Thursday, March 13, 2008

Earl Grey Chiffon Cake

This recipe is based on the chiffon cake from the 1997 edition of the Joy of Cooking. I strongly recommend buying this book and reading not just the recipe, but the whole chapter on cakes. I'll try to include enough detail in this post to make it doable even for bakingly challenged (this includes me, by the way). If I seem anal to you, I am sorry. But that's the level of precision that finally got me a cake I was happy with.

The fact that you don't see a cup measurement for flour is not an oversight. It's intentional. Maybe if food writers in the US finally started boycotting this terrible way of measuring flour, home bakers would be encourage to get a scale and 80% of their baking problems would be solved.

  • One 9 1/2 to 10 inch tube pan (a.k.a. angel cake pan) with removable bottom
  • Instant read thermometer
  • Electric mixer
  • Scale
  • Rubber spatula
  • An empty wine bottle (for cooling the cake)

For the tea (to use in both batter and icing)

3 Tbsp loose leaf Earl Gray tea. The leaves should be at least partially broken (not full leaf) otherwise they are too chew-y in the finished cake. But, if the leaves are broken/ground too finely, they do not add to the appearance of the cake.

* * *

For the cake

Dry ingredients

9 oz cake flour (256 grams)
10 oz granulated sugar (285 grams)
1 Tbsp baking powder (14.7 grams)
1 tsp table salt or 2 tsp Diamond Crystal Kosher salt (5.7 grams)

Wet ingredients
5 large egg yolk
3/4 cups freshly brewed and cooled earl gray tea
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1 tsp vanilla

Whipped egg whites
8 large egg whites
1/2 tsp cream of tartar
2 oz granulated sugar (57 grams)

* * *

For the icing
3 Tbsp freshly brewed and cooled earl gray tea
1/2 tsp unflavored gelatin
1 cup cold heavy cream
1/2 tsp vanilla
1 oz sifted powdered sugar or to taste (28 grams)


Approximately 2 hours before making the batter
  1. Brew the tea using 3 Tbsp tea leaves and 2 cups boiling water. Let the tea brew for 2 hours. Don't be alarmed if it's too strong to drink. It has to be extremely strong to provide sufficient flavor since relatively little goes into batter and icing.
  2. Prepare a Kitchen Aid mixer bowl and beater for egg whites. Even if they look clean, wash them thoroughly with soapy water; dry completely with a clean paper towel. Even a spec of fat will prevent the whites from whipping correctly.
  3. Separate 8 eggs (you'll need 5 yolks and 8 white for the recipe). Use one small "working" bowl, one bowl for yolks that you will later use to mix "wet" ingredients, and the specially-cleaned "whites" bowl. Only transfer each white into the "whites" bowl after making sure that the yolk was removed intact. It's easiest to separate with your hands---the yolk breaks easily on the shell if you're not a pro.
Make the batter and bake the cake
  1. Preheat the oven to 325F.
  2. Remove the tea leaves from the tea liquor and let the leaves drain.
  3. Test the egg whites and tea liquor with an instant read thermometer before continuing!. They must be room temperature, 65-75F. Make sure to wash and dry the thermometer very thoroughly before testing the egg whites since they won't whip properly otherwise.
  4. Sift together the dry ingredients twice into a large bowl. A "crank sifter" works great for this. Put crank sifter in a spare bowl on top of a digital scale. Pour the dry ingredients into the sifter, taring after each ingredient so you can use the scale to measure. Sift into the spare bowl. Then, move the sifter to a large metal bowl and pour dry ingredients into the sifter and sift.
  5. Add the remaining wet ingredients into the "yolks" bowl. Note that you only use part of the tea liquor. Beat the wet ingredients on high speed until smooth.
  6. Gently stir the wet ingredients into dry ingredients along with half of the drained tea leaves (about 3 Tbsp packed). Only stir until the flour streaks disappear and most of the flour lumps are gone. Do not over mix or you'll have a tough cake.
  7. Add the cream of tartar to the egg whites, and start beating them on low speed with a whisk mixer attachment. When frothy, increase the speed to medium and beat until soft peaks form. Gradually add 2 oz sugar and increase the speed to high. Beat until the peaks are stiff, but not dry. Do not over beat or the whites will become clumpy.
  8. Use a rubber spatula to fold one-quarter of the egg whites into the egg yolk mixture. Then fold in the rest of the whites. Here is a video on how to fold in the whites. The reason you don't add the whites all at once is to lighten the batter first and make the consistencies of the batter and the whites more compatible.
  9. Scrape the batter into an ungreased tube pan and spread evenly.
  10. Bake until the top springs back when lightly pressed, a tooth pick inserted into the center comes out clean and/or the center of the cake is 205F-210F, appx. 55 minutes.
  11. Set an empty wine bottle on the counter and cool the cake upside down for at least 90 minutes, using the wine bottle for support.
  12. Slide a thin knife around the walls and center tube of the pan, pressing the knife against the pan to avoid tearing the cake. Pull the tube upwards to remove the bottom of the pan with the cake. Slide the knife under the cake to remove it from the bottom of the pan. Invert the tube and let the cake fall onto a rack. Flip right side up and cool completely.
  13. If the cake domed during baking (it probably will), cut off the rounded top using a serrated bread knife to flatten the cake.
Make the icing
  1. Chill the mixer bowl and the whisk beater in the fridge for 15 minutes.
  2. Pour 3 Tbsp tea into a heat proof cup. Sprinkle 1/2 tsp unflavored gelatin over tea. Let the gelatin soften, without stirring, for 5 minutes. Place the cup in a microwave just until the gelatin melts, about 10 sec.  Cool back down to tepid, about 80F.
  3. Pour cold cream into the chilled bowl and beat with the whisk beater on medium speed until slightly thickened. Keep beating, while slowly pouring in the gelatin mixture and vanilla. Add sifted powdered sugar and beat until thick and foamy. Be careful not to over beat or the cream with turn to butter.
  4. Place the cake upside down (opposite of the way it was baked) onto a serving plate and spread evenly with icing. Can be stored in the fridge for up to 2 days. Ideally, you should cover the cake with a cake dome when keeping it in the fridge, but I don't have one and it lived in my fridge quite happily for 2 days.


Josh said...

Looks like a great recipe... my only concern is that when you oversteep tea, it brings out chemical compounds (like tannins) that don't taste so good. You could could get a very strong tea without oversteeping it by either increasing the amount of tea or decreasing the amount of water. Maybe with 6 Tbs of tea and 1 cup water you could steep it for the appropriate 4-5 minutes.

Helen said...

Hi Josh,

Sure, whichever way you end up with strong tea is fine. But remember that this tea is not meant for drinking and the came tasted perfectly fine with overbrewed tea.

If the tea is drinkable, it's not nearly strong enough to flavor this cake.


Mrs. M. said...

This (and your first cake post) is one of the most useful things I've read about baking. I've often wondered why I'm a decent cook but such a mediocre baker. Turns out I've always just mixed dry and wet ingredients and shoved the whole thing in the oven. No more. (Of course, I now think of baking as too much of a hassle.)

marias23 said...

Hello there! I love love love tea and when you combine it in other unexpected dishes, that is so awesome! I'll have to try this, thanks for sharing!

Half A. Beaner said...

I am an analytical chemist and I think that you have written a beautifully thorough recipe. Honestly, your explanations for how to carry out every bit of fussiness and why it is necessary is brilliant! This cake sounds so interesting, I can't wait to try it out.