The sensation of failure is not something that many actively seek out. While I am not completely pleased to admit this, tonight, I experienced another baking fail. This time around, it was a chiffon cake. An olive-oil lemon chiffon cake if you want to be specific. For those of you out there who are scratching their heads and wondering aloud, “What is a chiffon cake?” here is a brief rundown.
Invented in the early part of the twentieth century, the chiffon cake is traditionally made with either vegetable oil or, in my case, olive oil. Unlike its well known cake cousin, the angel food cake, a recipe for a chiffon cake calls for both egg whites and egg yolks. While the egg yolks are mixed in with your flour mixture, the egg whites are whipped into a frenzy until they are stiff and thick. This creates the airiness that distinguishes a chiffon cake from the other cakes in the club. Seems pretty straight forward right? That is, unless you are using a recipe that isn’t coming out of a cookbook like Baking Illustrated, where the authors comfortably hold your hand as they lead you through the world of baking. In cookbooks like BI, they authors aren’t trying to be fancy or pretentious; they want the people who purchased their book to feel comfortable in the kitchen, especially when they are trying something new.
This was not the case for the recipe that I used. Instead of trying to be humble and informative, this recipe decided to be hip and trendy by promoting itself as a “skinny” recipe, only 260 calories per serving. Oh boy!!!! While I am all for eating healthy and what not, sometimes recipes are the way they are for a reason. In the case of this cake, the recipe didn’t ask for stiff and thick peaks, rather, it asked for peaks that were “just about stiff”. What the hell does that mean? As I have already explained, baking with egg whites has never really been my specialty. While I now know how the process goes in regards to beating egg whites until they are stiff and thick, I have never done it myself. Even so, I can figure something like that out by keeping an eye on the egg whites. When they’re thick and stiff, it’s somewhat hard to not notice. But what about egg whites that are just about stiff? How does one figure that out? I certainly didn’t know the answer and the recipe clearly wasn’t going to tell me either. So I did what I thought was best, I put total faith in the recipe and went with my gut. Talk about a great idea!
With my eggs sort of but not really stiff, and combined with all the other ingredients, it was time to put it in the oven. Ok, that shouldn’t be too hard. Right? Wrong! Having a tube pan that leaks batter sure complicates things. Thank god that I had my trusty bundt pan on hand. Clearly, tonight was not my night for baking. So how did this more trouble then it’s worth cake come out? Eh. Not amazing, but not totally horrible either. The flavor was great, the structure, not so much. This was 100% due to the egg white thing. However, I can’t totally blame the recipe for what happened. I’ll be honest, I probably didn’t beat the eggs enough. True, I didn’t know what I was doing, but still, they should have been thicker. Still, this doesn’t excuse the recipe. It was far too vague regarding what the egg whites should have looked like and that def did not help me out.
So all in all, what did I learn tonight?
1. When making a chiffon cake, make sure you have egg whites that are stiff and thick, even if the recipe is too pretentious to admit it.
2. Check your tube pan before using it. Even if it seems ok, set it on top of a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper before baking. Just to be on the safe side.
3. Approach recipes that are coming from a questionable source with caution. While there is nothing wrong with trying a recipe out of magazines like Taste of Home and Bon Appétit, keep in mind, those magazines are written by people who know food. I pulled this recipe out of fitness magazine and that should have been red flag at the start.
4. Getting lemon juice in your eye hurts like hell.
Till next time.