Chiffon Cakes – for the health conscious

When it comes to cakes, there are really two different types that exist on either end of a spectrum; most other cakes fall somewhere in between.  I am referring to butter cakes versus foam cakes.  Butter cakes attribute their structure and texture to the little pockets of air that occurs when you cream sugar and butter together.  Baking soda (and/or baking powder) or other leavening agents then fill these pockets, thereby “inflating” the cake, or making it rise.  The proteins in flour (gluten) and egg whites then strengthen the structure of the cake, while the fat in butter, egg yolks, etc keep the texture moist and tender.  A good example of a simple butter cake would be the omnipresent yet delicious pound cake: dense, moist, and oh so flavorful.

On the other end of the spectrum, you have foam cakes… named thusly because they gain most of their structure and expansion from whipping egg whites to stiff peaks before folding into the batter.  Foam cakes are lighter and “spongier” than butter cakes, as they have more egg whites and less fat than their counterparts.  Most of the volume is achieved even before baking by whipping the egg whites to soft peaks; however, you shouldn’t overinflate the eggs (stiff peaks) because then the structure will collapse on itself while baking.  Foam cakes are generally healthier than butter cakes because they have much less fat, though sometimes they do make up for it with some extra sugar.

Foam cakes can also be further subdivided into a few other categories, such as genoise, chiffon, and angel food cakes.  Angel cakes are the extreme foam cakes, as they have absolutely zero fat (no butter, oil, or egg whites) and rely on sugar to strengthen their structure.  They are generally the healthiest “cakes” but often are rather tasteless.  Genoise cakes has about 3x the eggs of a butter cake but only about half the flour and butter.  These types of cakes are usually a bit dry and almost always come coated with syrup to give it some more flavor and moistness.  Chiffon cakes fall somewhere in the middle, and are my favorite compromise between taste, moistness and health.  Chiffon cakes are nearly as rich as a butter cake with the light “foaminess” of a sponge cake, because it uses oil to tenderize it.  It contains less fat and sugar than a butter cake (9% oil vs 12% butter and only 24% sugar), and a small amount of leavening is added to give it a little more extra volume (as it does not rely on whipped egg whites as much as other foam cakes).  The recipe I followed also called for moistening it with a syrup for extra flavor.

The buttercream frosting I use in this recipe is very similar to the one I used in my checkerboard cake, which didn’t come out well… However, I made a few changes: I added some extra butter and didn’t let it warm completely to room temperature, because it would be too greasy/watery by then.  I kept it slightly cool so that the consistency would be easier to spread, and that definitely worked wonders.

This cake is in honor of one of my best childhood friends, Victor.  Since he is quite the drinker, I opted to use this recipe which infused espresso and rum into the syrup to give it a unique flavor in each bite.  The cake was still very light and was the perfect complement to a heavy Italian birthday dinner.

Chocolate espresso chiffon cake

Chocolate espresso chiffon cake

Birthday boy and slightly tilted cake from the car trip....

Birthday boy and slightly tilted cake from the car trip....

Enough of the science lesson… on to the cake!

Espresso Chiffon Cake

recipe adapted from Sky High Cakes, as viewed on Smitten Kitchen


For cake:

  • 6 eggs, separated
  • 6 tablespoons freshly brewed espresso, cooled to room temperature (Huntsman recommends freshly-brewed over hydrating espresso powder, which she feels can be too bitter)
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1 1/3 cups cake flour
  • 1 1/2 cups sugar
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar
Cake ingredients

Cake ingredients

For the syrup:

  • 1/3 cup hot, freshly brewed espresso
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 1/3 cup dark rum, such as Meyer’s
Syrup ingredients

Syrup ingredients

For frosting:

  • 6 ounces unsweetened chocolate, melted and cooled
  • 4 1/2 cups confectioners’ sugar (no need to sift)
  • 3 sticks (12 ounces) unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 6 tablespoons half-and-half or whole milk
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract

Frosting ingredients

Frosting ingredients


1.  Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line the bottoms of three 8- or 9-inch round cake pans with rounds of parchment or waxed paper, but do not grease.

2.  To make the cake: In a medium bowl, combine the oil, egg yolks, espresso and vanilla; whisk lightly to blend. In a large mixing bowl, sift together the flour, 1 cup of the sugar, the baking powder, cinnamon, and salt. Set the dry ingredients aside.

The oil and egg yolk mixture

The oil and egg yolk mixture

3.  In a large mixer bowl with an electric mixture, whip the egg whites with the cream of tartar on medium-low speed until frothy. Raising the mixer speed to medium-high and gradually add the remaining half cup of sugar. Continue to beat until soft peaks form; do not whip until stiff or the cake will shirk excessively upon cooling.

4.  Add the espresso-egg yolk mixture to the dry ingredients and fold together just enough to combine. Add one-fourth of the beaten egg whites and fold them in to lighten the batter. Fold in the remainder of the whites just until no streaks remain. Divide the batter among the three prepared pans.

Combine the dry and wet ingredients

Combine the dry and wet ingredients

Gently fold in the egg whites

Gently fold in the egg whites

Completed cake batter

Completed cake batter

5.  Bake the cakes for about 18 minutes each, or until a cake tester or wooden toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Allow to cool completely in the pans. When cooled, run a blunt knife around the edge of the pans to release the cakes. Invert onto wire racks and remove the paper liners.

6.  To make the syrup: In a bowl, stir together the espresso and sugar until the sugar dissolves. Add the rum and let cool to room temperature.

7.  To make the frosting: Place all of the ingredients in a food processor and pulse to incorporate, then process until the frosting is smooth.

Food processor buttercream frosting

Food processor buttercream frosting

8.  To assemble the cake: place one layer, flat side up, on a cake stand or serving plate. Soak the cake with 1/3 cup of the Espresso Syrup (below). Spread about 1 1/3 cups of the Instant Fudge Frosting (below) evenly over the top of the layer. Repeat with the next layer, more syrup and more frosting. Finally, top with the third layer. Soak it with the remaining syrup and frost the tops and sides with the remaining frosting.

Cake + syrup + frosting = :)

Cake + syrup + frosting = 🙂

Light and moist chiffon slice

Light and moist chiffon slice


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