In the process of writing my book I have unsurprisingly accrued a big list of cakes I’d like to make; some because they sound tasty, some because they are simply intriguing, or even downright whacky. This one was bumped up the list by a marginal note from my publisher: ‘sounds foul – have you tried it?’
The cake in question was Chiffon Cake, a speciality which is quite well known in the States, but not at all in the UK. The reason that my publisher was so unimpressed was because its key ingredient is salad oil; not too inviting a selling point, I’ll agree. But in fact it was wildly popular when it started to appear at uptown Hollywood parties because of its softness and moistness. It was invented – so legend goes at least – by a man named Harry Baker. His name was his best claim to cake-baking; he was actually an insurance salesman by profession, but it seems that by replacing butter with oil in a Pound Cake recipe he had hit on a winning formula. It was a formula he kept secret for many years, selling it to the flour company General Mills in 1947. General Mills released the recipe in 1948 in an article in Better Homes and Gardens Magazine, and then in a recipe booklet called Betty Crocker Chiffon Cake Recipes and Secrets, all, naturally, featuring its own brand of Softasilk Cake Flour. The Betty Crocker Cookbook summed up the charms of the Chiffon Cake in the words, ‘Light as angel food, rich as butter cake’.
And is the 1940s hype to be believed? Well I did give it a go and the answer in our household was absolutely, yes. It really does produce a best-of-all-worlds cake, soft and rich, and both light and substantial enough to feel like you’re eating a good slice. There are many many flavour variations on Chiffon Cake now; I kept mine simple, though I must admit that I now can’t remember exactly which recipe I used!
For more[i] For more on the history of Chiffon Cake see http://whatscookingamerica.net/History/Cakes/ChiffonCake; http://www.foodtimeline.org/foodcakes.html#chiffoncake