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How to Prevent a Collapsed Chiffon Cake
The first time you read a recipe for a chiffon cake, you might be a little stumped. Do I really need to cool this cake upside down? Why on earth would I do so? And do I really need to buy a new cake tin to bake it in?
Yes, you do need to cool a cake upside down. Without it, your cake would collapse, and be dense instead of light and fluffy. No, you don’t need to buy a special pan, as long as you’re willing to be a little creative with what you have lying around already.
- Why a chiffon cake needs to be cooled upside down
- What makes a chiffon pan special?
- Storing, decorating & comparing chiffon cakes
Why a chiffon cake needs to be cooled upside down
A chiffon cake is a very light and airy style of cake. It’s by far not as dense as a pound cake. The texture sets it apart from many other cakes and is in great part due to the ratio of ingredients that you use. Whereas a pound cake contains approximately equal amounts of eggs, sugar, flour and fat (e.g. butter), a chiffon cake contains far less fat and flour. This makes it light and airy, but also less sturdy, since especially flour is a crucial structural component of many cakes.
Eggs hold on to those air bubbles
And a cake does need a sturdy structure because there’s a lot to hold on to. A cake is light and airy thanks to all those air bubbles spread throughout. However, air bubbles don’t have any structure. Instead, the surrounding structure needs to be strong to ensure those air bubbles don’t collapse!
In a chiffon cake, that structural framework is, to a great extent, provided by the eggs. However, eggs work differently than flour. The protein network that eggs can form isn’t as strong as flour. What’s more, as long as the cake is still warm, the egg foam is still quite pliable and flexible. In other words, it can easily shrink. And shrinking happens quite naturally when a hot cake comes out of the oven. Once the air bubbles cool down, they shrink and take up less space just like in a souffle!). This is why you need to cool the cake upside down: you’re giving the eggy structure time to cool down and set. By the time the egg foam has reached room temperature, it will be strong enough to carry the weight of the cake!
Whereas there are plenty of cakes that you can make without eggs, chiffon cakes aren’t one of them. They rely too heavily on those eggs for structure.
What makes a chiffon pan special?
Many chiffon cake recipes call for a chiffon cake tin. This pan has a few special properties:
- High than your average cake tin
- A removable bottom
- The sides are straight – no patterns like a bundt pan has
- A tube in the middle
- No super smooth oily non-stick sides please!
Chiffon cake pan ‘hack’
All of those are there for good reason, but before we get to that, as long as your self-fabricated chiffon cake pan meets these requirements it will work. We used the following and that worked just fine:
- A springform. This pan has a removable bottom and straight sides, meeting requirements 2, 3 and 5. However, it’s not as high as a chiffon cake pan, which is why we used less cake batter than a regular chiffon cake pan would.
- A glass jar in the middle. To fix for the missing tube in the middle, we placed a sturdy empty glass jar in the middle, meeting requirement no. 4 and making it a tube pan! The glass jar needs to be significantly higher than the springform itself. It’s what will allow you to invert the cake after baking to cool it upside down.
Chiffon cakes ‘climb’ in the oven
A chiffon cake relies on whipped eggs and some baking powder for its airiness. The air bubbles made by both of these methods expand significantly in the oven. A chiffon cake almost doubles in size in the oven! Way more than most other cakes.
Baking powder produces new gas bubbles
First of, baking powder helps it along. Baking powder produces carbon dioxide gas in the oven. These gas bubbles take up more space than the baking powder itself did. As a result, the cake expands.
Ideal gas law causes egg bubbles to expand when hot
When you’re making a chiffon cake you vigorously whisk both egg whites and egg yolks. Both are great at holding onto air bubbles for some time. Once the cake batter is formed though, no more new bubbles will be created in these foams. However, the bubbles that you’ve made at the start will grow! This is governed by the ideal gas law which says that a hot gas takes up more space than a cold gas, all other aspects being equal.
So those initial tiny air bubbles can grow out to large(r) bubbles, causing the cake to expand even further! Again, this is possible because of the very delicate structure of a chiffon cake. Until quite late in the baking process it is still flexible enough to expand (but also shrink!) whereas many other cakes will have set completely by then.
It’s why you need a high pan with a tube…
To help this pretty impressive expansion, you need a high cake tin. One that allows for this rise. What’s more, since it’s such a delicate cake, it does rely on the sides of that pan to ‘climb’ up and hold on. It’s why you need that tube in the middle. It helps ensure the middle doesn’t collapse under its own weight but has some extra help to stay up.
…that’s not too slippery…
Do NOT oil, or grease a chiffon cake pan. Remember, the cake needs to be able to hold onto this pan. Greasy, oiled surfaces don’t help here. Your cake might slip out during cooling!
.. but is straight with a removable bottom
A chiffon cake will lightly stick to the side of your pan. This is a good thing though. If it wouldn’t you couldn’t cool it upside down. But, that does mean you’ll need straight sides and a removable bottom to easily remove a chiffon cake from the pan. That way, you can gently peel away the cake from the pan, without damaging it too much. The only way to remove a chiffon cake from let’s say an angular shaped Bundt pan, would be to just scoop it out. Not the effect you’re aiming for!
Storing, decorating & comparing chiffon cakes
Chiffon cake turns stale slowly
Since a chiffon cake does not contain a lot of flour, we found that it doesn’t turn stale easily. As long as you store it air tight it can stay soft and bouncy for a couple of days. Do make sure to protect it from drying out though. It is quite prone to drying out.
Decorating chiffon cakes
A chiffon cake is light and airy, but also relatively bland in flavor compared to many denser cakes. There’s simply more flavorless air inside, nor does it contain flavorful fats. As such, it can do with some extra flavor booster on top. But, be careful not to overdo it. A chiffon cake is quite delicate and can’t always support all that weight from extensive decorations!
Chiffon vs. Angel food cake
There’s at least one other type of cake that needs to be cooled upside down, just like a chiffon cake: an angel food cake. These two cakes are quite similar, however, an angel food cake does not contain any egg yolks, whereas a chiffon cake does. It also contains even less, or no, fat and often does not use an additional leavener such as baking powder. It needs to be cooled upside down for the same reason a chiffon cake does. If anything, an angel food cake is even more delicate than a chiffon cake!
Definitions in the world of cakes can get vague and tricky quite easily. Another quite similar cake style is a Genoise, though this one does not need to be cooled upside down.
Fruitless effort ‘so var’ making and baking Panettone. Reading this post an unavoidable question pops up: Could the ingredients and method for baking Ch C be somewhat similar to those employed for making and baking of the Italian sweet Christmas bread? Panettone recipes on the net I have tried. Several of them. Results? Nil.
When working out a problem several variables are involved and, yes, you may be able to figure it out with determination and patience, but the road is rough and long. Reading FC posts often result in provoking insights worth examining and testing.
Could you let me know a bit more about the panettone you’re trying to make? Panettone does rely a lot on yeast (whereas a chiffon cake does not) so you might also be helped by reading our post on cakes made using yeast. Kepe in mind that many panettones require a lot of patience and waiting for the yeast to do its thing. That said, the cooling upside down principle is somewhat similar, though for a panettone it’s not because of the delicate egg structure. Instead, I suspect a panettone bread might be delicate due to the light and airy structure created by the yeast. But also that differs between panettone recipes, not every panettone seems to have to be cooled upside down!