So, you need to prepare a notable cake for someone special – it’s summertime and to tell the truth who really feels like getting fussy? Summer Celebration Cake is the answer to your prayers – a one pan almond chiffon cake, dressed with freshly whipped cream and ripe strawberries along with a garnish of caramelized almond slices. Enter the room with Summer Celebration Cake majestically placed atop of your favorite cake plate and trust me you will become a superstar – if only for that moment.
The classic chiffon cake was one of La Mia Madrina’s (my Godmother’s) many specialties. Her whipped creamed filled chiffon cake decorated with strawberries was the inspiration for Summer Celebration Cake. She baked her massive chiffon cake in a rectangular pan to serve many guests; all of which looked forward to it, but few as much as I did. The texture was absolute ethereal, a perfect crumb by the highest of standards.
Most of the ingredients for a chiffon cake are more than likely staples in your pantry. The moist texture of the cake comes from using vegetable oil rather than butter; the lightness, from the beaten eggs whites. The cake is not at all difficult to prepare, and frankly stands proudly on its own with some sliced fresh fruit macerated in a bit of sugar for an hour or so. Served this way, the cake is dairy free and suitable to accompany a meat meal if you adhere to Kosher guidelines.
I’ve given the traditional chiffon cake a little twist by using unsweetened almond milk to elevate the subtle almond flavor. Although Mia Madrina’s cake was always impressive, I was looking for something tall to give my Summer Celebration Cake a more regal look – think a jewel encrusted crown. I opted to use the standard angel food tube pan with a removable bottom.
The addition of a bit of Grappa when macerating the strawberries adds a little zing to the resulting strawberry liquid. Caramelizing some sliced almonds is the perfect way to reintroduce the almond flavor along with some texture – not to mention a great visual for presentation.
Bake your Almond Chiffon cake a few days in advance, slice it and place in the freezer until you are ready to entertain. On the day of your gathering, you only need to organize the berries, whip the cream and caramelize the almonds – honestly this will take no longer than 15 minutes. Surprise your guests with this magnificent centerpiece after dinner and wait for the oohs and aahs……
- 2½ cups of non-rising cake flour
- 1 Tbs. of baking powder
- ½ tsp. salt
- 6 large egg yolks, room temperature
- 6 large egg whites, room temperature
- ¼ tsp. cream of tartar
- 1 cup plus ⅓ cup of superfine sugar
- ½ cup of corn oil
- 1 Tbs. pure vanilla extract
- 1 tsp. pure almond extract
- ¾ cup of unsweetened, unflavored almond milk
- 1 cup of sliced almonds
- 2 Tbs. granulated sugar
- 1 Tbs. butter
- 2 pints fresh strawberries
- 2 Tbs. granulated sugar
- 1 Tbs. Grappa
- 2 cups well chilled heavy cream
- 1 tsp. pure vanilla extract
- 2 Tbs. confectioners sugar
- Place a rack in the lower third of the oven, preheat the oven to 325º. Have an ungreased angel food pan ready.
- Combine the cake flour, baking powder and salt in a sifter; sift the dry ingredients together three times.
- Place the egg yolks in the work bowl of a standing mixer; beat on high for 2 to 3 minutes, stopping the mixer midway to scrap down the sides of the work bowl. Begin to add the 1 cup of superfine sugar, 1 tablespoon at a time; scrape down the work bowl several times during this process.
- Adjust the mixer speed to medium-low and begin to drizzle the corn oil into the beaten egg yolks. Add the vanilla and almond extracts, scrape down the bowl and beat for an additional minute.
- Alternate adding the dry ingredients in three parts and the wet ingredients in two parts to the yolks. When adding the dry ingredients, first gently combine with a spatula before turning on the mixer (this will prevent the carefully measured & sifted dry ingredients from flying all over the kitchen). Mix both the dry and wet ingredients only until the batter becomes homogeneous; being certain to scrape down the bowl after each addition. Set aside.
- Using clean beaters and a new work bowl, beat the egg whites on medium high speed until frothy, then add the cream of tarter. Continue to beat on high and once the whites have achieved the soft peak stage, begin to add the ⅓ cup of superfine sugar - one tablespoon at a time. Beat until the egg white are thick and glossy.
- The egg yolk mixture will be quite thick, in order to lighten it before the final folding of the egg whites, add about ¾ of a cup of the yolk mixture to the egg whites. Using a large rubber spatula, gently fold the two together, always starting at the bottom of the bowl. Turn the bowl as you continue to fold until the yolks have been completely incorporated into the whites.
- Scrape the egg white mixture which now has the addition of some of the yolks, into the original egg yolk mixture, folding and turning in the same manner. Once there is not trace of white or yolk, gently pour the cake batter into the angel food pan turning the pan as you pour so it is even.
- Have a large bottle set on the counter to invert the cake onto for cooling once it comes out of the oven.
- Place the pan into the center of the oven and bake for 40 minutes before opening the oven to test the cake. The cake is ready when the top is quite golden and the surface springs back when gently touched. Depending upon your oven, the cake will take anywhere from 40 to 60 minutes. Once the cake is ready, using oven mitts remove the pan and immediately invert onto the neck of the bottle. Allow the cake to cool completely in this position.
- Once the cake is completely cool, using a sharp knife release the cake from the sides of the pan. Pressing the knife blade along the edge of the pan as you go around the circumference is an excellent way to approach this. Pull up the center of the pan up and remove the cake from the sides of the angel food pan. Using the knife repeat the process around the neck and bottom of the pan. Turn the cake out onto the counter.
- Slice the cake into three layers, using a ruler to measure accurately around the sides of the cake. Mark this with toothpicks to serve as a guide for slicing. Gently stabilize the cake with your hand and using a serrated knife slice the cake into the defined three layers. You may wrap and freeze the cake at this point to save for a later date.
- Place a large mixing bowl and the beaters of your mixer into the refrigerator for the whipping the heavy cream at a later point.
- Place a piece of waxed paper or Silpat on the counter. Melt the 1 tablespoon of butter in a small skillet; once foaming add the sliced almonds, stirring constantly until lightly golden. Add the 2 tablespoons of granulated sugar and continue to stir until the sugar has lightly caramelized the almonds. At this point immediately turn onto the waxed paper or Silpat. Spread into a single layer and allow to cool completely.
- Wash and pat dry the strawberries. Using one pint, remove the stem and slice the berries into thirds. Place the slices into a bowl with the 2 tablespoons of granulated sugar and Grappa; stir gently and macerate for one hour. Reserve the second pint of whole, clean strawberries for completing the cake.
- Pour the heavy cream into the chilled mixing bowl along with the confectioner's sugar and beat until soft peaks form; add the vanilla and continue to beat until the cream just reaches a firm peak stage - refrigerate.
- Select a cake plate to serve Summer Celebration Cake on and dot with two tablespoons of the whipped cream, place the bottom layer on the plate (the whip cream will help stabilize the cake on the plate)
- Spoon ½ of the sliced strawberries and their juice onto the bottom layer. Top the strawberries with ⅓ of the whipped cream. Carefully place the second layer over the whipped cream, pressing gently to insure that it is secure. Repeat with the strawberries and whipped cream and add the top layer of the cake. Spoon the remaining whipped cream over the top of the cake and decorate the top and cake plate with the whole strawberries. Delicately arrange the caramelized almond pieces over the whipped cream and around the edges of the cake plate.
- The cake is best serves within 4 to 5 hours of being completed.