Cinnamon, aniseed, cloves, ginger, and fennel seed, ground together to make one of the many variations of Chinese five-spice powder, may sound like an odd combination in conjunction with chocolate. Not so. The blend adds a mysterious, subtle, appealing flavor to this moist, light chiffon cake.–Elinor Klivans
Chiffon Cake Primer Note
Chiffon cakes bake in a large, ungreased tube pan. This allows the cake to climb up the sides of the pan and remain there while it cools. (I once greased a pan by mistake. The cake rose extremely high, then slid down the pan and collapsed as soon as it came out of the oven. Avoid nonstick tube pans for the same reason.) Chiffon cakes then cool in the pan while turned upside down so they do not collapse under their own weight. Although delicate when warm, chiffon cakes are quite sturdy once they cool.
Chinese Five-Spice Chocolate Chiffon Cake
For the chocolate chiffon cake
- 1 3/4 cups cake flour
- 1/2 cup unsweetened Dutch-process cocoa powder
- 1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
- 2 1/2 teaspoon five-spice powder
- 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 2 teaspoons baking powder
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 cup canola or corn oil or other mild vegetable oil
- 7 large eggs separated
- 3/4 cup water
- 1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
- 1 teaspoon cream of tartar
- 6 ounces milk chocolate finely chopped
For the chocolate glaze
- 1/3 cup heavy cream
- 1 teaspoon corn syrup
- 6 ounces milk chocolate chopped
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
For the final five-spice flourish
- 3/4 teaspoon five spice powder for dusting
Make the chocolate chiffon cake
- Preheat the oven to 325°F (165°C). Line the bottom of the pan with parchment paper.
- In a large bowl, sift the flour, cocoa powder, 1 cup of the sugar, the five spice powder, cinnamon, baking powder, and salt. Use a large spoon to make a well in the center of the flour mixture.
- Add the oil, egg yolks, water, and vanilla to the well and combine the liquid ingredients, then gradually begin to draw in the flour ingredients. Switch to an electric mixer on medium speed and beat the mixture until smooth and thick, about 3 minutes. Stop the mixer and scrape the sides of the bowl as needed.
- In a large bowl using clean beaters, beat the egg whites and cream of tartar on low speed until the whites are foamy and the cream of tartar dissolves. Increase the speed to medium and beat the egg whites until they look shiny and smooth and the beaters leave lines in the whites. When you stop the mixer and lift the beaters, the beaten whites should cling to 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 form firm, glossy peaks, about 1 minute.
- Use a rubber spatula to fold the chopped milk chocolate into the reserved cocoa and egg yolk mixture. Stir about 1/3 of the beaten whites into the yolk mixture, then gently fold in the remaining whites until no white streaks remain. Scrape the batter into the prepared pan and gently smooth the top.
- Bake until the top of the cake feels firm when lightly touched and any small cracks on the top look dry, about 1 hour and 10 minutes. Invert the pan onto a narrow-necked bottle (a full wine bottle works well) and let cool for 1 hour.
- Turn the pan right side up and run a thin, sharp knife around the side of the pan and the center tube to loosen the cake. Turn the cake onto a wire rack so it is bottom up. Cool the cake thoroughly on the wire rack.
Make the chocolate glaze
- In a medium saucepan over low heat, heat the cream and corn syrup over low heat just until the cream is hot. Do not let the mixture boil. Remove the pan from the heat.
- Immediately add the milk chocolate to the cream and let set until the chocolate softens, about 30 seconds. Whisk until the chocolate is melted and smooth. Stir in the vanilla.
Give the cake its final five-spice flourish
- Use a thin metal spatula to spread the glaze over the top of the cooled cake, letting it dribble down the sides. Let the glaze firm for about 1 hour.
- Place the five spice powder in a small strainer and dust it lightly and evenly over the glaze. Slip a large metal spatula or 2 smaller spatulas under the cake and slide it onto a serving plate. Cut the cake into slices using a serrated knife. The cake can be covered and stored at room temperature for up to 3 days.
Recipe Testers’ Reviews
I love chiffon cakes (mainly because I don’t end up with leftover yolks or egg whites), and this one turned out beautifully: light and fluffy, with a nice crumb and slight chew. After cooling, the cake ended up a little dry. In retrospect, I’d probably leave the chocolate bits out (or melt them down and fold into the yolk batter) and pull the cake after an hour of baking. Everyone loved the subtle five-spice flavor, and sprinkling it over the glaze was so lovely. The glaze was so easy to make and when it cooled, it was firm and glossy—so if you glaze the cake ahead of time, it’ll firm up enough to cover with plastic wrap without messing up the finish. I loved this cake so much, I kept sneaking slices over the weekend. I served it with malted ice cream (vanilla ice cream made with malt syrup) and it complemented the chocolate very nicely. The directions don’t specifically say to remove the parchment paper from the bottom, but this is an obvious thing to do. I also didn’t invert the cake before spreading the glaze, but it all turned out fine.
This cake is like eating a chocolate cloud. The spicing is subtle, not too assertive, enough to render it chocolatey but not ultra-chocolatey. Due to unexpected oven problems, I’m not able to say whether the cooking time is correct. What saved me, however, are the alternative instructions for determining doneness (i.e., firm to the touch, and any cracks on top are dry). With these directions and a bit of guesswork, I ended up with a moist cake that was perfectly done. I really appreciate recipes that provide multiple ways of determining doneness, and this was a perfect example of why. The recipe is resilient, which surprised me a bit, given the critical role of egg whites. Despite my problems with execution, this was a delicious, wonderfully soft cake. As I was preparing, baking, and waiting to glaze the cake, the aroma of five-spice powder pervaded my kitchen. I became concerned that it would be too strong a flavor in the final cake, but my concerns were unfounded. It was just right.
Just a note: the five-spice powder I used wasn’t incredibly fresh, though it wasn’t terribly old, either. It’s possible that very fresh five-spice powder might come through more strongly.
Originally published October 08, 2010