I’m currently obsessed with chiffon cakes. They are a light and fluffy cross between a butter cake and an angel food cake. The most interesting thing about chiffon cakes is that they are made with a non-solid fat, such as vegetable oil, to give them a softer mouthfeel. Just for reference, butter is an example of a solid fat. In addition to the use of oil over butter, they also use whipped egg whites to give the cake an airy and light texture.
While looking for a chiffon cake recipe for a true experiment (hopefully I’ll be ready to share that one soon), I found one for an “ube” chiffon cake. Ube (pronounced OOO-beh) is a species of yam that are vivid violet-purple to bright lavender in color. They have a slightly nutty, vanilla flavor and are more mellow in taste than their orange relatives, the sweet potato. Ube is originally from the Philippines, but has become naturalized throughout the tropical South America, Africa, Australia and southeastern U.S. Ube has seen quite the trend recently due to its photo-worthy beautiful coloring and the ability to make the foods it is used in all shades of purple depending on the concentration.
I had eaten ube sorbet at this awesome restaurant in Chicago called Roka Akor. (FYI, they have locations in Arizona (Scottsdale), California (San Francisco), Illinois (Chicago, Old Orchard and Oak Brook) and Texas (Houston). If you find yourself close to one of these locations, go. Seriously. It is worth the splurge to go with a friend and have the Chef’s Tasting Menu.)
So back to chiffon cakes – they have several steps, but don’t be intimidated. I changed my recipe up quite a bit from the one I found, but I had really good luck with this one on the first try. Begin this recipe by separating seven eggs. Eggs are easier to separate when cold because the yolks are firmer and less likely to break. To get truly stiff peaks you cannot have any yolk in your whites, so be careful when separating. Once the eggs are separated, allow them to come to room temperature for about 30 minutes. Room temperature egg whites will whip into peaks much faster than cold whites.
Once the eggs are the correct temperature, place the yolks in a large bowl and whisk them until smooth. Add 1 ¼ cup of sugar and mix well. Once the sugar is incorporated, add ½ cup of whole milk, ¼ cup buttermilk, ½ cup vegetable oil and 3 teaspoons ube favoring. Whisk this mixture until all the ingredients are thoroughly combined.
Side note: the original recipe called for water instead of milk or buttermilk, but why use water when either of these milks provides so much more “homemade” flavor to a cake?!? I used a combination because buttermilk alone can result in a drier cake. You could easily use ¾ cup water, ¾ cup whole milk or ¾ cup, plus a little buttermilk if you wanted to try the difference for yourself.
For my ube flavoring I used McCormick flavoring I ordered on Amazon (again, small town, not a lot of options when it comes to unusual foods). I was excited because I did not think this particular brand contained food coloring, but I was wrong. I found instructions on how to make your own flavoring using whole ube yams, but, of course, I could not find those. I will be on the lookout for them the next few months when I am traveling and will report back though!
When adding the dry ingredients, I prefer to sift them into the wet ingredients to ensure there are no lumps in the cake. I use a hand strainer with medium mesh. Place two cups cake flour, three teaspoons baking powder and one teaspoon salt in the strainer and gently bump the edge against your palm to shake everything into the wet mixture. Break up any lumps that may remain in the strainer. Using a spatula, fold everything together until well incorporated. Set bowl aside.
Side note: cake flour vs all-purpose flour. The biggest difference between cake flour and AP flour is the protein content. AP flour has a slightly higher protein content, which is what turns into gluten. Cake flour will result in a more tender texture with a finer crumb and a slightly better rise than AP flour. You can substitute AP flour though, there will just be a little texture and rise difference.
Now it is time to work on the egg whites. Place all the whites in a mixing bowl (I prefer to use my KitchenAid Artisan Stand Mixer for this – if you don’t have one…well, look into that because they make cooking soooooo much easier and more fun!) and add ¼ teaspoon cream of tartar. With the whisk attachment in place, turn the mixer to medium-high until the egg whites are fluffy. Slowly add in ¼ cup of sugar, about a tablespoon at a time, until stiff peaks form. I like to stop my mixer a few times during the process to scrape down the sides of my bowl to make sure I have all the sugar incorporated. If you aren’t sure what stiff peaks means, check out this picture:
When you lift the whisk out of the whites you want the peak to keep its shape and not droop at the top.
Take about a third of the whites and place them in the batter mixture. GENTLY fold in the whites, only stirring just enough to mix everything together. If you stir too much or too vigorously the whites will deflate and your cake will not rise appropriately. Once incorporated, add another third and repeat until all whites are thoroughly incorporated.
Pour the batter into an UNGREASED tube pan – learn from my mistakes, if you grease the pan, the cake won’t rise, and you get a tough, dry cake doughnut instead of a light, fluffy, beautiful chiffon cake. Apparently, the cake needs to “climb” the walls of the pan and a greased pan will not allow this. Bake the cake at 350 degrees until a long toothpick inserted in the cake comes out clean, about 55-65 minutes.
Now this is the really weird part. You need to cool this cake, upside down, for about 30 minutes. Since the cake will puff up and you don’t want to squish it, you will need to either place cups along the lip to let it cool (this seems like a total disaster waiting to happen in my kitchen) or you can place it on a wine bottle.
The bottle needs to have something in it to be sturdy enough to hold the cake and pan. Don’t worry! I’m not ruining a perfectly good bottle of wine. This particular bottle was given to me years ago as part of a matching set. The wine was TERRIBLE, but I never threw this bottle out (read: forgetful, lazy, resourceful), so it has become my chiffon-cake-cooling-bottle. If you don’t have a gross, not-going-to-drink-it bottle you are willing to sacrifice for this purpose, I would recommend at least adding some water to an empty bottle.
Once the cake has cooled about 30 minutes, unmold it from the pan and allow it to cool, upright, on a wire rack until totally cool.
At this point you can either make a glaze for the cake or trim it up and frost it. I opted for the second route, so I flattened out the top and cut the cake in half to make two layers. I creamed half a cup of room temperature unsalted butter with two cups of powdered sugar with the whisk attachment on my mixer. I added one tablespoon of cream and whisked until incorporated. Then, I added one teaspoon of ube flavoring and whisked until smooth. For this particular time, this made a frosting that was the perfect consistency for spreading, but you might need to add a bit more cream or powdered sugar to get it just right. Frost the cake and enjoy this beautiful, purple creation!!! It got solid thumbs up from all of my taste testers!
Ube Chiffon Cake
7 eggs, divided and at room temperature
1 ½ cup sugar, divided
½ cup whole milk
¼ cup buttermilk
½ cup oil
3 tsp ube flavoring
2 cups cake flour
3 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
¼ cream of tartar
Preheat oven to 350°. In a large bowl, whisk egg yolks until smooth. Add 1 ½ cup sugar to yolks and mix well. Add milk, buttermilk, oil and flavoring to egg mixture and whisk until smooth. Sift flour, salt and baking powder into yolk mixture, ensuring there are no lumps. Mix until smooth. Set aside.
In the bowl of a mixer, whisk egg whites and cream of tartar until foamy. Slowly add ¼ cup sugar, 1 TBS at a time, until stiff peaks form, scraping down sides at times.
Very gently, add a third of egg whites to batter and fold in until just incorporated. Continue this until all egg whites are just mixed, being careful to not over mix and deflate the egg whites. Pour batter into an ungreased tube pan. Bake at 350° for 55-65 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Remove from oven and invert to cool for 30 minutes. After 30 minutes, unmold from pan and cool completely, upright, on a wire rack. Frost or glaze if desired.
Butter cream frosting:
½ cup unsalted butter, room temperature
2 cups powdered sugar
1 TBS cream
1 tsp ube flavoring
Using a whisk attachment on your mixer, cream butter and powdered sugar until smooth. Add 1 TBS cream and beat smooth. Add 1 tsp ube flavoring and beat smooth. Add additional cream or powdered sugar to reach the desired spreading consistency. Frost cake.
There you go! See easy as…well, cake!