would suggest borrowing one for this recipe. It’s much more difficult to get stiff egg whites in a hand-held mixer. And nearly impossible with just a whisk and your hand.
Adapted from Alton Brown
Makes about 24 cupcakes
Serve with strawberries and homemade whipped cream (recipe below) to really feel the summer lovin’
(Also great with lemon curd)
1 ½ cups cake flour
½ teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon kosher salt
5 large eggs, separated
¾ cups granulated sugar
¼ cup water
¼ cup vegetable oil
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
¾ teaspoon cream of tartar
2 tablespoons + 1 teaspoon granulated sugar
1. Whisk the cake flour, baking powder, and salt together in a bowl. Set aside.
2. In the bowl of a stand mixer, beat the 5 egg yolks and ¾ cups granulated sugar on high for 2 minutes. The mixture should become pale yellow and form “ribbons” when lifted. Like this:
3. Add the water, vegetable oil, and vanilla to the batter mixture. Beat to combine. Add the dry ingredients from step 1 and beat to combine. Transfer the contents to another bowl and wash your mixing bowl out.
4. Preheat the oven to 325⁰F and prep two* 12-cup muffin tins. Set aside.
5. Once the stand-mixing bowl is dry and free of grease (that will prevent the egg whites from beating up properly), add the egg whites and cream of tartar to the mixing bowl. Beat on high with the whisk attachment until it becomes foamy. Reduce the speed and add the remaining 2 tablespoons + 1 teaspoon of granulated sugar.
6. Return the speed to high and continue to whisk until stiff peaks form. This should take another 2-3 minutes.
7. Transfer approximately 1/3 of the stiff egg whites to the batter from steps 1-3. Stir briskly to incorporate fully. Add the remaining egg whites and gently fold the batter in. Try not to lose a lot of air from the egg whites!
8. Transfer the batter to the prepped muffin tins among the 24 cups*. The cups should be about 90% full or so. This will seem a bit full, but there is already so much air incorporated in the batter.
9. Place both muffin tins on the middle rack of the oven and bake for approximately 30 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out clean. Remove and let cool before serving.
* If you only have one muffin tin like me, the baking time shortens to about 18 minutes. Act quickly, however, because as more time passes, the batter deflates. The second pan will be slightly less airy.
Makes 1 1/2 cups of whipped cream
1 cup heavy whipping cream
2-3 tablespoons granulated sugar depending on desired sweetness
1. Place the desired bowl and whisk or whisk attachment in the freezer for 15 minutes prior to whipped cream prep.
2. Take the bowl and whisk out of the freezer carefully (make sure not to hurt yourself if your fingers get stuck).
3. Whip the cream and sugar in a bowl either by hand with a whisk or with a stand or hand mixer until it gets thick and peaks form. Do not over-mix or it will separate. If this happens, simply stir in some fresh whipped cream into the mixture.
4. Refrigerate immediately and serve within a week of preparing. Beat briskly for a minute before serving.