Wednesday, June 12, 2013
Some things in life are just worth the trouble.
Things like chiffon cakes, for example. In reality, they are no trouble at all. There's no need to grease and flour the tin, no butter to soften and worry about over softening, no frosting to be fussed over after the cake is done. But the chiffon requires concentration nonetheless, for that business of separating nine eggs never fails to make me think "Why am I doing this?" or "Please egg yolk don't break on me." for five long minutes.
Two out of ten times, a rogue sun-shiny yolk breaks, and my dinner immediately involves egg drop soup. Then there's this thing about the perfect meringue, a little over soft peaks and not quite stiff yet. You'll know how right it is when you fold it into the flour mixture.
After baking two, not one pandan chiffon cakes for orders and not being able to eat even a slice of them, I made a third chiffon. A chocolate one, so Vijay and I would both love it and I wouldn't end up eating the entire cake alone (although, at the time of writing, I ate more than half the cake already). The recipe was given to me by Shirley a long time ago, but never forgotten.
This one depends entirely on the meringue, as there are no other leavening agents in the cake. I believe the source is Japanese, as they have perfected the chiffon method to be based entirely on technique, with various recipe proportions depending on the size of the cake. To understand the texture of a good meringue, I suggest practicing it by hand, taking your time as you go, and carefully observing the changes as more air is gradually incorporated into the fluffy egg whites.
Mimicking this similar process with a machine will require some practice, depending on the speed and strength of your beaters. Starting the meringue slow and giving it more time will yield better results, although, as every experienced baker knows, can never be on par with the hand-beaten meringue. Some things in life are just worth the trouble.
I finally picked up serious reading again, Lee Kuan Yew's memoir The Singapore Story currently riveting my out-of-kitchen moments. Reading memoirs, like baking and eating chiffon cakes, invokes reflections of my own childhood, some memories best forgotten, others breaking a smile.
As I reach for the knife and another dollop of freshly whipped cream, as the bittersweet chocolate melds with tart strawberry slices in my mouth, I find solace and thank God for the small pleasures of life, worth the trouble.
(A Better) Chocolate Chiffon Cake
Recipe adapted from a good friend, Shirley @Kokken.
Yield 1 20-cm chiffon cake.
Note: Changes made to the recipe - brewed coffee/espresso replacing brandy and dark chocolate in place of semi sweet. The result is surprising sweet enough despite the fact that I used Valrhona cocoa and chocolate, which can come across as too acidic for some.
Preheat oven to 170°C, with a wire rack at the lower third and prepare a 20-21 cm chiffon cake tin.
- 60 grams semi sweet chocolate
- 100 milliliters salad oil
- 80 grams top flour
- 80 grams cocoa powder
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 80 grams egg yolk (from about 5 eggs)
- 80 grams caster sugar (A)
- 160 milliliters water
- 2 tablespoons brewed espresso/coffee
- 280 grams egg white (from about 9 eggs)
- 60 grams caster sugar (B)
Over a bain marie, melt the chocolate in salad oil until smooth and set aside to cool. Meanwhile sift together flour, cocoa powder and salt. In a large bowl, whisk the egg yolks and 1/3 of sugar A until sugar is completely dissolved. Add the remaining sugar A in two additions, each time mixing the well until sugar completely dissolves. Add in the melted chocolate and mix until smooth. Add in water and coffee. Fold in the sifted dry ingredients.
In a separate bowl, beat egg whites with sugar B until soft peaks are formed, either by hand or an electric mixer. (Add sugar in three additions.) Fold in 1/3 of the meringue quickly with the chocolate and flour mixture. Fold in the rest of meringue lightly, taking care not to over-mix. Pour batter into chiffon tin and bake for 45-50 minutes or until tester inserted into the center of cake comes out clean.
Cool the cake upright on a wire rack for 5 minutes before inverting it over to cool completely. Remove from tin using a thin knife, serve with strawberries and whipped cream if desired.
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