In the baking world, chiffon cake once had it all. It had history. It had glamour. It had a secret ingredient. It even had publicity agents...

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In the baking world, chiffon cake once had it all.

It had history. It had glamour. It had a secret ingredient. It even had publicity agents.

General Mills introduced the chiffon cake to the world in 1948 with the headline “The first really new cake in 100 years!” It was so big, sales of cake flour went up 20 percent.

And then, like an escaped party balloon, chiffon cake drifted away. No more orange cake with glaze down the sides. No more tall cakes lording over the bake sale.

Why should we breathe life back into the chiffon cake? Well, it’s quick. If you’re not intimidated by separating eggs and whipping egg whites, you can put together a chiffon cake almost as fast as you can make a cake from a mix.

But maybe the real reason we should rescue the chiffon cake is just because it deserves it. Because it’s light and not too sweet and it looks great on a cake stand.

Insurance agent’s creation

Chiffon cake was invented by an insurance agent, Harry Baker, in Los Angeles. In 1927, he came up with an unusual cake that was light and fluffy, more tender than angel food, more flavorful than sponge cake. It became the toast of Hollywood. Baker sold it to stars for their parties, and he made cakes for the Brown Derby restaurant.

Baker was selling as many as 40 a day. For 20 years, he wouldn’t tell the secret ingredient. Finally, in 1947, he agreed to sell the recipe to General Mills, so “Betty Crocker could give the secret to the women of America.”

When the company released the secret recipe in the May 1948 Better Homes and Gardens magazine, it did it with a splash. Calling it “high, light and handsome,” General Mills declared the cake “light as angel food, rich as butter cake.”

The secret, it turned out, was vegetable oil. Baker had replaced the usual butter with oil and skipped the step of creaming butter. Instead, you make a flavored batter, and then you fold in stiffly beaten egg whites. The egg whites puff up in the oven, making a tall, fluffy cake.

You can also make it in almost any flavor.

Heyday in 1950s, ’60s

Through the 1950s and ’60s, chiffon was the cake to make.

“It was terribly, terribly, terribly fashionable,” says Jean Anderson, author of “The American Century Cookbook.” “Everybody was doing it,” particularly lemon and orange.

She thinks the idea of a secret recipe originally attracted people.

General Mills tinkered for a decade and came out with a chiffon cake mix in 1958. But it really wasn’t necessary. Chiffon cake’s beauty was its simplicity.

It’s easy to put together, Anderson says, and it doesn’t even need frosting.

Two tricks

There are only two tricks to making chiffon cake. The first is beating egg whites. If the egg whites aren’t stiff enough, the cake will be tough. (See accompanying story.)

The other trick is using cake flour, which is lighter. The original General Mills recipe was developed using Softasilk, although any cake flour will work.

Although the cake is best known as a tube cake, made in an angel food pan, it can also be baked as a layer cake. Just line the bottom of the pan with waxed paper and cool the cake in the pan upside down.

The pan is ungreased, so the cake can cling to the sides while it bakes. And the pan is always cooled upside down, so the cake doesn’t flatten. Stand the tube pan over a funnel or a small-necked bottle until it’s completely cool.

Light and airy, chiffon cake just seems made for spring.