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

Five-Spice Chocolate Chiffon Cake FAQs

What is Chinese five-spive powder?

Chinese five-spice powder is a mix of five or more spices commonly used in Chinese cooking. It usually includes star anise, cloves, fennel cinnamon, and Sichuan pepper, although it can include other spices.

How do I keep my chiffon cake form sinking?

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. (Don’t grease your pan by mistake. The cake will rise extremely high, then slide down the pan and collapse as soon as it comes 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 don’t collapse under their own weight. Although delicate when warm, chiffon cakes are quite sturdy once they cool.

A Chinese five-spice chocolate chiffon cake on a wire rack, being drizzled with chocolate glaze from a yellow pitcher.

Five-Spice Chocolate Chiffon Cake

4.86 / 7 votes
Five-spice chocolate chiffon cake bakes up impossibly high, with a tender crumb and a not-too-intense chocolate flavour. The addition of five-spice powder adds a gentle warming touch while the chocolate glaze takes the whole thing to even loftier heights.
David Leite
Servings12 servings
Calories471 kcal
Prep Time45 minutes
Cook Time3 hours 10 minutes
Total Time3 hours 55 minutes


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


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, remove parchment paper. 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.
Chocolate Cakes by Elinor Klivans

Adapted From

Chocolate Cakes

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Serving: 1 servingCalories: 471 kcalCarbohydrates: 60 gProtein: 8 gFat: 25 gSaturated Fat: 9 gMonounsaturated Fat: 11 gTrans Fat: 1 gCholesterol: 118 mgSodium: 149 mgFiber: 3 gSugar: 41 g

Nutrition information is automatically calculated, so should only be used as an approximation.

Tried this recipe?Mention @leitesculinaria or tag #leitesculinaria!
Recipe © 2010 Elinor Klivans. Photo © 2010 Ann Stratton. All rights reserved.

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. 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.

About David Leite

I count myself lucky to have received three James Beard Awards for my writing as well as for Leite’s Culinaria. My work has also appeared in The New York Times, Martha Stewart Living, Saveur, Bon Appétit, Gourmet, Food & Wine, Yankee, Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, The Washington Post, and more.

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Recipe Rating


  1. I love chocolate and five-spice. Sad to say I don’t see it more often. I usually steep the spices whole into cream for truffles and then roll them in cocoa cut with five-spice. Loves it. However, I dig the idea of putting something so edgy in a delicate chiffon cake.

      1. I’m all ears for that, Garrett. Ran a chocolate shop for a few years and ganache became my manna!

  2. 5 stars
    This cake looks wonderful and I can’t wait to try it. My only question is will the batter seep through my 2 piece angelfood pan or do I have to go out and buy a one piece pan just for this recipe?

    1. Unfortunately, there’s no way to be certain without actually trying it. Although the point of these 2-piece pans is to contain batter, so I’d be hopeful…

    2. Hi there,

      I had no problem with using my 2-piece angelfood pan. Well, no seepage–my tale of woe was that it was non-stick, which the recipe says is verboten (SP.?). I can’t afford to run out and buy another. The cake is still lovely and delicious (or so I’m told), but not light and airy. On the dense side.

      1. Thanks, Judith. My angel food cake pan is an ancient aluminum pan made way before nonstick was invented. I’ve used it only a few times, but for this cake I’ll take it out of retirement and hope for the best.