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Thursday, September 6, 2012

spiced chocolate chiffon cake.

There was a time way before I became obsessed with butter and frosting-laden cakes, I was pretty enthusiastic about chiffon cakes. I allude it to their simplicity and challenges they pose.

Chiffon cakes are hardly meant to be heavy and rich cakes. In fact, they are mostly eaten sans frosting. The tube pans they are originally baked in adds a touch of uniqueness such that frosting is not always necessary to beautify the cake.

Of course, chiffon cakes are definitely not the easiest cakes to make. The greatest obstacle comes in the form of whisking and folding in the egg whites. Under-whisk and risk fallen cakes; over-whisk and the egg whites will curdle and break down, and using them in the cake will no doubt lead to disastrous results. Once the whisking hurdle has been passed, you have another issue. The folding. Over zealous attempts in trying to incorporate those whites will cause the egg whites to deflate, and you'll end up with a denser cake. Under-folding means that you will have streaks of meringue interspersed throughout the cake, which is not that bad a thing, but some parts of the cake will be denser and heavier because the batter has not been evenly mixed.

So here you see the major cons of baking chiffons. No doubt I'd failed many times before because of the finicky egg whites, but every failure only motivated me further to get that damn cake right. After countless attempts and thousands of calories, I finally succeeded. But by that time, I wished to never have another chiffon cake in sight. Hence the lack of chiffon cake recipes on this blog.

Which is why I think it is time for one.

I chanced upon a Chinese Five Spice Chocolate Chiffon Cake recipe by Elinor Klivans some time ago. I love five spice and especially when combined with chocolate, so it went onto my to-bake list and now I can finally check it off.

I didn't follow the recipe quite that closely. For one, I didn't have five spice powder and I wasn't about to buy a bottle to use just a few spoonfuls of it. Instead, I fashioned my own blend of spices with allspice and ground white pepper to mimic chinese five spice. It is definitely not close to what real five spice is, but I was trying to go for the chocolate and spice combination in general, not specifically five spice.

The cake turned out fluffy but not as soft as I like my chiffon cakes to be, probably due to the use of more flour. I also believe that chiffon cakes are not supposed to contain baking powder. They are supposed to rely on the beaten egg whites for leavening. Hence you could say that this is not a true chiffon cake. Baking powder is commonly used as a "safety net" of sorts- in case the egg whites deflate, the cake would still rise at least a little. But this is a minor quibble.

I was a little disappointed with the flavour because the spices were not apparent enough. Sure they showed up enough to let you know that there's more to this chocolate cake then it seemed, but it was hard to detect exactly what spices there were in the cake. It would be better if the spices could unleash their full potential by first stirring them into some hot water before adding them into the batter.

The chopped milk chocolate that went into the batter puzzled me a little. I'm not sure if it was meant to dissolve completely into the batter, which means that it would be the same as mixing in melted chocolate, or meant to be super tiny chocolate chips. I say that because my chocolate did not meld homogeneously into the the batter. Most of them sank to the bottom, which you can probably tell from the picture here. Nah, actually I scraped those off the bottom of the tin and pasted them on top of the cake. Not very intentional but they sure do look good there.

Spiced Chocolate Chiffon Cake
slightly adapted from Elinor Klivan's recipe
makes a 9 1/2 or 10 inch cake

To make the original Chinese Five Spice Chocolate Chiffon Cake, replace the ground all spice and ground white pepper with 2 1/2 teaspoons of chinese five spice powder.

1 3/4 cups cake flour
1/2 cup unsweetened Dutch-process cocoa powder
1 1/2 cups sugar
2 1/4 tsp ground allspice
1/4 tsp ground white pepper
1/2 tsp cinnamon
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 cup oil
7 large eggs, separated
1/2 cup room temperature water + 1/4 cup boiling water
1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1 tsp cream or tartar
6 ounces milk chocolate, finely chopped

Preheat oven to 325F. Have a 9 1/2 inch or 10 inch tube pan ready. There's no need to grease it.

Combine the 1/4 cup boiling water and spices together in a small bowl. Set aside to cool.

Sift the flour, cocoa powder, 1 cup of sugar, baking powder and salt into a bowl.

Combine the oil, egg yolks, 1/2 cup water, water with spices and vanilla in a bowl. Pour this mixture into the dry ingredients and mix both of them to combine. Do not overmix. Fold in the chopped milk chocolate.

Whisk the egg whites and cream of tartar on low speed until the whites are foamy and cream of tartar dissolves. Increase the speed to medium and whisk until the whites look shiny and smooth and the beaters leave lines in them. Increase the speed to high and slowly beat in the remaining 1/2 cup sugar, 1 tablespoon at a time. Beat until the whites reach stiff peaks.

Take 1/3 of the egg whites and whisk it into the chocolate mixture to lighten. Gently fold in the remaining egg whites until no white streaks remain. Scrape the batter into the pan and smooth the top.

Bake for about 1 hour and 10 minutes or until the top of the cake feels firm when lightly touched. Invert the pan onto a cooling rack and let cool completely before unmolding.


  1. you're right, chiffon cakes are very hard to make! yours came out so beautifully!

  2. I don't usually dive in to sweets and also don't usually care for chocolate cakes but my mouth is watering looking at this!!!!! Lovely!

  3. This takes me back. My mom was a chiffon cake baking freak but only if we were really good would she make a chocolate chiffon cake. I think I'm going to give this recipe a try. Thanks!