Light and airy chiffon cakes are one of my favorite desserts to make. Baking a chiffon cake may seem daunting to some, but it’s totally worth it once you master the basics of this favorite Japanese pastry. Here are some tips and techniques for making the perfect chiffon cake. Troubleshooting included!
What’s Chiffon Cake?
It is pronounced as SHE-fon cake. Made with simple ingredients such as oil, eggs, sugar, flour, and flavorings, a chiffon cake is a light cake with spongy texture. Unlike other types of sponge cakes that use chemical/artificial leavener such as baking soda and baking powder, chiffon cakes are leavened mostly from the meringue (stiffly beaten egg whites). They are baked in a tall pan with at least four inches deep and must be cooled upside down to retain their height.
Is Chiffon Cake The Same as Angel Food Cake?
You might be more familiar with Angel Food Cake as they are commonly sold in grocery stores. The only difference between these two cakes is that Angel Food Cake uses no egg yolks and no fat, but chiffon cake includes them.
What Makes a Perfect Chiffon Cake and How to Achieve It?
Here are the characteristics of a perfect chiffon cake:
- It rises tall and straight to the top of the chiffon cake pan without caving into itself.
- No big holes or air pockets all around
- The texture of the sponge is light, fine, airy, fluffy, and bouncy.
- The sponge is very moist, and usually not overly sweet (especially if you are making a Japanese chiffon cake recipe).
In order to make a perfect chiffon cake, there are a few important factors. So let’s go over them.
1. Make perfect meringue (beaten egg whites)
This is the most important factor, so I’ll cover this topic in a separate section below.
2. Use the right chiffon cake pan.
Make sure you use the right chiffon cake pan. The best types are the aluminum pan with a removable base. Make sure the pan is NOT non-stick. Do not grease the mold because the cake needs to cling to the sides and center of the pan for support as it rises. Otherwise, it will collapse. You can buy a 7-inch round angel cake pan with removable base on Amazon or a 17-cm aluminum Japanese chiffon cake pan on Nihon Ichiban or Amazon.
3. Let cool upside down.
The cake must be cooled upside down in its pan so that it stretches downward instead of collapsing. Stick the cake pan on a tall heavy bottle and let cool for 3-4 hours before removing the cake pan. If you use an angel food cake pan, invert the cake pan on a cooling rack.
3 Tips to Make Perfect Meringue (Beaten Egg Whites)
The key to the successful chiffon cake is the meringue – beaten egg whites. There is no clear and easy way to show how much beating is enough, except for your own trials and errors. I could only give you a few tips that may help you succeed.
1. Chill egg whites (What?!)
I know, it’s a total opposite of what you learned in American recipes. I’ve seen most of the American recipes use room temperature egg whites to make meringue. However, almost all (99%) Japanese chiffon cake recipes require cold, well-refrigerated, or sometimes half-frozen egg whites, to make meringue without cream of tartar. Chilled egg whites will make very fine and smooth meringue with small and strong air bubbles inside. They remain strong even in the oven, and help the batter rise higher and fluffier. If you are not from the US, which method do you use?
2. Whisk until stiff peak with a tip that folds over
There is always discussion on how much you should beat the egg whites. From my experience, it’s best to stop when you lift the whisk, the egg whites go straight up (stiff peak) and just the tip is soft enough that it folds over, like taking a bow.
Then switch from the hand-held electric mixer (or stand mixer) to a balloon whisk, and thoroughly mix the sides and center of egg whites a few times to get to the same consistency throughout.
3. Mix in thoroughly with the whisk
I used to use a silicone spatula to fold beaten egg whites into the egg yolk mixture so that you won’t deflate the egg whites, which would result in a dry and dense cake. However, I have read several instructions and youtube videos that a balloon whisk is actually a better choice to incorporate egg whites into the batter. After a few trials, I am convinced that the whisk is the best way to fold in egg whites.
When you fold in egg whites, you might be afraid of breaking the air bubbles and may not mix the batter thoroughly. I felt the same way and always thought I mixed enough. However, when the egg whites are not mixed in with the mixture thoroughly, they would end up separated in the oven. As a result, it creates big air pockets/holes inside the batter while being baked.
Fold carefully and slowly so you would not deflate the egg whites. Fold in one-third of the egg whites first to lighten the batter, and then fold in another 1/3. Then transfer the mixed batter into the egg whites to fold the rest of egg whites.
Convert 17-cm (7″) Cake Pan to 20-cm (8″) and 22-cm (8.5″) Cake Pan
Since 17-cm chiffon cake pan is the most common size for chiffon cakes in Japan, I usually bake with a 17-cm Japanese chiffon cake pan. It’s a decent-size cake for Japanese standard, but it looks “tiny” next to typical American cakes.
*All my chiffon cake recipes on Just One Cookbook use a 17-cm chiffon cake pan.
17-cm chiffon cake pan
- 3 large eggs
- 85 g (measure ½ cup and remove 1 Tbsp) granulated sugar
- 40 ml (3 Tbsp) vegetable oil
- 60 ml (¼ cup) water/milk/citrus juice
- 75 g (⅔ cup) cake flour (Make sure to measure correctly; See my tutorial video.)
- 4 g (1 tsp) baking powder
Bake at 340 ºF (170 ºC) for 30-35 minutes.
20-cm chiffon cake pan
- 5 large eggs
- 133 g (⅔ cup) granulated sugar
- 60 ml (¼ cup) vegetable oil
- 95 ml (⅓ cup + 1 ½ Tbsp) water/milk/citrus juice
- 120 g (1 cup) cake flour (Make sure to measure correctly; See my tutorial video.)
- 5 g (1 ¼ tsp) baking powder
Bake at 340 ºF (170 ºC) for 35-40 minutes.
22-cm chiffon cake pan
- 6 large eggs
- 170 g (measure 1 cup and remove 2 Tbsp) granulated sugar
- 80 ml (6 Tbsp) vegetable oil
- 120 ml (½ cup) water/milk/citrus juice
- 170 g (1⅓ cup) cake flour (Make sure to measure correctly; See my tutorial video.)
- 8 g (2 tsp) baking powder
Bake at 340 ºF (170 ºC) for 40-45 minutes.
What Went Wrong? Troubleshooting Chiffon Cakes
1. My chiffon cake did not rise properly. My chiffon cake sank/deflated after I took it out of the oven.
Get chiffon cake pan: Please use an aluminum, 2-piece tube chiffon cake pan. You cannot use a non-stick pan to make chiffon cake as the wall is too slippery for the batter to cling to the sides and center of the chiffon cake pan in order to rise higher.
Do not grease: For the same reason, you do not need to grease the cake pan.
Invert the cake pan to let cool: If you didn’t use the chiffon cake pan, you can’t do this step. It’s very important to invert the chiffon cake pan while letting it cool so the cake will not collapse and it will continue to stay tall with the help of gravity.
Beat egg whites correctly: Under-beating egg whites will cause the cake structure to collapse, while over-beating can cause the mixture to break down when you fold it into the batter, creating a heavy batter. Therefore, always keep an eye out for the egg whites as they thicken. A safe way to do is whip your egg whites on medium speed. And it’s ok to stop frequently to check as you get close to the stiff peak stage.
Check oven temperature: When the oven temperature is too low, the cake will not rise to its optimum height. It’s also possible that your oven setting doesn’t display the actual oven temperature. Get an oven thermometer to place it in the oven and test the actual oven temperature at 4 corners and center. My oven has some hot spot in one corner so I know I need to avoid placing my cake there.
Increase baking time: If you did everything right, maybe the baking time was not enough.
2. My cake got burnt on the top.
Use aluminum foil: Your oven may be a bit too small for this cake pan. You need at least some space between the cake pan top and the oven. To fix this problem, you can cover the cake with an aluminum foil over the top to prevent further browning once the cake reaches a nice golden color.
3. My cake has big holes (air pockets).
Mix thoroughly: When you don’t fold the egg whites and batter thoroughly, the cake batter is not consistent. The meringue parts have too much air bubbles than the other parts, which results in large pockets and other parts of the batter cannot sustain the structure. Make sure you mix everything thoroughly without destroying the bubbles.
Beat egg whites correctly: When egg whites are under beaten, the small air bubbles cannot sustain as the temperature goes up. As a result, small air bubbles turn into one bigger hole.
Prevent air pockets: The air pockets may be created when you pour the batter into the chiffon cake pan. Make sure to pour the cake batter all at once in one location. Also, run the wooden skewer in the batter a few times and gently tap the chiffon cake pan against the kitchen counter to get rid of large air bubbles that are trapped in the cake batter.
4. My cake has white streaks.
Mix thoroughly: Those white streaks are meringue (egg whites). It happened when you didn’t incorporate meringue into the batter thoroughly, so the egg whites appeared as white streaks.
Q: Can I use all-purpose flour instead of cake flour?
A: If you have enjoyed chiffon cakes in Japan and know how airy, fluffy and soft the chiffon cakes are, you have to bake yours with cake flour to achieve the same texture. You would know the difference immediately if you make it with all-purpose flour. All-purpose flour has a higher protein content, which develops more gluten and results in a tougher cake.
The substitution or the easiest workaround for cake flour is to mix all-purpose flour with cornstarch. To make 1 cup cake flour, simply take out 2 Tbsp from 1 cup all-purpose flour and replace it with 2 Tbsp cornstarch. However, in my opinion, store-bought cake flour would give a better result as it has been sifted finely with the machine.
Q: Do we need to add baking powder?
A: In general, baking powder is not necessary as chiffon cake relies on the egg whites to rise. Baking powder is just a backup. However, chiffon cake recipe includes oil and egg yolks (fats) and baking powder to counteract and helps the cake rise.
Q: Can I use melted butter instead of vegetable oil?
A: No, to get a light, airy, soft texture, it has to be vegetable oil or canola oil. Please don’t substitute with butter.
Q: Can I bake in a regular cake pan or bundt pan?
A: I highly recommend getting an aluminum tubed pan that allows the cake to rise taller. Avoid non-stick pan and never grease the pan because the cake will not be able to cling and rise as high. If your chiffon cake pan is not the same size as mine, I always recommend doubling the recipe (instead of trying to divide an egg by weight). Use the leftover batter to make a small cake in a regular ramekin or smaller cake pan (it won’t be a proper chiffon cake though).
Q: When does the cake taste best?
A: It’s best half day to whole day after baking.
Q: How long does the cake last?
A: Wrap the cake in a plastic wrap and you can keep at room temperature for about 4-5 days. Depends on the ingredients, it might be better to keep in the refrigerator. You can wrap the individual or whole cake in the freezer, but some flavors will be lost. Defrost naturally and enjoy.
JOC Chiffon Cake Recipes
- Earl Grey
- Matcha Green Tea
- Meyer Lemon
- Orange Chiffon Cake
- Have you tried any fun flavors you would like me to share next? I’d love to hear.
I hope this tutorial guide will help you in your chiffon cake adventures. If you baked a chiffon cake and you’re still having troubles, please ask in the comments below. I’ll be happy to help.