'The true cook is the perfect blend, the only perfect blend, of artist and philosopher. He knows his worth: he holds in his palm the happiness of mankind, the welfare of generations yet unborn.'

Tuesday, 28 May 2013

Cocoa chiffon cake

I've been making quite a lot of cakes lately. Soft, billowy sponge cakes are the perfect snack to nibble on in summer. Even though the actual process of making cakes requires more work than cookies, at the end of the day you are just responsible for making one 'thing'. For some reason I find the whole process of dividing up a cookie dough into individual cookies strangely tiring, so I tend to shy away from making cookies unless I have an insatiable craving or upon my friends' request.

Chiffon cakes, in particular, are a cinch to make. True, you have to whip up the egg whites, but so long as you make sure your bowl and beaters are clean and use a bit of cream of tartar to stabilise the meringue, it's almost fail-proof. It's much easier than génoise and what I love about it is that it is fantastic served on its own. You can of course glaze it but it's entirely optional.

Chocolate is my favourite flavour of all and here's my rendition of it in the form of a chiffon cake. It's essentially 'basic' - it uses only cocoa powder so it's light enough for people who aren't crazy about chocolate (and trust me, there're more out there than you think!).

Cocoa chiffon cake

Refer to my coffee chiffon cake for pictures of the steps!

70g (2/3 cup) cocoa powder, preferably natural (not Dutch-processed)
180ml (3/4 cup) boiling water
180g (1 3/4 cup) cake or all-purpose flour (sifted before measuring if you're using cup measurement)
2 tsp baking powder
130g (1/2 cup plus 2 tbsp) sugar, preferably brown
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp cream of tartar, or 1 tsp white vinegar or lemon juice
120g (1/2 cup) vegetable oil
6 large eggs, separated, + 4 additional whites, at room temperature

A 10-inch two-piece metal tube pan, do not grease!

Set a rack in the bottom third of the oven and preheat to 170C/325F.

1. In a large bowl mix the cocoa and boiling water, and whisk until smooth. Set aside to cool, at least 20 minutes. You will be using this bowl for the base of the cake - you'll be adding yolks, oil and flour to it later, so make sure the bowl is roomy enough.

2. In another medium-sized bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder and 2 tablespoons of the sugar. Whisk well to loosen the mixture.

3. Now separate the egg yolks and whites: you'll need three bowls. Add the yolks to the bowl containing the cocoa mixture; a small bowl for each individual egg white you separate from the yolks; and a very large, clean and grease-free bowl which you will use to beat the meringue. Only pour each egg white from the small bowl to the large bowl if you see that there is no trace of egg yolk in that particular egg white. If you dump all the egg whites into the large bowl directly, you will have to start afresh in case any yolk leaks to the egg whites. Save the four leftover yolks for another use.

4. Add salt and oil to the bowl containing the yolks and cocoa mixture. Mix well to combine with a whisk.

5. Now beat the large bowl containing the egg whites to a meringue. Start on medium speed, add the cream of tartar/lemon juice/vinegar when it's frothy. Continue beating until soft peaks form when the beater is raised. Add the remaining sugar (100g or 1/2 cup) gradually until stiff (but not dry) peaks form when the beater is raised slowly.

6. Add all the flour at once to the cocoa-yolk mixture. Use a wire whisk to mix them just until smooth, starting from the centre and gradually increase your range of motion until you each the sides of the bowl. When it's homogeneous and you see a smooth batter, stop! You don't want to activate too much gluten.

7. Add a little of the meringue into the cocoa batter, mixing the two mixtures with a big spatula to lighten up the batter before folding in the rest of the meringue.

8. Fold in the rest of the meringue gradually with your spatula. Be careful not to knock out the precious air bubbles.

9. Pour the batter into the tube pan. Smooth the top with the spatula.

10. Bake in the preheated oven for 55 minutes, or until a skewer inserted in the centre comes out clean and the cake springs back when lightly pressed in the centre. (The timing is pretty accurate though.)

11. When time is up, take the cake pan out from the oven, and immediately invert the pan, placing the tube opening over the neck of a bottle to suspend it well above the counter. Cool the cake completely in the pan, at least 3 hours.

12. When the cake is completely cool, loosen the side with a long knife or metal spatula. Do the same with the inner side. Dislodge the pan and run your knife between the bottom of the pan and the cake. To keep the sides attractive, press the knife against the sides and avoid up-and-down motions. Invert onto a plate and revert again so that it's the right side up.

I couldn't resist glazing it to make it more chocolatey...

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