It has been crazy for the past two months. I was piled with work projects, photo shoot and amidst the chaos, I actually signed up for an online course. With my tight schedule, cooking and baking had to take a back seat. My meals were made up of mostly takeaways and fast food.
Despite being sleep deprived and going a bit crazy, I have reached my breaking point–I needed to bake something. I could choose to make a simple muffin. Oh but no, I just need to challenge the tired me by baking a vanilla chiffon cake. Anything that involves me folding egg whites into batter is never my favourite. I am constantly worrying that I will deflate the painstakingly whipped egg whites and the cake will not rise and everything will be ruined.
Ok, maybe I am just being dramatic. The good thing about making a chiffon cake when I was tired is that I basically don’t have any energy to think about the worst. I just quietly and patiently follow the recipe, do my best and pray that everything will be alright. And the vanilla chiffon cake turned out perfectly fine. I do admit I still don’t like folding in egg whites. I got over the fact that so what if my cake did not rise as much; as long as it is delicious, it is all that matters.
Vanilla chiffon cake
(Adapted from Keiko Ishida’s Okashi)
The secret to making a chiffon cake (in my opinion) is patience and very large bowls. You need to be patient when whipping the egg whites and folding them into the batter. There is no way you can speed up these processes. And you also need big bowls to accommodate the expanding whipped egg whites. If you use a medium-sized bowl, your egg whites have no space to grow. The only special equipment you will need to make the chiffon cake is a tube pan with legs*, and preferably with a removable tube piece. And do not use a non-stick tube pan.
Makes one 21-cm cake
80g top flour, sifted once**
5 egg yolks
20g castor sugar
60g canola oil
1 teaspoon vanilla paste (if you don’t have vanilla paste, substitute with 1 teaspoon of vanilla extract)
20g castor sugar
10g corn flour (cornstarch)
5 egg whites
Preheat the oven to 160oC.
In a large bowl, add in the egg yolks and sugar. Using a whisk, beat the mixture well. Once beaten, whisk in the water, canola oil and vanilla paste and mix well.
Sift the flour into the egg mixture and incorporate into the mix until you get a sticky, thick batter. Set aside.
To prepare the meringue, in a small bowl or cup, mix in the sugar and cornstarch, and set aside. In a large bowl or the stand mixer bowl, add in the egg whites. Using either a stand mixer or a hand mixer, whip the egg whites until foamy (if you are using the Kitchenaid, I first whip the egg whites at the “6” setting, and it takes just seconds for them to be foamy). You can do this by hand but I will not do so. 5 egg whites are quite a far bit to whip; so it is best to harness some “external” help.
Once the egg whites are foamy, gently add in half the sugar and cornstarch mixture and continue to whip (at this stage, I increase the setting to 8). As the egg whites start to stiffen, add in the rest of the sugar and cornstarch mixture. Once the egg whites are glossy and form stiff peaks, the meringue is done. This process happens quite quickly, in a matter of few seconds. Do not overwhip as the meringue might spill. So, do not leave your mix alone. Another way to test if your meringue is done is to turn the bowl upside down. The meringue should not fall***.
Using a rubber spatula, add in one-third of the meringue into the egg yolk mixture****. At the stage, you can be a bit more aggressive in folding in the meringue into the egg yolk mixture; this is to help loosen the thick mixture. Once the meringue is incorporated, gently fold in the rest of the meringue in two batches. I find it quite helpful to fold the meringue while turning the bowl. You need to make sure all the whites are fully incorporated, if not you will find pockets of whites in your chiffon cake once baked.
Place your bowl of batter as close as possible to the tube pan and tilt the batter into the UNGREASED pan. It is very important NOT to grease or line the pan with parchment paper. The cake has no rising agents such as baking soda or baking powder hence it is dependent on the egg whites to give its rise; it needs to cling onto the side of the pan. If you grease or line the pan, the batter will just slip and not rise. Once the batter is in the tube pan, you can tilt the pan back and forth a couple of times to ensure the batter is evenly spread.
Place the tube pan in the oven and bake for 30-35 minutes. During the baking time, do not open the oven until 20 minutes later. You can rotate the tube pan to get an even colour. You know the cake is done when you achieve a light golden brown colour. You can also check it by inserting a metal skewer in the middle of the cake. The skewer should come out clean or with tiny crumbs.
Once the cake is done, remove from the oven and turn it upside down immediately. As the cake has very little flour, if you do not turn the cake upside down, it will collapse (flour gives cake its structure). This also allows the air bubbles to settle on the top of the cake. Leave the cake to cool. This should take around 2 hours.
Once the cake is cooled completely, use a metal spatula or knife and run around the sides of the tube pan (you might also need to run the spatula around the tube and bottom of the pan). If you are using a removable tube piece, place the pan on a jar and pull the outer pan down gently (do this after you run the spatula around the tube pan). Once removed, serve the cake and eat!
*In Singapore, you can get the tube pan with legs from Phoon Huat.
**The original recipe calls for the flour to be sifted twice. I find that unnecessary. That said, the sift I used is made up of fine metal mesh hence tiny lumps will not pass through. If there are any lumps left in your sift, you can use the back of a spoon to press them down.
***If your egg whites did not stiffen, there are a few reasons. Firstly, when separating the eggs, a tiny bit of yolk made it into the whites. Hence I always have the habit of separating the egg in a small bowl and doing it one egg at a time. Should I accidentally break the yolk, I can get rid of that one egg white and not contaminate the rest of the whites. Secondly, the mixing bowl may not be fully clean. If there is any oil residue or water, it may prevent the whites from stiffening. It is important to clean and dry the mixing bowl thoroughly. Thirdly, you may have added the sugar and cornstarch mixture too early. You need to wait until egg whites start to foam before you add in the mixture.
***When scooping the meringue from the bowl, be as gentle as possible to prevent deflating the meringue. Traditionally, it is advised to use a metal spoon as the curve helps to prevent any deflation. However it is rather awkward for me to use a metal spoon. I still prefer a rubber spatula. So play around and find your weapon of choice.