Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Peach Chiffon Cake

The success of the Peachsauce Cake left me both confident about making cake with fresh peaches and ready to curious about alternative techniques. The dense, nutmeg-spiced cake held up perfectly under frosting and sliced into perfect birthday-cake shaped wedges; it was delicious, and exactly what I'd hoped it would be. But the fragrant sweetness and tangy juiciness of fresh peaches warrant a lighter, more delicate cake; one with crumbs that you lick from your fingers the way you lick the salty sea spray from your lips after a day at the beach.

I have long loved Chiffon cakes. If you don't know what they are, google it as many others will have more interesting, more historically-informed, and more scientifically-explanatory descriptions. But to me, a chiffon cake is the perfect party cake. It's a light and airy sponge cake with the texture of an angel food cake but without the straight-up sticky sugaryness that so many people dislike about angel food. Unlike sponge cake, chiffon cake uses a perfectly balanced batter that needs no soaking syrup. And unlike layer cakes, chiffon cakes don't need any frosting, but are lovely with a simple glaze or any manner of accompaniments from a dollop of whipped cream to fresh fruit to ice cream.

Almost every recipe you will find for a chiffon cake has the exact same proportion of ingredients, so there's not much experimenting or "interpreting" to do. But where I found room for innovation was in the fact that the recipe calls for a significant amount of liquid. I decided I could swap that out directly for my fresh peach puree, and the only other adjustment was to cut back the sugar by 2 tablespoons.

The results were fantastic. While I went into the recipe with bravura, after I mixed the batter and transferred the pan to the oven, doubt sank in. Would the peach puree be too heavy to allow the cake to properly rise? Would the fruit lend a delightful peachiness to the cake, or give it an oxidized doughiness? Would it bake through evenly? The peachification of the chiffon cake could not have gone better. The cake retained its signature height and airy texture, but gained a delightful fruity flavor without becoming overly sweet. For a bit of extra peach, I made a basic glaze of powdered sugar and peach schnapps, but I don't think it was necessary. A dusting of powdered sugar was absolutely lovely, but even after cooling overnight, the cake was still so moist that it completely absorbed the dusting even before I could take a photo, let alone transport and serve it. So I decorated it instead with a spiral of apricot wedges on top. Honestly, guests at the beach party I took it to were so excited to see a freshly baked cake that they couldn't care less what it looked like and practically ripped off chunks with their hands (even though it sliced beautifully).

Peach Chiffon Cake
serves 12-14
2/14 cups (8 ounces) sifted flour
1 1/2 cups sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1/2 cup egg yolks (between 5-7)
1 1/4 cups egg whites (between 7-10)
3/4 cup peach puree
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1 1/4 teaspoons cream of tartar

Preheat oven to 325.
Combine flour, all but 2 tablespoons of sugar, baking powder, and salt. Make a well in the center and add the oil, egg yolks, peach puree, and vanilla and beat until smooth.
In another large bowl, beat the egg whites until frothy, then add the cream of tartar and beat until soft peaks form. Add the remaining 2 T sugar and beat until stiff peaks form. Gently fold whites into batter with a whisk until just blended.
Pour into ungreased tube pan and bake 55-65 minutes until tester comes out clean. Invert pan and cool upside-down until completely cool.

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