This post is the first of three in my Vanilla Cake Series. I will begin with a crowd-pleasing recipe that consistently garners rave reviews from my friends and family: the Classic Chiffon Cake.
Awash in a sea of recipes early on in my cake-baking journey, the search for THE ONE GREAT RECIPE was both daunting and overwhelming. I knew precisely what I was looking for: a light cake with a fine crumb that would stand up well to refrigeration. Refrigeration is the moisture-sucking demon of the cake world, but it is a necessary evil as my go-to icing and filling recipes are perishable. Additionally, my special-occasion cakes can be quite large so I require a recipe that stacks and travels well.
Tall order? It seemed so! It took lots of trial and error on my part to find recipes that met my criteria. I spent untold hours scouring the net and firing up my oven but often yielded disappointing (and sometimes downright heinous) results.
I discovered that cake recipes can be sorted into three basic categories: Scratch, Not-Quite Scratch, and full-on Doctored Box Mixes. Scratch recipes involve only the use of basic ingredients like flour, sugar, baking powder, etc. Not-Quite-Scratch recipes get a little help from pudding mix or flavoured gelatin, and last but not least are Doctored Box Mixes. A doctored box mix is a recipe made with a boxed cake mix and is ‘doctored’ via the addition of several other ingredients. This method is the most controversial as foodies far and wide frown upon the very idea, and scratch bakers can be particularly judgmental on this topic.
You can definitely argue that adding a pudding mix completely nullifies a recipe’s scratch status, but I am sharing how I originally categorized my recipes, so I am sticking to my Not-Quite-Scratch-category guns.
While I will not be featuring a doctored box mix recipe in this series, the category deserves a mention since it does have a sizeable fan base, and a plethora of recipes can be found online.
Did you know that most large-scale bakery cakes are produced using doctored box mixes? Scratch cake has a very short shelf life, and bakeries rely on the processed ingredients in the box mixes to keep their cakes fresher for longer in order to turn a profit. If you are seeking a cake that tastes like a bakery cake and has a long shelf life, you might want to look into doctored box mix recipes!
After trying out many recipes, I concluded that the very idea of only one go-to vanilla cake recipe was silly, as I found several that I love. I will be sharing my favourites with you in this series, beginning with a recipe from the Scratch category: my Classic Chiffon Cake.
Chiffon cake is light and airy and somewhat similar to angel food cake. The addition of whipped egg whites produces a delicate and fluffy crumb, and chiffon cake stands up well to refrigeration. This recipe can be frozen for up to two months, but the crumb’s texture will alter to become slightly more dense. The beauty of this recipe is its versatility. I have included variations with the recipe at the bottom of this post, and the possibilities beyond those are endless!
For this Classic Chiffon Cake, you will need the following ingredients:
Preheat the oven to 325°F/165°C and set aside two UNPREPARED 8″ pans. Sift the flour, baking powder and salt into a bowl and set aside. Place the egg whites with 1/2 cup of sugar and the cream of tartar in the bowl of a stand mixer, and use the whisk attachment to whip them up into peaks that are stiff but not dry. Transfer the egg whites to a separate bowl.
Clean out the bowl, switch to the paddle attachment and combine the yolks and water and mix well. Add the sugar, then add the vanilla and mix for one minute. Add the oil and mix on medium speed until very well combined.
Lastly, add the dry ingredients in a little at a time until just combined. Do not overmix.
Once all of the dry ingredients have been incorporated, fold in the egg whites.
Pour into the unprepared pans and run a knife through the batter to reduce/remove air bubbles. You can also tap the pans on the counter to help eliminate those pesky bubbles. Bake for 40-50 minutes (until the cakes test done).
Invert pans onto a cooling rack as this will help with unmolding. Once cooled, run an offset spatula or butter knife gently around the sides of the cakes to loosen, and then turn the cakes out. Cover with plastic wrap immediately.
Although this cake’s crumb is very delicate, you can add simple syrup (very lightly) if you wish to further enhance a particular flavour or to prolong moistness if you are baking a little in advance. I will have a separate post all about simple syrup coming up soon.
Voila! I frosted and filled the cake below with my Swiss Meringue Buttercream (find the post and recipe here)
Classic Chiffon cake
- 2 cups (8.5 oz or 240g) all-purpose flour
- 3 tsp (0.5 oz or 15g) baking powder
- 1 tsp (0.20 oz or 5.69g) salt
- 5 large egg whites
- 1/2 tsp (0.12 oz or 1.69g) cream of tartar
- 1.5 cups (10.5 oz or 300g) granulated sugar
- 5 large egg yolks
- 3/4 cup (6 oz) of water
- 1 tbsp (0.46 oz) high-quality vanilla extract
- 1/2 cup (3.87 oz) canola or vegetable oil
- Preheat oven to 325°F/165°C and set aside two UNPREPARED 8″ pans.
- Sift flour, baking powder and salt into a bowl and set aside.
- Place the egg whites with 1/2 cup of sugar and the cream of tartar in the bowl of a stand mixer and use the whisk attachment to whip them up into peaks that are stiff but not dry. Transfer the whipped egg whites into a separate bowl.
- Clean out the bowl, switch to the paddle attachment and combine the yolks and water and mix well. Add the sugar, then the vanilla and mix on medium speed until well combined. Add the oil and continue to mix on medium speed for another minute.
- Add the dry ingredients a little at a time until just combined. Do not overmix.
- Once all of the dry ingredients have been incorporated, fold in the egg whites.
- Pour into the unprepared pans and bake for 40-50 minutes.
- Invert pans on cooling racks until completely cool
Confetti Chiffon: Add 1-2 tbsp of confetti sprinkles to the batter just after the egg white has been completely folded in. Stir gently to combine. Bake as usual.
Marble Chiffon: For this variation, you must add a step in before you whip the egg whites. Combine 1/4 cup of cocoa powder with 1/4 cup of boiling water and 1/4 tsp of baking soda and let cool. Prepare the cake as directed, but divide the batter in two. Add the chocolate mixture to one half of the batter and mix very gently to combine well. Add dollops of the chocolate mixture to the vanilla mixture and use a knife to great a zig-zag pattern. Bake as usual.
Chocolate Chiffon: Before starting to prepare the cake, boil 3/4 water and add 1/2 cup of cocoa powder and a 1/2 tsp of baking soda. Boil until the mixture is thick, let cool, then add to the batter.
Orange Chiffon: Replace 3/4 cup of water with orange juice. You can also replace the vanilla extract with orange flavouring, or add an orange-flavoured simple syrup to the cake once baked and cooled.
Champagne Chiffon: Replace 3/4 cup water with 3/4 champagne or sparkling wine of your choice or 1/2 cup champagne or sparkling wine and 1/4 cup water (if you desire a more subtle flavour).
So concludes the first instalment in my Vanilla Cake Series. Do you have a go-to vanilla cake recipe? Please comment below!