Recipe: Lemon Chiffon Cake

Chiffon cake is so underrated here – it’s this super airy, light, springy cake which is great as a light dessert or afternoon snack. In Asia it’s very popular and seen in a range of different flavours: vanilla, chocolate, matcha and pandan (a fragrant leaf popular in South East Asia).

Unlike the sponge cakes we have here, chiffon cake relies on a meringue for its rise and airy-ness. It’s similar to the angel food cake (also quite unpopular here) but instead of just egg whites, the chiffon cake also utilises the egg yolks.

The last time I made a chiffon cake was a matcha one (some 8 years ago), and with the weather warming up here in London, I wanted to try something tangy… lemon! I added some candied lemon slices as decoration which are also incredible to eat on its own. This part is completely optional but if you do want to make this I suggest making this a day ahead as it takes some time for the lemon and sugar to dry out. Also any remaining syrup from this makes a brilliant drizzle for a cake or to mix in a cocktail!

For the cake, you’ll need to find a special cake tin and you should be able to find it if you search “angel food cake”. I recommend purchasing one that is NOT non-stick and with a removable bottom. Some tins will have legs which is a bonus but not a must (I’ll explain why later). Link for the one I have used which worked really well.

Before we get started, here are some tips for a successful chiffon cake (i.e. one that doesn’t collapse):

  1. Do not use a non-stick tin. This will allow the cake to grip onto the sides of the tin as it rises, and helps it gain height.
  2. Vegetable oil. The key to using vegetable oil instead of butter or shortening is that the oil does not solidify and maintains a light texture.
  3. Do not over-whip the meringue. An over-whipped meringue will collapse instantly once its out of the oven. Just about reach a stiff peak and that’s it.
  4. Have a spare wine bottle nearby. The cake needs to be cooled upside down such that it keeps its height and doesn’t collapse into itself. While you can find cake tins with legs, it’s not the end of the world if you can’t because you can always just balance the tin on top of a wine bottle.
Lemon Chiffon Cake
Makes a 6 inch cake
For the candied lemon:
1 lemon
150g granulated sugar
180ml water
For the chiffon cake:
2 eggs
60g caster sugar
30ml vegetable oil
juice and zest of 1 lemon
45g plain flour
7g corn flour
3g baking powder
For the whipped cream
200ml double cream
1tsp icing sugar
  1. Slice the lemons into thin slices. Add sugar and water to a wide bottomed pan and heat on medium until the sugar has dissolved. Place the lemon slices into the pan, making sure none overlaps with each other. Let is sit in the warm sugar for 45 mins to 1 hour until the rind has become almost translucent. Place on a tray lined with a silicon mat or non-stick baking paper and let it dry overnight. Alternatively pop it in the oven at 100°C for 1 hour.
  2. To make the cake, preheat the oven to 160°C. Grease the bottom of the cake tin but not the sides.
  3. Separate the eggs. Place the egg whites in a mixing bowl and chill in the fridge.
  4. Add 1/4 of the sugar to the egg yolks. Using a whisk, beat until light and foamy. 
  5. Add vegetable oil, lemon zest and lemon juice (leave 1tsp for the egg whites later) and mix until well combined.
  6. Take the egg whites out from the fridge, add 1tsp of lemon juice and whisk until it turns opaque and foamy. Add half a tablespoon of sugar at a time and continue whisking until the egg whites becomes glossy and comes to a stiff peak.
  7. Using the whisk, add 1/3 of the egg whites to the egg yolk mixture and mix until incorporated. Take the egg yolk mixture and pour it into the remaining egg whites. Gently fold with your whisk until you cannot see any more white streaks.
  8. Pour the batter into the tin. Using a chopstick or a skewer, lightly swirl through the batter to remove any large air pockets. Bake in the oven for 30 mins.
  9. Remove the cake from the oven. Gently drop it onto the kitchen table to prevent it from collapsing. Quickly invert the tin and balance it on a wine bottle (or its legs). Allow the cake to cool down completely.
  10. To remove the cake from the tin, gently push the edges of the cake with your fingertips. You may also want to slide a knife around the sides. Gently push the bottom up. Place the cake onto a plate.
  11. To make the whipped cream, add icing sugar to the double cream and whisk until soft peaks. If you have over-whipped the cream, add a couple of teaspoons of milk to loosen the cream.
  12. Decorate the cake with whipped cream and candied lemon slices and serve.