So usually on the weekends I can be found sitting on the kitchen floor, in front of a shelf filled with old Bon Appetit and Cooking Light issues, a stack on my lap, flipping through, trying to find something different and inspired to make for dinner.
I happened to be flipping through a June 06 Cooking Light and came across the very last page, where they often have a parting recipe and lovely set-up shot of the food in all its perfectly-baked/cooked/sauteed/grilled/blanched glory. The photo totally drew me in, making me think, “wow that looks so good!” yet mocked me with it’s triple-layer cake smugness, and made me add “…but I doubt I could do THAT…”
Staring up at me, was the most pleasing looking cake, with a name both refreshing in flavor and nostalgic in style: Lime Chiffon Cake.
I don’t know if it was the “chiffon” in the name (being a retro-type of cake style...something Lucy Ricardo would make, while dressed in clothing made of material of the same name) or if it was the hot day and the thought of a lime-flavored dessert going so well after dinner (because lime margaritas and mojitos go so well BEFORE the meal, then certainly a lime-flavored dessert will complement its ending!) Anyway, I kept going back to this page—staring and thinking that perhaps this would be my very first “from scratch” cake. I have always enjoyed baking and have tried my hand at many things, but an honest-to-goodness scratch layer cake (let alone THREE layers--with a filling--not just frosting--in between) was new territory.
I quickly took inventory of provisions….when faced with a new recipe I like, I start playing the game of, “How many ingredients do I already have in the house”. The amount of time and money it will take to locate the ingredients I DON’T have rules exactly how quickly I close the magazine and move on.
As I ran through the recipe, I mentally checked off most of the ingredients…it went something like this:
Limes: “I’ve got those” (b/c of the aforementioned cocktails)
Lemon Extract --"hmm..I've got vanilla, almond, and 2-3 others--but not lemon...
Cream of Tartar--"I KNEW this would come in handy one day...I hope it's not too old.."
Can of Sweetened Condensed milk : “yep, got it—wait, or is that a can of evaporated milk that I have in the cabinet??? Darn, I always mix these up--which one goes into pumpkin pie because that's the one I have…”
(A walk to the cabinet proved I did not have the sweetened condensed milk…it also turned out that the can of evaporated milk I DID have had expired 4 months ago….probably because I buy about 4 cans every Fall of evaporated milk, thinking that I don’t have it in the house for pumpkin pies…and then as it turns out I DO have at least 2 cans already…this same exercise also occurs when it comes to canned pumpkin—so trust that at any time of year, guaranteed I’ll have 3-4 cans each of One Pie pumpkin, and of evaporated milk...but zero sweetened condensed milk.)
And so on…I made my way all the way to the bottom of the recipe and was getting excited—and a bit scared because the only things I found I needed required a simple trip to Stop & Shop. Usually, it seems there is at least one totally exotic or rare ingredient that would require half the day looking for, across 5 stores, and then finding it, only to discover I need to spend a fortune on it just for that ‘pinch’ of something for the recipe…and then the rest spoils before I'll ever need it again.
So I started reading the recipe, this time assuming I’d find some technique I’ve not yet tried or mastered that would be the clincher for scaring me off the recipe….As I went through each step I started saying to each: “ok, I can do that…yep, I can do that too..” the only tricky part ahead of me seemed to be the egg whites and being sure I beat them to the correct consistency for the chiffon (a chiffon cake is a batter made up primarily of beaten egg whites, which are folded in, and give the resulting cake a fluffy, light texture….thus the "chiffon" moniker)
Was I actually going to attempt this?! Yes. And so to Stop & Shop...where I purchased all ingredients with little to no issue.
Other than cake flour that is. See, I had no clue which brand to buy…I had "Softasilk" by Pillsbury in my hand, when this caught my eye
Here was my irrational reasoning in the middle of shopping as to which one I'd choose, Pillsbury -vs- Swans Down:
“Pillsbury has tons of products to output--whereas THIS company's only gig seems to be cake flour. Not to mention the design on the front looks like a logo/brand that has been around for decades….I bet it's a tried and true brand for real bakers....In fact, I bet there are grandmother’s country-wide who say, 'I’ve used Swans Down for 50 years—it’s the only one I use...'
"Yes," I thought, "that's the cake flour of a baker." Then I took it from the shelf, turned to see a 2,000 year-old knight in armor standing next to me in the Baking Needs aisle, who declared upon my taking the flour from the shelf: "You have chosen....wisely." (Ha! c'mon, did you really think I could get through this long-winded story without a movie quote?)
Bonus: I flipped over the box and saw "America's Favorite Cake Flour Since 1894" on the back, and that clinched it. Swans are also my favorite animal, so bonus for the good vibes from the box.
I found myself with a quiet Saturday afternoon, and I started lining up all my ingredients. I took the time pre-measure everything out, and had it all lined up ready to go. I love the mise en place technique because there is something about those small glass bowls I use to hold all the separate ingredients that makes me feel like a legit chef! I am a sucker for those things! Love that I have a set of glass nesting bowls of various sizes all the way down to a tablespoon size….it just makes me happy!
It took some time to get it all measured out, and assembled and into the oven—I had to make the filling first so it had time to set/chill for several hours so by the time the layers cooled I was good to go...had to cut out my wax paper for the bottom of the pans....and then the process of mixing the batter up and mixing the egg whites up separately took extra time b/c of having to clean the bowl in between and being sure it was totally dried/toweled off (Note To Self: It could be time to get an additional bowl for the Kitchen Aid so I don’t have to empty out, clean it, and reuse it when doing work in 1 recipe). It could have taken less time, but I was very serious: this first cake-from-scratch HAD to come out perfect…or I’d be annoyed and could find myself running from the kitchen forever, hurling cupcake pans, parchment paper and silicone mats to the curb.
In the midst of all of cleaning up while the layers cooled, I took a call from one of my two sisters--this time, Sister, the Younger. The call went something like this:
Her: “hey it’s just me…whattya up to?”
Me: “I’m baking a cake from scratch---triple layer lime chiffon!”
Her: (laughter…. laughter.....more laughter....) “WHAAAAT!? (Laughter…laughter..finally composes herself): “sorry, it’s just not the answer I was expecting…triple layer lime chiffon--who DOES that??! Where did that come from!!?”
I finally stepped back and realized that it was rather absurd…but I was determined. I figured if I made the cake now, when I didn’t have an occasion for it, then I know if I can make it when I needed it "for real." I know to start with this instead of a simple 2-layer vanilla/yellow or even chocolate is a leap, but it was what I came across....so hells bells, I'm going for it, sister.
Here it is, in all its lop-sided glory....(photo lopsided too--I took w/ my phone, so it's not good at all...I have a view of it pre-cut, but it's taking forever to download them...) This one was taken to show the inside layers...all the lime filling, and chiffon-y goodness! You can see how my cool whip topping did not keep its form too well...the lime and sugar when added to it made it sort of fall apart in consistency and all of a sudden the whipped topping was airy and 'holey'--almost disintegrating while I frosted--but it held together. The recipe called for "Fat Free" Cool Whip, but I splurged and got the 'real' kind--but next time I would probably not flavor the topping. Not only did it fool with the texture, but the cake and filling are lime enough for me.
Other than that edit, I LOVED it! I was psyched!
As for the sister that laughed at the shock of my domestic endeavor (and if she's reading this, she's mad that I'm not pointing out that she was quick to point out that she was not laughing at me as much as the shock of such a random type of cake that I was baking--so truly, she's my biggest champion in all things), she benefited as she & I went shopping the very next day and I showed up to her apartment with a section from my creation....
Score one for the happy homebaker!
RECIPE AS FOLLOWS: (c) Cooking Light (June, 2006)
1 teaspoon finely grated lime rind
1/4 cup fresh lime juice (about 2 limes)
1 (14-ounce) can sweetened condensed milk
1 tablespoon cake flour
2 cups sifted cake flour (7 1/2 ounces)
1 1/4 cups sugar, divided
2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
7 tablespoons canola oil
1/3 cup fresh lime juice (about 3 limes)
3 tablespoons water
1 teaspoon finely grated lime rind
1 teaspoon pure lemon extract
3 egg yolks
8 egg whites
1 teaspoon cream of tartar
3 tablespoons sugar
2 tablespoons lime juice (about 1 lime)
2 1/2 cups fat-free whipped topping, thawed
Fresh mint sprigs (optional)
Fresh blueberries (optional)
Lime wedges (optional)
To prepare the lime filling, combine 1 teaspoon lime rind, 1/4 cup lime juice, and sweetened condensed milk in a small bowl, stirring until blended. Cover and chill 3 hours.
Preheat oven to 325°.
To prepare cake, coat bottoms of 3 (8-inch) round cake pans with cooking spray (do not coat sides of pans); line bottoms with wax paper. Coat wax paper with cooking spray; dust with 1 tablespoon flour.
Lightly spoon 2 cups cake flour into dry measuring cups, and level with a knife. Combine 2 cups cake flour, 1 cup sugar, baking powder, and 1/2 teaspoon salt in a large bowl, stirring with a whisk until well combined.
Combine oil, 1/3 cup juice, 3 tablespoons water, 1 teaspoon rind, lemon extract, and egg yolks in a medium bowl, stirring with a whisk. Add oil mixture to flour mixture; beat with a mixer at medium speed until smooth.
Place egg whites in a large bowl; beat with a mixer at high speed until foamy. Add cream of tartar; beat until soft peaks form. Gradually add remaining 1/4 cup sugar, 1 tablespoon at a time, beating until stiff peaks form. Gently stir one-fourth of egg white mixture into flour mixture; gently fold in remaining egg white mixture.
Divide cake batter equally among prepared pans, spreading evenly. Break air pockets by cutting through batter with a knife. Bake at 325° for 20 minutes or until cake springs back when lightly touched. Cool in pans for 10 minutes on a wire rack; remove from pans. Remove wax paper from cake layers. Cool completely on wire rack.
To prepare frosting, combine 3 tablespoons sugar and 2 tablespoons lime juice in a small glass bowl. Microwave at high for 30 seconds or until sugar dissolves. Cool completely. Fold into whipped topping.
To assemble cake, place 1 cake layer on a plate; spread half of filling over cake layer. Top with second layer, remaining half of filling, and third layer. Spread frosting over top and sides of cake. Garnish with mint, blueberries, and lime wedges, if desired. Store cake loosely covered in refrigerator for up to 3 days. Slice cake into wedges.
16 servings (serving size: 1 slice)
CALORIES 290(29% from fat); FAT 9.3g (sat 2.1g,mono 4.6g,poly 2.1g); IRON 1.1mg; CHOLESTEROL 47mg; CALCIUM 122mg; CARBOHYDRATE 44.9g; SODIUM 218mg; PROTEIN 5.3g; FIBER 0.3g
Jan Moon , Cooking Light, JUNE 2006