I know that citrus is a winter thing and that we're all supposed to be fawning over strawberries right now, but there is just something about lemon that says "summer" to me. It's bracing, refreshing--sort of like a culinary air-conditioner. And nothing screams louder to me on a balmy evening than a slice of this luscious-yet-light lemon chiffon cake. I baked three of them this holiday weekend and still am not tired of it.
I tore the recipe for this beauty out of some magazine while I was languishing in the waiting room at my gyno's office years ago. I kept it in my recipe folder for probably a year and never got around to making the cake, however, because I couldn't get past the fact that the recipe used oil instead of butter. And you know how I feel about butter and baking. One afternoon, when I had absolutely nothing in the house and I needed to bring a cake for some occasion, I whipped this cake up. It was so extraordinary I was stunned. I think four people asked me for the recipe that very night. I've made it countless times since and it never fails to turn out fabulously--moist, moist, moist, delicate, and positively regal looking. I can't recommend it enough.
If you've never baked a chiffon cake, be not afraid. It really isn't tough at all to pull off. You will, however, need a few key tools: An angel food cake pan or a tube pan with removable bottom, something to whip up those egg whites, cream of tartar (which you can and will buy at your local supermarket even if you have always been mystified and just a little intimidated by it because you don't know what the heck it does), and the courage to turn your pretty cake upside down in order to let it cool properly. Oh, and one more thing: You'll need to stay just a little bit humble when everyone swoons all over you and tells you what an amazing cake you've baked. Here's the 411:
2 cups flour
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 Tbsp. Baking powder
1 tsp. Salt
3/4 cups water
7 egg yolks
1/2 cup vegetable oil
Grated zest of 2 lemons
2 tsp. Vanilla
8 egg whites
1/2 tsp. Cream of tartar
1 1/2 cups confectioners' sugar
2 Tbsp. Plus 1 tsp. Fresh lemon juice
2 Tbsp. Melted butter, cooled to tepid
1 tsp. Grated lemon zest
1/2-3/4 cup sweetened, shredded coconut (utterly optional)
To make the cake: Preheat the oven to 325. In a large bowl, combine the flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt. Make a well in the center; add the water, egg yolks, oil, lemon zest, and vanilla. Whisk the dry ingredients into the yolk mixture until the batter is blended and smooth. Set aside.
In a large mixer bowl, beat the egg whites and the cream of tartar at medium-low speed until foamy. Gradually increase the speed to high and beat the whites until stiff (but not dry) peaks form. Gently fold 1/3 of the beaten egg whites into the batter with a rubber spatula just until blended. Fold in the remaining whites just until combined. Pour the batter into an UNGREASED 10-inch tube pan (I use a tube pan with a removable bottom.)
Bake 1 hour, or until the top springs back when lightly touched with a fingertip and a cake tester inserted into the center comes out clean. Immediately invert the cake, still in the pan, onto the neck of a wine bottle or a large funnel. I personally set my cake to cool on three, stout overturned juice glasses. Cool completely.
To make the icing: In a medium bowl, whisk together the ingredients until smooth.
Remove the cake pan from the bottle or lift from inverted juice glasses and turn right side up. Run a long, thin knife around both edges of the cake pan. Transfer cake to a serving plate and remove the pan. (If you are using a tube pan with a removable bottom, lift cake out by the cone of the pan, invert over a serving plate, run knife around the bottom of the cake to release.) Spread the icing gently on top of the cake, allowing some of the glaze to drip down the sides. If you are a coconut fan (which I am) press generous amounts of coconut onto the top of the icing and sprinkle a little around the serving dish. Expect compliments.