It's high citrus season, people! I'm in love, I'm in love, and I don't care who knows it! (Name that movie).
Okay, so maybe not everyone is as enthralled with the abundance of adorable little clementines, fragrant Meyer lemons and vibrant blood oranges as I am, but guys, it's getting towards the end of January. The winter blues could take any of us down at any time.
Even in San Francisco, where all four seasons just sort of smear into each other without a whole lot of meterological drama, it's all kinds of dreary in January. So let's focus on the positive. Citrus galore! And a zippy, big mama Clementine Chiffon Cake is just the thing to bring a little sunshine into your life during this time of year.
I lurve chiffon cakes. They're the sort of thing that make you feel incredibly accomplished in the kitchen. They emerge from the oven tall and proud and commanding, a great candidate for getting all gussied up with a whole myriad of flavorings, syrups and sauces. Unlike her more elegant, prettier and popular sister the angel food cake (which can be so delicate that you have to tread lightly when trying to jazz her up) the chiffon cake scoffs at her frilly name, and with her richer texture courtesy of added egg yolks and vegetable oil offers a fabulous canvas for all sorts of bells and whistles, like a zingy orange glaze that soaks just enough into the epidermis of the cake to make things interesting.
And this cake couldn't have come at a better time. I'd just done that thing where I'd bought the huge box of clementines from the market for, like, five bucks or something crazy, with the noble intention of snacking on them in lieu of, say, cake. But really, how many clementines can you snack on before you just need a slice of flippin' cake?! Oh, the irony. Luckily it took an almost comical number of clementines to yield enough juice for this recipe, which got that pesky healthy snacking monkey off my back right quick.
Some people spaz out about recipes like chiffon cakes and their egg foam cake counterparts, like angel food cakes and sponge cakes. All that egg white whipping and folding just seems too precious and risky. But really, if you have a reliable electric mixer, you're well on your way to chiffon cake success. And even though you do want to take care to whip the egg whites to the proper stage (firm peaks, but not at all dry) and whisk them in gently as to not knock out all the air, the beauty of a chiffon cake is that it can be roughed up a bit while getting the batter together and all won't be lost.
And even if your chiffon cake doesn't rise quite as much as you'd hoped, or falls a bit while cooling or if you louse it up at the eleventh hour by, say, inverting the cake onto a plate that suctions itself to the beautiful golden crust, stripping off whole sections of it when you turn it back onto the cake stand, well, don't worry about it for a second. Because the so-lovely-its-practically-drinkable clementine glaze that douses this cake has such fabulous flavor and adds so much moisture that none of that will matter in the end. This cake perserveres. Just like winter-weary folks.
Glazed Clementine Chiffon Cake
Adapted from The All-American Dessert Book
If you don't have clementines, fret not. Any kind of sweet, orange-y citrus will do: navel oranges, tangerines, satsumas, tangelos, what have you. Whenever a recipe calls for zest, like this one, I like to seek out organic fruit just so I don't have to worry about scraping a whole lot of pesticides into the mix.
For the cake:
1 1/2 cups unsifted cake flour
1 cup granulated sugar, divided
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
6 large eggs, at room temperature
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1 tablespoon finely grated clementine zest
2 1/2 teaspoons finely grated lemon zest
1/2 cup freshly squeezed and strained clementine juice
1 1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
For the glaze:
1 1/2 cups powdered sugar
2/3 cup freshly squeezed and strained clementine juice
1/4 cup freshly squeezed and strained lemon juice
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1/4 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
Position a rack in the middle of the oven and preheat it to 350 degrees. Have ready a 10-inch tube pan with a removable bottom.
In a large bowl, sift together the cake flour, 2/3 cup of the sugar, the baking powder, baking soda and salt. Separate the eggs, placing the whites in one large bowl and 5 of the yolks in another (use the remaining yolk for another purpose). Whisk together the yolks, oil, clementine zest, lemon zest, clementine juice and vanilla until well-blended. Gradually whisk the flour mixture into the yolk mixture just until it's smoothly incorporated. Set aside.
Add the lemon juice to the egg whites. With an electric mixer, begin beating the egg whites on low speed, them raise the speed to medium for about 2 minutes, or until soft peaks begin to form. Add the remaining 1/3 cup sugar to the whites as they are whipping, a tablespoon at a time. Once all the sugar is incorporated, raise the speed to high and whip for 1 to 3 minutes more, until the whites hold firm peaks that still have a moist appearance--do not overbeat or they will be very difficult to incorporate. Whisk about a third of the whites into the yolk mixture, then gently fold in the remaining whites, stopping at soon as there are no streaks of white left in the batter.
Scrape the batter into the pan and smooth out the top. Bake until a cake tester in the thickest part comes out clean, about 30 to 40 minutes. Immediately invert the cake onto a wire rack, or a countertop if the pan has feet, and let cool completely, at least 1 hour. Run a thin knife along the edges of the pan to release the cake. Cover a large plate with a sheet of plastic wrap and spray it lightly with cooking spray to prevent the top of the cake from sticking, and invert the cake onto the plate before turning the cake back onto a final serving platter or cake stand. Tuck strips of parchment paper under the cake to protect the platter from wayward glaze.
To make the glaze, whisk together the powdered sugar, clementine juice and lemon juice in a medium saucepan. Bring it to a boil over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally, and boil for 4 minutes. Remove from the heat and whisk in the butter and vanilla. Let the glaze stand until it cools and thickens slightly, about 10 minutes. Slowly pour the glaze over the cake, letting it drip down the sides. This cake keeps well at room temperature in a covered cake dome for up to 3 days.