Chiffon cake is a classic and for good reason. Beaten egg whites give the cake its light, airy, lofty texture, egg yolks give it body, and the secret ingredient–vegetable oil–lends tenderness. For a citrus boost, drizzle the cake with lemon icing. From the venerable Joy of Cooking.
Chiffon cake with lemon icing was reputedly created for the Brown Derby Restaurant by insurance salesman Henry Baker in the late ’20s. And it’s been an American classic ever since. One taste of its lightly citrusy loveliness and you’ll understand why it’s a classic. Originally published April 21, 1997.–Renee Schettler Rossi
In a large bowl, stir together the cake flour, 1 1/4 cups sugar, baking powder, and salt.
In another bowl with a standing mixer on high speed, beat the egg yolks, water, vegetable oil, lemon zest, and vanilla until smooth. Stir this into the flour mixture and keep stirring until the batter is smooth.
In a third bowl with the stand mixer on medium speed and with clean beaters, beat the egg whites and cream of tartar until soft peaks form. Gradually add the remaining 1/4 cup sugar, switch to high speed, and beat until stiff but not dry peaks form.
Using a rubber spatula, gently fold 1/4 of the beaten egg whites into the batter to lighten it. Then gently fold in the remaining whites. Carefully scrape the batter into an unbuttered 10-inch tube pan with a removable bottom and use the spatula to smooth the surface. Bake the cake until the top springs back when lightly pressed and a cake tester, toothpick, or strand of spaghetti inserted in the center comes out clean, 55 to 65 minutes.
Turn the pan with the cake upside down, propping the tube of the pan on a long slender bottle or resting the pan on four short glasses. Let the cake cool in the pan for 1 1/2 hours.
To unmold the cake, slide a thin knife around the cake to detach it from the pan, pressing the knife against the pan to avoid tearing the cake. Repeat to delicately detach the cake from the center tube. Then pull the tube upward. The cake should release from the sides of the pan. Slide the knife under the cake to detach it from the bottom. Place a wire cooling rack or a plate over the top of the cake pan, turn the cake pan and rack or plate upside down, and let the cake drop onto the rack or plate. Turn the cake right side up and place it on a rack to cool completely before icing it.
Make the icing
Melt the butter in the top of a double boiler or a bowl set over but not touching gently simmering water. Remove from the heat and stir in the confectioners sugar, lemon juice, zest, and salt until smooth. Return the pan to the heat and warm the icing over barely simmering water, stirring occasionally, for 5 minutes. Remove from the heat and stir in the vanilla.
Beat the icing briefly if you want a pourable glaze or for several minutes until completely cool if you want a thicker, spreadable icing. You can place the pan in a larger pan filled halfway with ice water to quicken the cooling process.
Drizzle or spread the icing over the cooled cake. Let set before serving.