Does it seem too daunting to bake a chiffon cake? You may have experienced unpleasant failures while attempting chiffon cakes. I have my fair share of failures as well. After much experimenting, I have baked chiffon cakes of different flavours to perfection each and every single time.
This post will take you through a step-by-step guide on making the perfect chiffon cake.
What makes a perfect chiffon cake?
First, let’s examine what makes a perfect chiffon cake. A good chiffon cake rises to the top of the chiffon tin without it caving into itself. It is light, fluffy yet it still retains moisture. It should have a good flavour of whatever chiffon cake you are baking.
The science behind the chiffon cake
To simplify it, a chiffon cake is leavened naturally i.e. it gets its rise mainly from the meringue (whisked egg whites) and not from chemical leaveners such as baking soda and baking powder.
Troubleshooting common chiffon cake problems
#1 It sinks/deflates after you take it out of the oven
Make sure you use the correct chiffon cake tin for this purpose. The best types are the aluminium ones with a removable base (pls do not use non-stick bakeware. it will not work.). Do not grease the mould as you would when baking other cakes. The chiffon cake is very delicate and need to cling on the sides and center of the tin for support as it rises or it will collapse.
You should also note that you need to invert the over a funnel while it cools on a cooling rack. This elevation helps air to circulate underneath the cake and will prevent condensation from forming on the cake. It is very important to cool the cake inverted so that it will not collapse on its own weight.
#2 It does not rise properly/the texture of the cake is very dense and heavy
There are a few possible reasons for this. This may be caused by the improper whisking of the egg whites. The egg whites might be under-whisked or over-whisked so the cake does not rise to its optimum height.
The meringue might not have been folded into the batter in the correct manner. If it is mixed in too roughly, too much air would be knocked out resulting in a poor rise. See below on how to whisk and fold your egg whites properly.
Another possible reason is that the oven temperature is too low and the cake does not rise to its optimum height.
#3 It rises properly then deflates in the centre while still in the oven
This is most likely caused by the sudden changes in temperature or unstable temperature of the oven. Firstly, use an oven thermometer (this is not the temperature that you set on your oven). If you haven’t already gotten one, you should really buy this inexpensive but really nifty kitchen gadget. You would realise that more often than not, your oven control/setting does not truly reflect the actual temperature of your oven. Your chiffon cakes will thank you for this!
Try not to open your oven to check on your chiffon cake in the first 20 minutes of the baking. Only start checking midway of baking (20-25 minutes). And try not to keep the oven door open for too long when checking, as you should attempt to keep the oven temperature as stable as possible.
#4 It is too brown/burnt at the top
This is an easy problem to fix. As soon as the cake is at the correct shade of brown that you want it, you can start to cover it with an aluminium foil over the top to prevent further browning.
#5 It has large pockets of bubbles in the middle/ white spots of meringue through the cake
The pockets of air bubble may form when you pour the chiffon cake batter into your chiffon cake tin. To reduce this possibility, pour your cake batter slowly and as low a height as possible. You can also gently tap the chiffon cake tin once or twice against the kitchen counter to get rid of large air bubbles trapped in the cake.
To prevent white spots/streaks of meringue through your cake, ensure that your meringue is folded through the batter as thoroughly as possible without knocking out too much air bubbles.
Step-by-step guide to baking a chiffon cake:
Recipe: Chocolate chiffon cake
Makes a 23 cm (9.5″) chiffon cake
5 large egg yolks, room temperature
120g castor sugar
85ml corn oil (or any neutral flavour oil like canola and grapeseed)
130ml whole fresh milk,
30g Dutch-processed cocoa powder (I use Valrhona cocoa powder)
160g cake flour
3/4 tsp baking powder (optional, just to ensure the lift. but I have baked without the baking powder and it works just as fine.)
1/4 tsp salt
5 large egg whites, room temperature
90g castor sugar
1. Preheat oven to 180 degrees celcius. Have your chiffon cake tin mould ready. Do not grease it!
2. Let’s start with Group A ingredients. Separate the egg whites and the egg yolks. Ensure that there is no trace of yolk in the whites. Allow them to come to room temperature. This is especially important for the egg whites to be whisked to their peaks.
3. Start with the group A ingredients as we only want to whisk the egg whites when everything else is done. If not, the egg whites will start to deflate.
4. In the bowl containing the yolks, add in sugar and whisk until light and pale. This can be done with a hand whisk. We just need some aeration in the yolks. Add in the oil and whisk until incorporated.
5. Add the milk into the yolk mixture and whisk. Then, measure and sift your dry ingredients and whisk into the yolk mixture.
*Update 15/07/2014: I have gotten a few people asking me regarding the type of flour to be used for a chiffon cake. The best flour to use is cake flour.
As we want to achieve a soft, tender crumb and fluffy cake, we want a flour that doesn’t develop too much gluten which makes cakes tough – i.e a flour with low protein content. The flour with the lowest protein content is cake flour (about 7-8%). Sure, you can still make a chiffon cake with all-purpose flour(about 10-12% protein content). But the cake flour will give you a slightly tender, softer crumb.
If you don’t keep cake flour in your pantry, that’s fine because you can easily make your own cake flour. To make your own cake flour, start of with 1 cup of all-purpose flour, remove 2 tbsp of AP flour. Replace it with 2 tbsp of cornflour. Whisk the flour and sift twice to make sure that the cornflour is well distributed.
Whisking the egg whites
6. Next come the crucial step of whisking the egg whites. It is best to use room temperature egg whites because whites right out of the fridge will be too cold and will not whisk well. We are essentially whisking a meringue. Start with a stainless steel clean and grease-free bowl (I always rinse it with boiling water to rid of any remaining grease). Add in your room temperature egg whites and put it onto your mixer.
7. Begin whisking your egg whites at medium low speed till foamy. You can add a pinch of cream of tar tar (which increases the meringue stability) at this point if you like. This is optional and your meringues will still work even without it.
8. Turn your mixer speed to high and whisk whites until soft peaks. Soft peaks are reached when the peaks of the whites droop when the whisk is lifted. See picture below.
8. Start to pour in your caster sugar slowly, in a few additions, while the mixer is still running. The sugar, when added gradually, greatly stabilizes the meringue. But the sugar needs to be added slowly to give time for the sugar to dissolve and not weigh down the meringue. The meringue should be whisked to a glossy, firm peaks – just slightly short of stiff peaks. The whites should look glossy and when the whisk is lifted, the peaks will hold but the tip will fall back slightly onto itself. Just a note: stiff peaks mean that when you turn the whisk is lifted, the peaks will hold up straight without collapsing onto itself at all.
Underwhipped and overwhipped egg whites are unstable. Underwhipped whites will start to weep. Overwhipped egg whites will eventually collapse and start to separate. You should start over if this happens.
Folding the egg whites
9. Start by adding 1/4 of the meringue to mixture A (yolk mixture). Whisk lightly to combine until it is well incorporated. Do not be afraid to knock out air at this stage. We are lightening the yolk mixture so that it will be of a more similar consistency to the meringue which will help you fold the meringue through easily and more evenly.
10. Next, add in the remaining meringue to the mixture A (yolk mixture) in two additions, folding the meringue through. Fold gently using a rubber spatula drawing a line across the centre of the batter then going under the batter and lifting up when the spatula reaches the sides of the bowl. Turn the bowl as you do this. Do ensure that the egg whites are folded into the mixture thorougly so you won’t get egg white streaks after baking.
Transferring the batter to the baking tin
11. Gently pour the chiffon cake batter into the chiffon tin. Using a rubber spatula, level and smooth out the top of the cake batter and gently tap the chiffon cake tin against the kitchen counter twice to remove any large air bubbles.
12. Bake in a preheated 180 degrees celcius (350 degrees F) for about 1 hr 5 minutes. The top of the cake should be lightly browned and springs back to touch when it is done. At about 25 minutes into the baking, check on your chiffon cake. If the top starts to get too brown or starts cracking too much, cover the chiffon cake with a sheet of lightly oiled aluminium foil (so it will not stick to the cake) before you continue with the baking. You can turn down the temperature slightly as well to about 170-175 degrees celcius.
Removing the chiffon cake
13. Remove the ready cake from the oven, place a funnel into the center hole of the tin and invert the cake to cool on a cooling rack. Only attempt to unmould the chiffon cake from its tin when it is cooled fully.
14. To remove the cake after it is cooled, run a palette knife against the sides of the cake tin. Turn it out gently onto a cake board. The base of the cake tin would now be on top. Run a palette knife in one swift motion against the base of the tin. Allow the chiffon cake to gently fall onto the cake board. Remember not to shake/yank out the chiffon cake – the crumb structure is very tender and you would only tear your cake if you do so.
Storing the chiffon cake
*I would normally keep my chiffon cake (like the chocolate, matcha and kinkako) at room temperature in an air tight container. It is best eaten within 3 days.
*For the pandan chiffon cake, I would store it in the fridge as it contains coconut milk and would go bad under warm weather conditions.