James Beard Award-winning Cookbook Author

Chocolate Marble Chiffon Cake

Is chiffon cake a foam (sponge) cake?

Chiffon cakes, the third member of the foam cake family, are like sponge cakes with the addition of a secret ingredient. They came on the national scene in 1947. Before then, twenty years earlier, Harry Baker earned a reputation for his special cake among Hollywood luminaries. Mr. Baker, an insurance salesman by trade and a cooking hobbyist, would not divulge his recipe. Until, that is, he sold it for an undisclosed sum of money to General Mills. The following year, 1948, “Chiffon cakes became a national obsession” according to Jean Anderson (The American Century Cookbook, 1997). I have a little booklet from 1948, Betty Crocker Chiffon Cake Recipes and Secrets, containing many recipes and variations, icings, and serving suggestions. The booklet’s cover proclaims, “Never before such cakes as these. . . an amazing new cake family!”

And inside, the cake is hailed as “The biggest kitchen news in 100 years.” Mr. Baker’s secret ingredient, oil, gives the cakes a tenderness missing from sponge cakes. Another thing in their favor is they keep nice and fresh for several days at room temperature. I’m a great fan of these cakes. Because the cakes contain oil, which makes the batter a bit heavy, they do profit from a bit of chemical leavening. But I reduced the typical amount called for (3 teaspoons) to 1 teaspoon just to see what would happen—the cake rises spectacularly! And unlike angel food cake and sponge cake, I do preheat the oven first.

What are some baking tips for a great sponge cake?

As in sponge cake, it’s important to beat the egg yolks for chiffon cake until they are thick and lemon colored and form a slowly dissolving ribbon. It’s also important to beat the egg whites until they’re stiff and shiny, but not so stiff that they’re dry. The whites should look creamy and hold a stiff peak. You make one basic batter and flavor half with chocolate and vanilla and the other with almond extract.  The “feet” of the pan are not long enough to keep the cake’s top from touching the counter top, so be sure you cool the cake upside down suspended by a bottle.

What is a marble cake?

Marble cakes are made when part of a light-colored cake batter is colored to make it stand out. The two batters may be swirled together or spooned into the cake pan in alternate layers, as in this recipe.  When cut, the cake has an attractive haphazard pattern of light and dark.  Marble cakes seem to be an American invention. The first recipe I found is from Marion Harland’s, Common Sense in the Household, published in 1874. She darkened part of the batter with molasses. In this cake, half the batter is mixed with cocoa and vanilla, and the other half is flavored with almond extract. This is a tall, tender, moist, delicious cake.


Chocolate Marble Chiffon Cake


Chocolate Mixture

  • 1/3 cup (1 ounce) cocoa, preferably Dutch process
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 1/3 cup boiling water
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Cake Batter

  • 2 3/4 cup (9 ½ ounces) sifted cake flour
  • 1 1/2 cups sugar
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 3/4 cup water
  • 1/2 cup vegetable oil, such as corn or safflower
  • 7 large eggs, separated
  • 1 large egg white
  • 1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar
  • 1/2 teaspoon pure almond extract.


To make the chocolate mixture

  • Whisk together the cocoa, sugar, and boiling water in a small bowl until perfectly smooth; stir in the vanilla and set aside to cool.

For the cake

  • Adjust an oven rack to the lower third position and preheat the oven to 325° F. Have ready a perfectly clean, grease-free, 10 x 4 inch two piece angel cake pan.
  • Place the flour, 1 cup of the sugar, the baking powder, salt, cold water, vegetable oil, and egg yolks in the bowl of an electric mixer. Using the whip attachment, beat on low speed for 1 minute, just until the ingredients are combined well and the batter is smooth. Raise the speed to medium high and beat for 4 minutes. The yolk mixture will be thick and fluffy. Scrape the beater clean, and transfer the mixture to a large, wide bowl (mine is made of stainless steel and measures 13 1/2 inches in diameter and about 4 1/2 inches deep).
  • Wash the whip attachment and mixing bowl in hot soapy water and dry them. Add the 8 egg whites to the bowl and start beating on medium low speed.  Beat until the whites are foamy, about 1 minute. Stop the machine, add the cream of tartar, then continue beating on medium speed until the whites form peaks that droop and curl softly at their tips when the whip is raised. While beating on medium, sprinkle in the remaining 1/2 cup sugar 2 tablespoons at a time and beat about 15 seconds between additions. When all the sugar has been added, increase the speed to medium high and beat until the whites are shiny and form stiff upright peaks when the beater is raised. This won’t take more than a minute or so, so watch it closely. Do not overbeat.
  • Spoon about one quarter of the whites over the yolks and fold them together with a large rubber spatula, rotating the bowl as you go, until the two are only partly combined. Scoop the remaining whites over the mixture and fold them in gently but thoroughly, only until no whites show. Rotate the bowl as you fold.
  • Carefully transfer 1/2 the batter back to the electric mixer bowl. Just estimate this as best you can. Add the almond extract to this half and fold it in very gently.
  • Stir the chocolate mixture to be sure it’s perfectly smooth and add it to the batter in the wide bowl. Fold the two together gently until the batter is almost an even chocolate color. Don’t worry about a few darker chocolate streaks.
  • The chocolate batter is more fluid than the non-chocolate. To make the marbled effect, carefully pour about 1/4 of the chocolate batter into the cake pan. Pour about 1/3 of the non-chocolate batter in 3 or 4 mounds over the chocolate. Continue the layering making 4 of chocolate and 3 plain, ending with the chocolate on top. At this point you’ll see patches or dark and light batter. The pan will be about 3/4 full.
  • Place the pan in the oven and bake for 55 minutes at 325 degrees. Then raise the heat to 350 degrees and bake 15 to 20 minutes more, until the top is well browned, has a few cracks, and the cake springs back when gently pressed in a few places. The cake will be spectacularly high, doming up right to the top of the tube portion. Remove the pan from the oven and immediately invert the cake over a narrow-necked bottle set on your counter top. Let the cake cool completely in this position.
  •  To remove the cake from the pan, use a long, narrow, thin-bladed knife (I use a filleting knife). Holding the knife vertically, insert it between the cake and the side of the pan. Use a slow up and down motion as you rotate the pan and work your way all around it to release the cake. Run the knife between the cake and the central tube. Lift the cake out of the pan by its tube and release the cake from the bottom of the pan with the knife. Carefully turn the cake out onto a cake plate, top side up.  To serve, cut into portions with a serrated knife.  Store covered, at room temperature, where the cake will stay fresh for several days.
  • Makes one 10-inch cake, 12 to 16 servings.

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