I got up yesterday feeling all happy, Spring-ish and Bake-y. So, taking a “Q” from Q_thechef (who keeps on top of these things), I checked the food holidays for March 30 to see if I could bake something in Honor of the Day. Alas, I found that March 29 was Lemon Chiffon Cake Day. I had missed a baking day and shot right over to Turkey Neck Soup Day. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy turkey soup, and I have used necks to make my stock before, but it wasn’t exactly what I had in mind.
My friend, BA from Asian in America suggested that I ignore Turkey Neck Soup Day (sorry, TNSD) and make a lemon chiffon cake anyway. I thought it a Banner Idea, but rather than just make a standard chiffon cake, I thought I’d pull out my lemon olive oil cake. Now, when I say “my” I don’t mean that I came up with it all by myself. The original recipe is available to All and Sundry on Epicurious.
I used to make this as wee individual loaf cakes at the restaurant. I added lemon verbena to the batter, soaked the cakes with a lemon verbena-mint syrup and served them with milk sorbet. It was a Rather Nice and Spring-ish dessert. So I thought I’d revisit the recipe for old times’ sake. And because it is very lemony and delightful.
Since this cake is leavened solely by steam (whipped yolks and whites), you must be very, very thorough during the Whipping Stages. Also, I’d suggest that you bake these in individual forms. They rise up shockingly high, and then like a soufflé (which these guys kind of are), they schlump back down. The final cake tends to have buckled sides and looks kind of like a slouchy granny hat. Which has a certain Charm, I must admit.
Next time, I might try experimenting with rigging the pan so I can cool it upside down like an angel food cake to see if it will retain its volume. Regardless, know that as long as it is fully baked, if it falls a bit, that’s just How It Is.
What you’ll end up with is a cake with a paradoxically light and heavy texture. Because it collapses as it cools, the crumb is so fine that the cake melts in your mouth. Even when completely cool (although I like to serve it warm). It’s good stuff, and I highly recommend you make it. Use a good quality extra virgin olive oil as the flavor really shines through. If you have some special flavored olive oil (not Meat Flavored or anything) try using that.
And do make sure you whip the Ever Loving Mess out of both your yolks and your whites. The yolks should be whipped to creamy, pale thickness. Scrape the bowl–all the way down to the bottom–several times during whipping. The whole process should take at least 5-7 minutes. Longer is just fine. Whip the whites to glossy medium-stiff peaks. Timing is important here, because once the whites have achieve Maximum Volume, they tend to start setting up/drying out if they sit for more than a minute or two. So gently whisk them every once in awhile to keep that from happening. If you must choose between whipping the yolks or the whites first, do the yolks. They can sit for several minutes without ill effect because the lecithin in the yolks helps keep the emulsion from breaking down.
First, the process pictures. I don’t really like to do process pictures because the photography gets in the way of my Baking Flow, but I thought it important for you to see what you’re looking for texture-wise.
First, you’ll want to do all your mise en place. Zest your lemons, squeeze them, weigh your flour, measure your oil, mince your herbs, separate your eggs. Stuff that you won’t want to stop to do while you’re In Flagrante Cake-us Delicto.
While you’re beating the Mess out of your yolk mixture, whip up your whites. If you have a second mixer or a hand mixer, use it. If you’re feeling cocky, whip them–along with the rest of the sugar–by hand. It’s a bit daunting, but you will feel like a such a Badass when you’re done. I mean, I’m seriously considering getting a whisk tattoo now.
In the middle of all the Mad Whisking, you have to find time to drizzle the olive oil and lemon juice into the yolk mixture. Do this slowly–pretend you’re making mayonnaise. Which is kind of what you’re doing. Except you’re going to turn it into cake.
Once you’ve got your three components ready–the yolk mixture, the flour and the whites–it’s time to combine them. You want to do this in the Gentlest Way Possible so that you don’t deflate your batter that you worked so hard to inflate. Not to mention, you now have a tattoo that you must live up to.
The best way I’ve found to bring the three together is to scoop the whites into the bowl with the yolks and then sift the flour on top. Thusly:
Once they’re all in the same bowl, fold everyone together. A whisk is a great tool to use, at least to start, since the wires won’t disturb many of your bubbles. I finish up the last couple of turns with a spatula, just to make sure I incorporate anything that might be stuck on the sides of the bowl .
Now, it’s just a matter of scooping the batter into your prepared pan (a parchment circle is sufficient–you don’t really need pan spray), sprinkling some sugar on the top and baking until done. I start mine at 375 for the first 25 minutes and then turn the heat down to 325 for another 15 or so, or until a tester inserted in the center of the cake comes out clean.
This is a 3″ pan, and in the oven, the cake rose right to the top. While it cooled, it sank to about 1/4″ higher than you see the batter here. The resulting cake, as I said is light and dense at the same time. Next time, I really will experiment with cooling it upside down to see if I can maintain the volume.
- ¾ cup sugar, divided roughly in half
- 5 egg yolks
- very heavy pinch of salt, about ¼ teaspoon
- zest of 2 lemons
- 1-2 Tablespoons minced Herb of Choice
- 4 egg whites
- ¾ cup fruity extra virgin olive oil
- ¼ cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
- 4 oz. cake flour
- 1-2 Tablespoons demerara (or other sugar with large crystals)
- Preheat your oven to 375F.
- If baking in a large pan, put a cake circle in the bottom of it and set it aside. If baking individual cakes (like in muffin tins), either use cupcake liners or give each cavity a quick spray with pan spray. I haven’t checked, but this recipe will probably make 12-16 cupcakes.
- In the bowl of your stand mixer fitted with the whip attachment, combine half the sugar, yolks, salt, lemon zest and herbs. Whip on high, scraping the bowl often, until very pale and thick.
- Put the olive oil and lemon juice into a liquid measure. You should have a total of 1 cup. Drizzle it very slowly into the yolk mixture, stopping two or three times to scrape down the bowl.
- Meanwhile, with a hand mixer or whisk, beat the whites and the rest of the sugar to glossy medium-stiff peaks.
- Scoop the whites into the yolks and sift the flour over all.
- Fold together gently but thoroughly, until no streaks remain.
- Scoop into your prepared pan(s) and smooth the top(s).
- Liberally sprinkle with demerara sugar.
- Bake for 25 minutes without opening the oven door. Reduce the heat to 325F and continue to bake until a tester inserted in the center of the cake comes out clean, about another 15 minutes.
- For individual cakes, bake at 375F for 12 minutes then reduce the heat to 325F. Start checking for doneness after about 15 total minutes of baking.
- Let cool in the pan for a few minutes and then turn out on a rack to cool upright. If you can rig a way to cool the cakes upside down, do it.
Take care, and I hope you have a lovely day.