Schatzi: The Rosy Chiffon Cake recipe I found at Slashfood combines two great twentieth century American cakes: the chiffon cake and the mystery or surprise cake. Chiffon cake was invented in 1927 by Harry Baker, who refused to divulge the method to his invention, a cake that crossed the lightness of a sponge cake with the richness and moistness of a butter cake. Using vegetable oil instead of butter, along with five egg yolks, and an egg foam made with cream of tartar and the whites of eight eggs results in a very light, feathery cake. The Harry Baker’s cake grew in popularity in Hollywood, appearing on the Brown Derby menu and at catered events, until he sold the recipe to General Mills in 1947, at which point “General Mills’ food chemists and home economists fine tuned Baker’s somewhat unstable recipe for eleven months,” and in 1948, headlines in Better Homes and Gardens, Ladies’ Home Journal, and McCall’s announced “The first really new cake in 100 years!”: Betty Crocker’s Orange Chiffon Cake. [i]
Chiffon cakes became hugely popular as the result of intensive marketing campaigns selling cake flour and salad oil, and new recipes appeared constantly in various magazines. The lack of butter meant a cake lacking in flavor, and it was simple to adulterate the cake to create new flavors. Favorites included lemon, orange, maple pecan, spice, and chocolate.[ii] The chiffon cake is still a favorite back home, with places like the Dee Lite and Zippy’s (among others) selling guava, lilikoi (passion fruit), haupia (coconut), and rainbow (guava, lilikoi, and lime) varieties. I do plan on trying my hand at a guava or haupia cake sometime soon.
According to Sylvia Lovegren, cooking with condensed soups took off during the Twenties, first for savory dishes such as aspics or sauces, then for treats such as cakes. The tomato soup cake recipe she published dates from 1925, and was published by Campbell’s Soup. Continuing the condensed soup fashion, mystery or surprise cakes were enormously popular during the Thirties, and remained well-liked enough that a tomato soup cake was included in the 1964 Joy of Cooking.[iii] I was intrigued by the idea of a tomato soup cake (although I loathe tomato soup, a fact which does not endear me to many), but the Campbell’s recipe published by Lovegren did not appeal, despite the addition of cream cheese frosting. Luckily for me (and you!), I came across the Rosy Chiffon Cake recipe while trolling the Internets for vintage cake recipes, and I knew that would be the cake I made.
I baked the Rosy Chiffon Cake at Eli’s so that I could use his Kitchen-Aid Pro (handy for beating egg whites). It is very easily put together: dry ingredients sifted together first, wet ingredients added, egg whites beaten, and batter folded into egg foam. Though the tomato soup smelled noxious to me when I first opened it, once it was beaten into the sugar, spices, and egg yolks, it became a deliciously spicy and vegetal scent, not unlike that of pumpkin pie. (And it retains that delectable odor through baking and refrigeration.) I slightly increased the spices (we’ve discussed my problem with that before), but did not otherwise adulterate the cake. I used my favorite cream cheese frosting recipe (p. 1008 of my 1997 Joy of Cooking) to frost the exterior once it had cooled, a perfect combination of sweet against the piquant cake.
The resulting cake is a moist, spicy, and slightly tangy cake with a fine crumb and a pretty pink-orange color, nicely complimented by the creamy white frosting. (Forgive my sad frosting skills; it’s been a few years since I bothered to frost a cake.) My roommate Jenni had been doubtful about this endeavor, but is now a convert, after being very surprised by the pleasantly spicy flavor. I would definitely bake a Rosy Chiffon Cake again, not only for the novelty value, but because it really is tasty, and totally deserving of a place on one of my cake stands.
[i] Marks, Susan. Finding Betty Crocker: The Secret Life of America’s First Lady of Food, (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2005) 158-162.
[ii] Lovegren, Sylvia. Fashionable Food: Seven Decades of Food Fads, (New York: MacMillan, 1995) 154.
Olver, Lynne. “Cake History,” The Food Timeline, http://www.foodtimeline.org/foodcakes.html#chiffoncake.
[iii] Lovegren, 76.