Chiffon Cake Recipe

When Maxence and I lived in California at the turn of the century, we liked to visit a small shop in Mountain View called Hong Kong Bakery. The Chinese-style pastries all seemed very exotic to me and we ate our way through the full range over the first few months, but soon stopped when we found our gold-medalled champion: the chiffon cake.

If you’ve never had chiffon cake, perhaps you can start by imagining what it might feel like to eat a cloud — a fluffy, moderately sweet, and lightly eggy cloud that would deflate in your mouth with a moist sigh. It is not unlike angel food cake, if you think about it, except that the chiffon cake is not shy about egg yolks; it offers hence a richer mouthfeel, and does not threaten to block your airways.

If you’ve never had chiffon cake, you can start by imagining what it might feel like to eat a cloud — a fluffy, moderately sweet, and lightly eggy cloud that would deflate in your mouth with a moist sigh.

The classic chiffon cake is baked in an ungreased, not nonstick tube pan, in which such batters rise higher because they have more walls to climb. In Chinese bakeries, however, chiffon cake appears under the much more appealing guise of a paper-wrapped cake — a single-serving confection baked in a tall metal tumbler, lined with a thin sheet of paper.

Naturally, this allows the lady behind the counter to unmold the cakes easily and two at a time, in symmetric flips of the wrists. But, more to the point, you get to peel the paper off the body of the cake as you eat — one of the more thrilling of earthly sensations, akin to the removal of the plastic sheet that protects the screen of a new cell phone.

I don’t own a tube pan (there is no such thing in the galaxy of French pans; the closest relative is the savarin mold, but it’s really a third cousin twice removed), nor a set of tall metal tumblers, but I had long ago read, on my friend Chika‘s blog, that chiffon cake could be baked in unwaxed paper cups.

Chika had then been kind enough to translate her recipe, which she herself had obtained from a Japanese site, and I finally — after, oh, a good four years — got around to trying it earlier this summer.

My chiffon cakes rose nicely (although, unlike Chika’s, they did not form a dome) and developed a delicate top crust, in welcome contrast to the sponge-like crumb. We enjoyed them so, and found them to be such ideal summer treats, that I am planning to bake an encore batch as soon as I get my kitchen back (believe it or not, our renovations are still not done), but this time I will line the paper cups with parchment paper — it seems less wasteful to at least reuse the cups, and did I mention how much I love stripper cakes?

Chiffon Cake Recipe

Prep Time: 20 minutes

Cook Time: 30 minutes

Total Time: 50 minutes

Makes 14 cup-sized cakes.

Chiffon Cake Recipe

Ingredients

  • 130 grams (1 cup plus 1 tablespoon) soft flour (pastry flour, or cake flour, or type 45 flour*)
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 6 medium egg yolks (whites used below)
  • a pinch of salt
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 150 grams (3/4 cup) granulated sugar
  • 120ml (1/2 cup) water
  • 80ml (1/3 cup) vegetable oil (I used olive oil)
  • 6 medium egg whites

Instructions

  1. Preheat the oven to 170°C (340°F) and have ready 14 sturdy unwaxed 120-ml (1-cup) paper cups, ungreased.
  2. Sift the flour and baking powder together 3 times, or combine the flour and baking powder in a freezer bag, zip it shut with lots of air inside so it will form a balloon of sorts, and shake the bag vigorously to make the flour fluffy. Set aside.
  3. In a large bowl, combine the egg yolks, salt, vanilla extract, and 75 grams (6 tablespoons) of the sugar (reserve the rest for later). Whisk for several minutes, until the mixture turns pale yellow and thick ribbons fall from the whisk. Stir in the water and the oil, and whisk well between each addition. Fold in the flour mixture and whisk until well blended, but don't overmix.
  4. In another large and spotlessly clean bowl, combine the egg whites and 60 grams (5 tablespoons) of the sugar (reserve the remaining tablespoon for topping), and beat with a clean whisk until stiff. You may use an electric whisk or a stand mixer with the whisk attachment; make sure neither the bowl nor the whisk have any trace of fat, or the eggs will not rise and life will seem rather pointless.
  5. Fold a third of the beaten egg whites into the batter and mix gently until blended. Fold in the rest of the egg whites, gently lifting the batter up and over the egg whites with a rubber spatula until just blended.
  6. Pour the batter into the prepared cups to about 3/5 of their capacity, and sprinkle the surface with the remaining tablespoon sugar. Bake until set and golden brown, about 30 minutes. Invert the cups onto a cooling rack so the cakes won't collapse, and let cool completely. To unmold, run the blade of a knife around the inside of the cup to loosen, and shake gently until the cake falls out.
  7. Serve the cakes on their own, in the cup, or with a fruit salad, a drizzle of berry coulis, or a scoop of ice cream.

Notes

  • Please refer to Wikipedia's flour article if you need more information about these types of flour.
  • The batter may also be baked in a tube pan (not nonstick), ungreased. The baking time should then be 40 to 50 minutes.

http://chocolateandzucchini.com/recipes/cakes-tarts/chiffon-cake-recipe/

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  • Jenn

    You can also bake chiffon cakes in oven-safe coffee or tea cups. And those would be reuseable.

  • http://lusciousfood.com Lori

    My favorite part of this delightful post: “…or life will seem pointless.” Only a true baker would see it that way. :)

  • http://smellslikegrape.blogspot.com Taster B

    That cellphone film metaphor really speaks to me. :)

  • http://www.shoplittlegifts.com ShopLittleGifts

    Yes, I love the chiffon cake. I grew up eating these – we call them “paper wrapped cakes.” They are the cutest little baked goods for kids because they taste soft, eggy and are easy to eat. I love how you have baked them in cups. Very creative. The next time you are in the Bay Area, try the bakery at Cupertino Village – they also have lots of authentic asian pastries and breads.

  • http://www.theperfectpantry.com Lydia (The Perfect Pantry)

    How lovely to present these in individual paper cups — it reminds me of the joy of eating Italian ices out of a cup in the heat of summer.

  • http://theendivechronicles.com/ Erin

    Mmm. . . chiffon cake a delicious alternative to the dreaded angel food cake.
    I love having to think outside the box to achieve the desired ends in the kitchen.

  • http://www.modernbeet.com/ Jen (Modern Beet)

    I know exactly the bakery which you’re talking about! I live close-by in Los Altos, and stop in quite often for their steamed pork buns. Next time I’m there I’ll have to give the chiffon cakes a try!

  • http://www.laughingduckgardens.com/ldblog.php/ Sylvie, Rappahannock Cook & Kitchen Gardener

    You could also use clean food-grade cans (you know, the kind tomato puree or beans come in) – lined of course with parchment paper (cut a circle in the paper for the bottom), and there you have “cake in a tin”.

    Vanille of At Down Under blog posted a recipe for Chocolate and Pistachio Souffle a few weeks ago using origami boxes in parchment paper for the molds – that was also very neat and creative.

    I love all of those great ideas for individual cakes.

  • kayenne

    i bake cupcakes, banana bread and similar in paper cups. easy to top with ice cream or mousse. i sell them that way, too – like a mini trifle. you can scoop up the top half and fill with curd before putting back the top, then top with more frosting.

  • Rachel

    I too am a Chinese pastry aficionado, but for some reason have never tried chiffon cakes (the siren song of the moon cakes and the lotus buns is too strong, it seems). Now you’ve inspired me to finally try them!

  • http://bretzeletcafecreme.blogspot.com/ Flo Bretzel

    Voilà une jolie recette aérienne et j’aime l’idée de la présentation dans des gobelets!

  • http://www.windowseatblog.com The Window Seat

    Wow. wow. wow.

    I live in San Francisco and am currently eating my way through the entire offering of Chinese pastries. The egg custard! The cocktail bun that tastes a lot like the Czech kolache!

    I can’t wait to try this out.

  • Therese

    My favorite bakery/restaurant in Mong Kok (where the cakes originate) makes a banana version. It’s just as light with just a slight hint of banana.

  • http://shewhoeats.blogspot.com/ chika

    Well hello little chiffon cakes – I’ve long forgotten about them myself! Now that you’ve mentioned it, they sure make such a lovely summer treat. I’d add some grated citrus rinds and substitute part of the water with citrus juice for an even more summery touch. Yum!

    As far as chiffon cake goes, perhaps you wouldn’t want to line your pan(s) with parchment, as the idea of making chiffon is that you let the cake cool upside down without letting the airy cake shrink. So your pans need to be ale to hold the cake even when placed upside down, by having the batter cling to the sides of the pan. If your pans are lined with parchment, which is to make it easy to remove the cake from the pan, your cakes will pop straight off from the pans as soon as you invert them on the rack! (This is why a non-stick angel cake pan just won’t do for chiffon cake.)

    If you are to line the cake pan, maybe you’d just leave the cake cool with face up on the rack. I suspect the cake will still have a fairly light texture without the inverting trick. Or you could go for oven-proof coffee/tea cups as Jenn suggests, but without the peeling off the wrapper part. Tough choice!

    Thanks for reminding me of this nice little cake. Hope the renovation will be done ultra soon!

  • http://www.octopusgourmet.blogspot.com Lida

    nostalgia! although what you call chiffon cake, i call sponge cake. I used to take them to school every day in fourth grade… my friends would be so jealous that they would fight to lick the cake crumbs off the wrapper.
    a few months ago, we had them for dessert with raspberries, pistachios, pistachio ice cream, and mint. They’re very easy to dress up.

  • http://wiegottindeutschland.blogspot.com Véronique

    I’ve baked a Chiffon Cake recently, using a “moule à cake”, as it has close to parallel sides. It rose nicely. As there wasn’t water in my recipe, I’ll have to try yours. I’m lucky to have a Japanese pastry shop in my neighbourhood that sells the cakes (they are very popular amongst Japanese), but I’ve never found a form… Maybe they can be found at Kioko in Paris?

  • http://alexisthetiny.wordpress.com alexis

    Oooh, I love those cakes too, they’re an huge part of my childhood memories. Glad you put up a recipe for them, now I can get my fix without needing to fly to Singapore or Hong Kong. =)

  • Mrs Redboots

    These sound lovely!

    If you actually wanted a tube pan in your batterie de cuisine, they sell them on Amazon UK, which wouldn’t charge a huge amount to send to France

  • http://www.blackandwhiteair.blogspot.com/ Tal Stadler

    I love this kind of fluffy puffed cakes. I can eat them like bread…
    I thought this was more of a sponge cake really, and not a chiffon.
    I recently baked one myself, it was my nana’s recipe, and it’s quite similar to this one actually. nice.:)

  • gingerpale

    Trying to get this eggy cake out of an ungreased, *not* non-stick tube pan might be a problem–
    but I see that the tube pan you linked to has a removeable bottom, AND little “feet” that allow you to invert the pan (for upside-down cooling) without smooshing the dome.

  • sprocket

    Am I nuts or is chiffon cake the base of tres leches?

  • http://www.starrybluesky.wordpress.com Rhiannon

    Perfect picnic food ! Can’t wait to have a go…I liked Kayenne’s ideas too and the citrussy ideas from Chika.

  • E.

    Clotilde — I don’t know what it is about your recipes, but they beg to be made immediately. And, so I complied yesterday. I always buy the paper-wrapped cakes in Chinatown bakeries — usually called sponge cakes over here in Chicago — but it never occurred to me that I could make them myself. Not having any paper cups, I made it in a bundt cake pan and it turned out perfectly. The only problem is the lack of the automatic portion control feature that you get with paper cups or with paper-wrapped cakes. So eggy and light. Thanks!

    And good luck with the kitchen renovation. (By the way, my favorite line in a post filled with great lines was the reference to “living in California at the turn of the century”.)

  • http://appetiteforchina.com AppetiteforChina

    In Cantonese we call these “paper cup cakes.” I gobbled these up at my dad’s Chinese bakery when I was a kid. Thanks for the trip down memory lane!

  • http://lululuhomecooking.blogspot.com/ lululu

    I totally fell in love with this cake when I was in HK. “Eat a cloud” is just such a perfect description.

    Using paper cup just makes these little cakes cuter.

    :D

  • http://www.littlechefbigknife.blogspot.com EmmaC

    Clotilde–Do you know how long these will keep? That is to say, do they need to be eaten immediately, or could I make them the day before a dinner party?

    Thanks!

  • http://pariszc.blogspot.com/ Francophile

    I love the paper cups idea perfect for a childs party. I don’t know why, but when I am really craving cake… chiffon or white cake are my goto cakes.

    Well to be honest I really love wedding cake!

  • Mo

    Alton Brown had a recent episode on GOOD EATS about making chiffon (chocolate and vanilla) cupcakes in teacups. They looked so pretty! I haven’t had occasion to make them yet, but the episode is saved in the TIVO.

  • Jae Young

    I never bake these as I live so close to Chinatown and they are so cheap, I don’t even bother.

    I’m also glad to know that I am not the only one that loves pulling off the plastic sheet on the cell phone :)

  • Uma

    This is so nice. I recently moved to Mountain View from the east coast and now live 5 minutes from the Hong Kong bakery and have passed it a few times on my trips to Castro. Never tried it out, but now I must :). I’ve been reading your blog for a while but never commented before. I tried of your recipes for the first time last week, the yogurt blueberry cake and it was a huge hit with my family. Your blog is great, I love your writing.

  • http://www.livinginthekitchenwithpuppies.blogspot.com Natashya

    I have never had chiffon cake, it sounds wonderful. And they look so cute in their little cups.

  • Goran

    I made version with lemon zest and replaced part of the water with juice from one lemon. I didn’t have sticky tube pan or unwaxed paper cups so I used tin cake mold and two coffee cups. Everything looked fine but halfway through the baking the ones in coffee cups shrinked significantly. The one in mold didn’t shrink that much. Any ideas why?

  • Melissa

    These looked so delicious that I went to the store for more eggs and pastry flour to make some. Unfortunately, none of my local Tampa, Florida stores carry pastry flour – only cake and all-purpose. Sad times, but I’ll keep looking for pastry flour. I didn’t realize it was such a specialty item.

  • http://chocolateandzucchini.com clotilde

    EmmaC – They keep for a few days, but if I were to serve them at a dinner party, I would really bake them on the same day. They’ll taste a lot fresher.

    Goran – I’ve never tried the coffee cup solution, but I’m guessing the walls were too smooth for the batter to cling to them. What kind of cups did you use?

    Melissa – As stated in the recipe, cake flour is “soft” enough for these — perhaps you have time to run back to the store? :)

  • ciniminis

    Hmmm I am Chinese and have only known these as simple “sponge” cakes – “chiffon” makes it sound so much fancier! BTW, in the bakery shops back home in Taiwan, we would consider this western-style pastry. Only I’ve never found cakes as soft and moist (without needing to be soaked with simple syrup or alcohol) anywhere but in Asian bakeries when I lived in France and in the US.

  • Akemi

    I enjoy spending Sunday morning at Mountain View farmer’s market. I will stop by at Hong Kong Bakery to taste the chiffon cake next weekend. Thank you for the information, Clotilde! By the way I sometimes add pureed banana to my Chiffon cake batter for fun.

  • http://www.maggieyeh.com maggie

    substituting fresh squeezed OJ with some orange zest is a nice variation that gives a nice flavor too.

  • http://sharon.jaffin.us Sharon

    Where can one buy those paper cups? Wouldn’t they burn in the oven?
    Looks yummy!!!

  • http://www.oiyi.blogspot.com Oiyi

    The next time you are New York City, you must try the “paper cup cakes” at this tiny little whole in the wall bakery in ChinaTown. It’s off of Canal St on Baxter St.

    They make theirs into a oval shape with the wrapper and are smaller than the ones in the other bakeries. But the taste is much richer and you can taste the eggs in it. Absolutely fabulous.

  • http://bigeeesblog.blogspot.com Bridget

    Thanks for the tip on the Hong Kong Bakery. I’ll be checking it out as soon as possible. I love to find a good bakery!

  • http://chocolateandzucchini.com clotilde

    @Sharon – I bought my paper cups from a baking equipment store in Paris (Mora, in the 1st), but you can look for them at party supplies stores, too. And no — the temperature is not high enough for them to burn in the oven, fortunately.

  • Barbara Gene Cohen

    Hi Clotilde!
    I have been making this Featherlight Chocolate Chiffon cake in a large, straight-sided, tube cake tin with feet for 30 years! We never tire of it! I ice it with a rich chocolate icing and it’s a firm family favourite – the grandkids expect it at every birthday! It’s quick and easy to make. Here’s the recipe:
    Featherlight Chocolate Chiffon Cake
    (English measuements)
    1. Ingredients
    375 ml flour [1½ cups]
    375 ml castor sugar [1½ cups]
    3 TBSP cocoa {Dutch cocoa powder makes all the difference!}
    3 tsp baking powder
    185 ml oil [ ¾ cup]
    185 ml [ ¾ cup] boiling water

    Pre-heat oven to 180°C.
    1. Method
    Sift the 4 dry ingredients (all at once) into the bowl of your electric mixer, add the liquids and beat well for 3 minutes on slow speed.

    2. Ingredients
    6 eggs
    1½ tsp vanilla
    1½ tsp baking powder

    2. Method
    Separate the eggs, and place the yolks in a small bowl. Beat the yolks, add the vanilla and add this to the chocolate mixture. Beat well for 2 minutes on slow speed.

    In a separate bowl of your electric mixer, beat the egg whites on high speed, with the whisk attachment; add the extra baking powder, and beat until the egg whites are stiff but not dry. Then fold the egg white mixture gently into the chocolate mixture.

    Pour the cake mix into an UNGREASED chiffon (tube) tin with removable base (available at all good kitchen stores in Australia) and bake @ 180°C for 40 – 45 minutes. Invert the tin on a cake rack and allow the cake to fall from the tin when cold. If it does not fall, carefully loosen around the sides and around the centre tube and base with a pointed knife until it falls out of the tin.

    Ice the cake with a rich, chocolate icing
    or
    Sprinkle the cake with sifted icing sugar just before serving
    or
    Drizzle the cake with icing sugar mixed with a little water to form a smooth runny paste.
    Allow to harden before serving.
    Enjoy!
    All the best,
    Barbara G. Cohen, Sydney, Australia

  • Beth

    I grew up in a small town in Colorado and my grandma often served chiffon cakes for dessert – they are not easy to find! Chocolate, lemon or orange. Try those. Orange were/are my favorite. I am going to try yours. I like the little cup idea. Ours were always in tube pans.

  • http://www.globaltestmarket.com Stephanie

    I love these little cups! I’ve never made anything in them–but how different is it, really, than a muffin cup?

  • Rosa

    This is kind of a weird post but how do you take such bright food pictures?

  • http://saraskitchen.blogspot.com Sara

    I live near San Francisco, so I am lucky enough to have access to these cakes on a fairly regular basis. I like plain and lemon filled the best.

  • http://www.mingcyn.blogspot.com cyn

    hi clotilde, we have a version called pandan chiffon cake and it’s tres delicieux. if you should come across screwpine leaves you can try spiking your cake with this. awesome stuff.

  • http://theartinquirer.blogspot.com José

    Hi,

    This seems like what we call here in Portugal, Pão de Ló.
    Pão in portuguese means bread, but in this case is a cake.
    However the size is of a regular cake.
    Some versions have fresh creamy egg yolk

    Kind regards,

    José

  • http://www.thequeenofcakes.blogspot.com Pinky

    I love the idea of baking these in cups. I’ve never seen that before.
    A few people mentioned sponge cakes. Just an fyi, sponge cake is made with butter while chiffon uses oil. Other than that they are pretty much the same thing. And to the person who mentioned tres leche, yes chiffon is a standard base.
    At the bakery where I work all of our vanilla cakes are chiffon, and we make one chocolate chiffon. We bake them in standard ol’ cake pans. So if you don’t have a tube pan fear not. Just make sure it isn’t non-stick and is extra clean. And the inverting trick isn’t crucial. They may stay a touch lighter, but it’s hard to notice.

  • http://anon anon

    how many people does this serve?

  • Celine

    If you line the paper cups, each with a single piece of baking paper,and do everthing the same itll turn into paper wrapped cakes!(and you can reuse the cups and not worry about eating paper chemicals)

  • http://chocolateandzucchini.com clotilde

    Barbara – Thanks for sharing your recipe!

    Anon – The recipe makes 14 cakes, and depending on how hungry people are they may eat one or two in a single sitting.

  • Namia

    OMG! paper cups… GENIUS!?! Now I could make this and transport it easily for parties! I am SO excited to see this recipe.. I will definitely make this recipe! I am really excited bcs ever since I moved to the middle of nowhere, I have not had all the yummy ethnic desserts from southern California and had to drool over pictures to curb my cravings! I was wondering how you would modify the recipe if you wanted to make a strawberry chiffon cake? Would you reduce the water and mix in strawberry puree? I wonder what would happen if I added a dollop of strawberry jam in the middle before baking?

  • http://seasaltwithfood.blogspot.com seasaltwithfod

    I must try bake chiffon cake with paper cups too. They look so presentable and not to mentioned delicious too.

  • http://www.justsmartliving.net/blog Just Smart Living

    These look amazing! I love Angel Food Cake, but I’ve often wished it was lighter and fluffier – this seems like the perfect answer for me!

  • Antonia

    High-sided little cakes? reminds me of Bourdeaux canneles. I had these for the first time at a friend’s this August – she was from the region and wouldn’t (of course) part with her family recipe but they left everyone wanting more. She has found getting hold of the moulds very hard though.

  • http://mollysrecipes.blogspot.com/ Molly Whitcomb

    I used to live in Hong Kong, and I was very fond of those cakes, which were called Portuguese cakes at the bakery I got them from in Tsim Sha Choi. I’ve always wanted to make them, but the little cups are far too expensive. But today I’m making a chiffon cake and the recipe is almost exactly the same. I guess I could put them in muffin tins.

  • http://kokken69.blogspot.com/ køkken69

    Chiffon cakes are my favourite and the Japanese do it best, without levening agents and stabilisers- the success of which will really hinge on how well you can stabilise the egg white.

  • the N

    I really hope you reads this, and give me an answer, because I would really enjoy trying this recepy… You write” Preheat the oven to 170°C (340°F) and have ready 14 sturdy unwaxed 120-ml (1-cup) paper cups, ungreased”.
    Won’t the paper cups burn up in the oven? How do you know that they won’t when you are going to buy some? You know, I do trust you, but I’m getting anxios. PS, sorry for my english, I’m a Norwegian, hhaha. PS: Love your bakingskills and ideas! Love from your Norwegian fan

    • http://chocolateandzucchini.com clotilde

      No, the paper cups won’t burn in the oven!

  • the N

    btw, how many cups do you need? Papercups :p Haha, great idea!

    Loooove the Norwegian

  • Kiri

    These are also great with matcha (green tea powder) flavouring! :b

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