September makes me think of my mom. Her birthday was on the 14th, so when she hit the big 90, we decided to have a BIG party. We just invited everybody — friends, family, neighbors. That was when we lived on 50 acres in the country.

September usually is a pretty nice month weather-wise, but just to be sure, we put up a couple tents with folding tables. Mom was embarrassed about the idea until we suggested that rather than buying gifts for her, guests should bring a donation to the local food shelf. She was fine with that because she had spent her life feeding people.

Food? No problem. Birthdays have always been an important celebration in our family, so we felt that to serve everybody, and since there were 10 of us, we decided that each family would bring a birthday cake with 9 candles. We lit 90 candles under the tent!

Chiffon cake baked into a jelly roll is filled with whipped cream and blueberries, then garnished with sprigs of mint. (Susanna Ojakangas / For the News Tribune)
Chiffon cake baked into a jelly roll is filled with whipped cream and blueberries, then garnished with sprigs of mint. (Susanna Ojakangas / For the News Tribune)

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Mom’s favorite birthday cake was always “Chiffon Cake” flavored with lemon or orange and with a spongy texture. She felt it was a healthy cake because it included so many eggs — something we had plenty of on the farm. It is still one of my favorite cakes to bake and is so versatile. Although the traditional cake is baked in a tube pan, it can be baked in layers that you can stuff with fruit and whipped cream, or on a rimmed cookie sheet to be filled and rolled up, jelly-roll style or just in a regular 9-by-13-inch pan that makes an ideal base for shortcake.

The cake is delicious served all by itself simply flavored with vanilla, lemon or orange and served plain. But don’t discount it as a base for the favorite fruits of the season.

Chiffon cake was invented in 1927 by a California insurance salesman by the name of Harry Baker, who was himself a home baker. He sold the recipe to General Mills in 1948. The cake was aggressively promoted by the company as the first “new” cake in 100 years when it first came out.

Coincidentally, I won a trip to the Minnesota State Fair demonstrating the cake in the 4-H program in the early ‘50s.

Chiffon cake can be made in a tube pan and is delicious simply flavored with vanilla, lemon or orange. (Susanna Ojakangas / For the News Tribune)
Chiffon cake can be made in a tube pan and is delicious simply flavored with vanilla, lemon or orange. (Susanna Ojakangas / For the News Tribune)

LEMON OR ORANGE CHIFFON CAKE

This basic cake is a sponge type cake that is leavened with baking powder as well as with beaten egg, which gives the cake a special hybrid texture between a classic sponge cake and a butter cake.

2 cups all-purpose flour

1½ cups sugar

3 teaspoons baking powder

1 teaspoon salt

¾ cup cold water

½ cup vegetable oil

2 teaspoons vanilla

2 teaspoons grated lemon zest or orange zest

7 egg yolks

1 cup egg whites from 8 eggs

½ teaspoon cream of tartar

Lemon or Orange Glaze

5 tablespoons butter

2 cups powdered sugar

1 teaspoon grated lemon or orange zest

2 to 4 tablespoons lemon or orange juice

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. In a large mixing bowl, combine the flour, sugar, baking powder and salt. Beat in cold water, oil, vanilla, lemon or orange zest along with the egg yolks until smooth.

In another large bowl, with a whisk or electric mixer beat the egg whites and cream of tartar on high speed until stiff peaks form. Gradually pour the egg yolk mixture over the beaten egg whites, folding with a rubber spatula until just blended.

For a tube-type cake, pour into a 10-inch angel food (tube) cake pan.

Bake about 1 hour, 15 minutes or until the top springs back when touched lightly. Immediately turn the pan upside down. Let cool for about 2 hours. Loosen the side of the cake with a knife or a long, metal spatula to remove the cake from the pan.

To make a glaze, melt butter in a pan over low heat; remove from the heat. Stir in the powdered sugar and lemon or orange zest until smooth. Stir in the lemon or orange juice a tablespoon at a time until smooth and the consistency of thick syrup. Spread the glaze over the top of the cake, allowing some to drizzle down the side.

To make a layer cake, line the bottoms of three 8- or 9-inch round cake pans with parchment paper. Divide the cake batter between the three pans. Bake layers for 20 to 25 minutes until the cakes test done when touched on the tops. Cool completely and loosen the edges of the layers. Spread and fill the layers with sweetened whipped cream and fresh fruit or berries. Top the cake with berries and whipped cream.

Chiffon cake baked jelly-roll style is dusted with powdered sugar before serving. (Susanna Ojakangas / For the News Tribune)
Chiffon cake baked jelly-roll style is dusted with powdered sugar before serving. (Susanna Ojakangas / For the News Tribune)

To make a rolled cake, line the bottom of a 12-by-17-inch (half of a standard sheet pan) rimmed cookie sheet with parchment paper or, if you have two smaller jelly roll pans, line them with parchment paper and then coat with nonstick cooking spray. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes until the cake tests done when touched on the top; it will feel firm. Loosen the edges of the cake. Invert onto a tea towel. Pull away the parchment paper and roll the cake up, wrapped in the towel. Let cool completely. Unroll the cake and spread with whipped cream and blueberries or strawberries, or with your favorite berry jam. Roll the cake back up with its filling inside. Dust the top with powdered sugar.

Beatrice Ojakangas is a Duluth food writer and author of 31 cookbooks.