Chiffon cakes are, as the originator Harry Baker said, “something cosmic.” A chiffon cake is in the family of aerated, egg-based foam cakes – like sponges and angel food cakes – all sky-high and light. With the addition of oil, a chiffon cake bakes up into one of the most versatile cakes in the baking repertoire.
They’re great with a simple glaze; they can be cut in half and filled with flavored whipped cream, mascarpone or custard; or used instead of ladyfingers in a charlotte or trifle.
Olive oil cakes also are having a well-deserved resurgence. Olives are a fruit, after all, and although we think of it with savory Mediterranean foods, its underlying sweetness makes it a wonderful choice for baking when you want the flavor to sing. Meyer lemons are a very special fruit. With their famously smooth and orange-tinged skin, they still pack a tart, lemony wallop. Together, the pairing just works.
Chiffon cakes become a sensation after Baker invented them in 1920s. They aren’t that common anymore, but maybe, just maybe, this recipe can restart the great chiffon revolution.
Meyer Lemon-Olive Oil Chiffon Cake
2 1/4 cups (279 grams) cake flour
1 tablespoon (15 grams) double-acting baking powder
1/2 teaspoon (3 grams) salt
6 lemons (1 pound), preferably Meyer lemons
About 1/4 cup water (2 ounces/59 grams) or more
1 1/2 cups (306 grams) granulated sugar
7 large egg yolks
1/2 cup (207 grams) extra-virgin olive oil
2 teaspoons (10 grams) vanilla bean paste or extract
10 large egg whites
1 teaspoon (4 grams) cream of tartar
2 cups (254 grams) confectioners’ sugar
4 tablespoons milk, or more as needed
Zest of 1 lemon
Position an oven rack in the center of the oven and preheat oven to 325 degrees.
Place a sheet of parchment paper on a work surface and sift the flour, baking powder and salt onto it. Set aside.
Zest the Meyer lemons. Squeeze the juice and strain into a glass measuring cup. You should have about 1/2 cup. Add enough water to make 3/4 cup. Set aside.
Pour the sugar into the food processor and process for about 30 seconds until it is light and fine. Scoop about 1/2 cup processed sugar into a small container and set aside.
In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a whisk attachment, combine 1 cup sugar and egg yolks and mix at medium speed for about 3 minutes, until it is thick, light in color and texture, and creates ribbons when the whisk is lifted. Add the oil and vanilla and mix until well combined.
Add 1/3 of the flour mixture and half the juice mixture, and mix to combine. Add another 1/3 of the flour mixture and the juice and zest mixture and mix to combine, and then the remaining flour, mixing to combine. Pour into a large mixing bowl, scraping the bottom, and set aside.
Clean the stand mixer bowl and whisk with hot soap and water and dry well.
Add the egg whites to the clean bowl and beat medium speed until they are foamy. Add the cream of tartar, and mix at medium until the mixture forms soft peaks. Add the remaining sugar a little at a time, and beat the whites until they hold stiff, glossy peaks.
Stir 1/3 of the whites gently into the batter to lighten it. Fold in half of the remaining whites until there are a few streaks remaining. Fold in the last of the egg whites just until mixed.
Spoon the batter into an ungreased 10- by 4-inch tube pan with a removable bottom. Bake 50 to 55 minutes, or until a tester or toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.
Invert the pan immediately onto a cooling rack. Let the cake cool completely in the pan.
When ready to serve, turn the cake upright on the rack, and run a thin flexible knife or offset spatula around the outer and inner edges of the pan. Turn the cake out onto a serving plate.
In a small bowl, whisk the sugar, milk and lemon zest until blended. Drizzle liberally over the cake, letting it drip down the sides.