Orange Chiffon Cake with Hawaiian Fluff Topping, 1940s

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Author Notes: Recipe adapted from Betty Crocker Chiffon Cake Recipes and Secrets, 1948

In 1923 an insurance salesman named Harry Baker (!) arrived in Los Angeles from Ohio and started experimenting. At the time, there were only two types of cakes: butter-based and sponge. Harry wanted to bake a different kind of cake, an Angel Food-type cake, but one with the moistness and flavor of a butter cake. Three-hundred-something cakes later, when he replaced the butter in a butter cake with salad oil, the Chiffon was born.

In 1927, he approached the Brown Derby restaurant with his creation. The restaurant went on to make the Chiffon Cake, which for a time, was the only dessert they served. The cake grew in popularity and Harry continued to bake the cakes individually using twelve tin hot plate ovens (picture a hot plate with a metal enclosure) he’d set up in a spare room. Finally, he sold the recipe for an “undisclosed amount” to General Mills, timing it with the lifting of wartime restrictions in 1947.

The company revealed this “First new cake in 100 years” to the public in the May 1948 issue of Better Homes and Gardens and shortly thereafter, published Betty Crocker Chiffon Cake Recipes and Secrets, from which the following recipe comes.

But there’s more to the story of Harry Baker than his invention. In a 2007 article for the online magazine The Rake, writer Joseph Hart revealed that Harry fled Ohio after being arrested for performing a homosexual act in a public restroom and bringing “shame” to the family. He left behind a wife and two children and, as Hart learned from interviews with family members, Baker became a dark family secret. The article, "When Harry Met Betty", is a must-read for learning more about this fascinating man and his contribution to the history of cake.
As for the topping, that is all Betty Crocker—and very 1950s. Anything tropical or the least bit exotic (islands! sea!), was very popular, so adapting the already famous ambrosia dessert into a pineapple-heavy topping fit perfectly with the likings of the time.
Jessica Reed

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Serves one 10-inch tube cake

For the orange chiffon cake:

  • 2 1/4 cups cake flour
  • 1 1/2 cups sugar
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/2 cup canola or vegetable oil (“salad oil”)
  • 5 large egg yolks, at room temperature
  • 3/4 cup cold water
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 large orange, zested
  • 7 large egg whites
  • 1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar
  1. Preheat the oven to 325° F. Set aside an ungreased 10-inch tube or Bundt pan.
  2. In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt. Make a well in the center of the dry ingredients and add, in order, the oil, yolks, water, vanilla, and orange zest. Beat until smooth.
  3. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, whip the egg whites and cream of tartar on medium-high speed until very stiff peaks form. (They should be much stiffer than for angel food or meringue.)
  4. Fold the batter gently into the egg whites.
  5. Spoon the batter into the pan, smoothing the top, and bake for 50 minutes.
  6. Remove the cake from the oven and immediately turn the pan upside down, sliding into onto the neck of a wine bottle or the like. Let cool completely. Once cool, use a knife or offset spatula to help loosen the cake from the side, hit the bottom of the pan sharply on a table or the counter, and remove the cake from the pan.

For the Hawaiian fluff topping:

  • 2 cups heavy cream
  • 6 tablespoons confectioners' sugar
  • 3/4 cup well-drained pineapple, diced into small pieces
  • 1/2 cup dried coconut, sweetened or unsweetened
  • 1/2 cup chopped, toasted, and blanched almonds
  • 1/2 cup maraschino cherries, quartered [Editors' note: we used luxardo cherries]
  1. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, beat the cream on medium-high speed until slightly thickened. Add in the sugar and continue to beat on medium-high until whipped to your liking. Fold in the pineapple, coconut, almonds, and cherries. [Editors' note: We reserved some for garnish!]
  2. Spoon and swirl and spread the fluff all over the cooled cake, including the inner surface.

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Topics: Cake, Baking, Dessert