This year is our 70th anniversary, and we’re celebrating by digging into recipes that are as old as we are. And since no celebration would be complete without a slice of cake, we’re kicking things off with a classic orange chiffon. It’s light and airy, and has a wonderful flavor — bright orange zest, sweet, floral vanilla, and just a hint of almond. But really, it’s the nostalgia vibes that rope you in: after we picked the very last crumbs off the cake stand, we were already thinking about making another.
This retro dessert first earned a spot in the American home-baking canon back in 1948, when General Mills published “Betty Crocker’s Orange Chiffon Cake” in a handful of ladies’ magazines after acquiring the recipe from insurance-salesman-turned-caterer, Harry Baker. Touted as “the first new cake in 100 years,” it grew in popularity because of its very spongy, very moist texture (think: richer than angel food cake, but not as rich or dense as pound cake) — which comes from a unique combination of vegetable oil, a bit of leavening, and beaten egg whites.
Chiffon cake is very easy to make. But like anything with egg whites, it can be a bit delicate — though it’s nothing a soft touch and a little TLC can’t handle. A few tips to get you started: Make sure you whip the egg whites to stiff peaks, and then gently fold them into the batter so it has enough structure to rise. You’ll also want to gently pour the batter into the pan, and gently shut the over door so the airy batter doesn’t collapse. (Noticing a theme here?) And no peeking while it bakes! If you open the oven door before the 30-minute mark, your cake may collapse. Plus, keeping the oven closed will only help your cake bake more thoroughly, creating a thin, soft, golden brown crust and a structurally sound, but very light, sponge.
Once the cake has cooled, we coat it in a simple glaze that’s sweet and creamy, and lets the cake’s delightful floral and citrus flavors shine. (Though it’d be lovely with a boozy whipped cream topping, too.) Because this orange chiffon cake is so airy and fluffy, it’s the perfect dessert to follow up a rich, filling dinner — but we’d also cut off a slice for a sweet afternoon pick-me-up, perhaps with a Vesper martini or a flute of champagne, assuming it’s 5 o’clock somewhere.
2 ¼ cups sifted cake flour
1 ½ cups granulated sugar
1 Tbsp baking powder
1 tsp kosher salt
5 yolks from large Gelson’s eggs
½ cup vegetable oil
¾ cup water, room temperature
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 tsp almond extract
Zest from 2 large navel oranges
6 whites from large Gelson’s eggs
½ tsp cream of tartar
¼ cup unsalted butter, melted
3 to 4 Tbsp whole milk, room temperature
2 cups powdered sugar, sifted
To make the cake: Preheat the oven to 325°. Line the base of an angel food cake pan with parchment paper. Do not spray the pan.
In a large mixing bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt.
In a large liquid measuring cup, gently whisk together the egg yolks, oil, and water.
Make a well in the center of the flour mixture and pour in the oil mixture. Fold until incorporated.
Stir in the extracts and orange zest. Set aside.
In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, combine the egg whites and cream of tartar. Beat on high speed until stiff peaks form, about 5 minutes.
Using a spatula, gently fold the egg whites into the batter in three batches, folding just until the whites are absorbed each time.
Immediately pour the batter into the prepared cake pan and transfer it to the oven. Gently close the oven door and bake for 55 to 60 minutes, or until an inserted toothpick comes out clean.
Invert the cake pan to cool and, using the attached legs or a bottle, suspend the cake in the air. Let it cool completely, about 2 hours.
To make the icing: In a small bowl, whisk together the melted butter and 3 tablespoons of milk.
Sift the powdered sugar into a medium bowl, and then add the butter mixture, stirring until smooth and creamy. Thin with 1 additional tablespoon of milk if needed.
Immediately drizzle the icing over the cooled cake and let it set.
Recipe adapted from: “Joy of Cooking” circa 1953
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