Sometimes when I write a magazine piece, the recipe concept stays with me and flavor pairings and size or shape variations continue to percolate in my brain. At first, it’s just a lingering question, “Did I take these recipes as far as I could?” The thought lies quietly in the back of my brain, bubbling up here and there during the course of my days and nights. Not in a haunting, creepy way that keeps me up a night but more like a perplexing itch that can’t quite be satisfied. I let the ideas wash over me as I’ve learned from experience that pushing is a waste of time. Sometimes nothing comes of it and the pesky urge disappears. Other times, a new recipe comes to fruition.
Such is the case with my chiffon cake story in the current issue of Fine Cooking on newsstands now- all gorgeously captured by Scott Phillips. As most magazines work six + months in advance, these three recipes left my hands eons ago but the concept stayed with me, fermenting and growing. Was there more of the flavor story to tell? What was missing from the line up of cornmeal- lemon, bittersweet chocolate-espresso and applesauce-carrot in Fine Cooking? A texture? Fruit component? Nut element? Unsure, I let it sit. There was no glowing, ah-ha moment and no grand fanfare that announced the arrival on the fourth cake in this series. It doesn’t work that way. At least it doesn’t for me. Instead, the idea or inspiration tiptoes in on “little cat feet”* then there it is and as obvious as the nose on my face. Caramel. I had to make a version of this chiffon cake with caramel.
Testing ensued with tweaks (large and small) made to the basic recipe to accommodate the rich caramel sauce. Ultimately, the cake was good but it was still missing “something”. Various nuts and spice combinations added very little to the taste. Stumped, I let the recipe rest. The cake was looking not for a contrasting flavor or texture but for one that would boost the deep caramel flavor. Several days later, while cleaning out the fridge, I came across a bag of Heath Bar Toffee Bits® and the mystery was solved. These things happen this way… some of the time.
Please check out my three other chiffon cake recipes in the current issue of Fine Cooking. You also don’t want to miss the fabulous feature from my talented and effervescent friend, Juli Roberts (director of the Fine Cooking Test Kitchen). Her recipes will have you ready and waiting for summer.
Caramel Toffee Chiffon Cake
Makes 12 to 16 servings.
For the caramel:
1 1/4 cups heavy cream
2 cups (14 oz.) granulated sugar
2/3 cup water
For the cake:
2 1/4 cups (9 oz.) cake flour
3/4 cup (5 3/4 oz.) firmly light brown sugar
1 1/4 teaspoons baking powder
1 1/4 teaspoon table salt
7 large eggs, divided, at room temperature
3/4 cup caramel (cooled to room temperature)
2/3 cup neutral oil (safflower, canola or vegetable)
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
3/4 cup (4 oz.) toffee pieces
1/4 cup (1 3/4 oz.) granulated sugar
Make the caramel
- Put the heavy cream in a small saucepan or microwave-safe bowl or measure and heat until very warm. Set aside.
- Put the sugar and water in a medium saucepan. Cook, stirring, over low heat until the sugar is dissolved and the mixture is boiling. Once the sugar is dissolved and the mixture is boiling, stop stirring and increase the heat to high. When the sugar begins to caramelize, gently swirl the pan over the heat until the caramel is deep amber and evenly colored, 2 to 3 minutes. Slide the pan off the heat and slowly and carefully add the warm heavy cream. Be careful, as it will sputter and the steam is very hot. Whisk until the caramel is completely smooth. If necessary, return the pan to the heat and continue whisking until the caramel is dissolved. Slide the pan off the heat, add 1/2 tsp. coarse sea salt, and whisk until blended. Taste and add more salt, little by little, until the caramel is slightly salty. Scrape the caramel into a bowl and refrigerate, stirring frequently, until cooled to room temperature, 60 to 90 minutes. (For faster cooling, set the bowl over a bowl filled with ice and stir until chilled.)
- Measure 3/4 cup of the caramel and set aside at room temperature. Cover and refrigerate the remaining caramel until ready to serve.
Make the cake
- Arrange an oven rack in the center of the oven and heat the oven to 325°F. Have ready 3/4 cup of the caramel at room temperature along with an ungreased, metal, not non-stick, 10 x 4–inch angel food cake pan. If the pan doesn’t have feet to support it while cooling the cake, have ready a bottle or funnel to hold the pan in a level, upside-down position.
- Sift the flour into a large bowl of electric mixer, add the light brown sugar, baking powder and salt and whisk until blended. Add the egg yolks, 3/4 cup caramel, oil and vanilla. Beat with an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment on medium-low speed until blended. Increase the speed to medium high and beat until lighter in color and thick enough to form a ribbon of batter in the bowl when the beater is lifted, 3 minutes. Add the toffee pieces and beat until blended.
- Put the egg whites in a large bowl. Beat the egg whites with an electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment (or an electric handheld) on medium-low speed until foamy. Increasing speed to medium, and beat until whites are opaque and climbing about half way up the bowl (the tracks from the whisk will be beginning to hold their shape) forming very soft peaks. Continue beating while slowly adding the granulated sugar. Beat until the whites are thick, shiny and form soft peaks. (The peaks should droop over gently.) Do not over beat or the whites won’t expand during baking and the cake won’t rise as high.
- Scrape about 1/4 of the whites into the yolk mixture and using a large rubber spatula, gently fold/stir until blended. Add the remaining whites and gently fold until just blended with no visible streaks of either the whites or batter. Using the spatula to gently coax the batter, pour evenly into the prepared pan. Bake until the cake is golden brown and the cake is springy when touched, 63 to 65 minutes. The top will have cracks that still look moist inside. Immediately invert the pan sliding the center tube onto the neck of the bottle, if necessary. Let cool completely.
- To remove the cake, run a long, thin knife between the cake and the pan and around the inside of the tube to loosen the cake. Slip the cake from the pan and gently lift it up from the center of the pan and arrange on a flat serving plate.
Just before serving, pour some of the chilled caramel around the middle of the cake. Using a small offset spatula, spread over the top nudging it gently over the outside edge allowing it to drip down the side of the cake. Don’t worry if the drips aren’t even or if some pools on the cake plate. Cut the cake into slices using a sawing with a thin serrated knife and pass the remaining caramel, if desired.
The cake can be covered and store at room temperature for up to 1 day before serving and leftovers are delicious for days.