Chocolate Orange Espresso Chiffon Cake

There are many wonderful chocolate cake recipes out there but if you want a really light, fluffy and moist chocolate cake this recipe must be for you. Chiffon cakes sound a bit daunting to make but trust me, they are not hard to make. I saw a chiffon cake recipe in a magazine years ago when I was a teenager and I had to try it. The recipe worked so beautifully that I was hooked. Over the years I’ve given that basic recipe many twists to create my own flavour combinations including this chocolate orange espresso chiffon cake. It has worked beautifully every single time.

A chiffon cake is basically one made by folding a cake batter made with egg yolks and vegetable oil into stiffly beaten egg whites. It has an interesting story too. The cake was invented in 1920 by an American salesman turned caterer. He kept his recipe secret for twenty years before finally selling it to a food company for a hefty sum I suppose.

chocolate-clementine-orange-espresso-chiffon-cake-recipe
Another version with a very light orange drizzle. A few edible flower petals gave it a million dollar look.

Now a few technical tricks to make your chiffon cakes perfect: First of all, like in making meringue you must make sure the bowl and beaters and your hands are completely grease-free and dry before you start beating your egg whites. Egg whites don’t beat well if these conditions are not met.

Secondly, you must remember never to oil your chiffon cake tin. I’ll explain that when we come to our next point which is using the right kind of tin. There are special aluminium chiffon cake tins with detachable bottoms for easy removal of the cake. My bundt tin does the job but the proper one I used to own gave better results as it made the unmolding of the cake much easier.

In case of chiffon cakes it’s best not to use non-stick coated tins. You want your batter to cling to the tin and pull itself up. If it’s a bundt tin you are using (like the one I use) you will need to use a wooden skewer and some careful gentle pulling and tugging with your fingers to release the cake from the sides of the tin. A bit fiddly but works for me every time. It just needs a bit of patience and I’d rather be patient than buy a special tin that I have no room to store in my almost exploding kitchen!

mini-bundt-orange-chiffon-cakes
I replaced the cocoa powder in the recipe with flour and baked the batter in mini bundt tins. A sprinkling of vanilla icing sugar and some raspberry jam to serve made them very popular in our house.

The last thing you need to know and do is cooling the cake in the tin upside down! You need to invert the cake in its tin (because it’s clinging to the sides it won’t fall out) and place it on a short-necked bottle or inverted funnel on the counter so that the neck of the bottle or funnel holds the tin (and the cake obviously) in mid-air.

If you are using a non-stick coated tin it’s a good idea to check the cake to make sure it’s clinging to the pan properly. This step will ensure that your cake is very fluffy and of proper hight. The world won’t come to an end if you don’t though so you can skip this stage if you are not feeling very confident.

In the pictures below you can see how the whites and the batter are mixed together, lightly, gently, lovingly… And for those of you who may want to ask if candied peel works for decoration my answer is yes, absolutely! But making the orange slices won’t take more than a few minutes and is totally worth going the extra length if you ask me. I prefer to use clementine juice for the cake because it’s sweeter and more intense in flavour than orange juice and oranges for decoration because orange slices look prettier but use whichever you like better.

Beat egg whites until very stiff peaks form and try to incorporate as much air into the whites as you can.
Beat egg whites until very stiff peaks form and try to incorporate as much air into the whites as you can.
Make a batter with the rest of the ingredients.
Make a batter with the rest of the ingredients.
Gently fold the chocolate batter into white in several stages.
Gently fold the chocolate batter into beaten whites in several stages.
Don't overmix. Some white specks will show in the batter but that's OK.
Don’t overmix. Some white specks will show in the batter but that’s OK.

There are endless flavour combinations you can use with this recipe as a guide. You can replace the cocoa powder with an equal amount of flour and make an orange chiffon cake or use lemon juice and zest for a lemon one. I’ve even done marbled chiffon cake with very good results. Give your imagination free reign, I’m sure you’ll come up with your very own favourite flavour combos!

So here’s the recipe for one large cake:

Ingredients:

For the cake:

  • 220g cake flour, sifted
  • 60g cocoa powder
  • 2 tsp instant espresso powder
  • 300g caster sugar
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 180ml freshly squeezed juice (or orange juice)
  • 125ml oil (sunflower, rapeseed or olive oil)
  • zest of two medium oranges
  • 7 medium eggs, separated and allowed to reach room temperature
  • 1/2 tsp cream of tartar (or a pinch of salt)

 

For the drizzle:

  • 60g cocoa powder
  • 60g icing sugar
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 1 tsp oil
  • Boiling water

For candied orange slices:

  • 125ml water
  • 100g caster sugar
  • 4-5 slices of orange (about 2 mm thick)

 

Method:

  1. Preheat the oven to 170.
  2. Put the flour, sugar, baking powder, salt, espresso powder and cocoa powder in a bowl and mix well with a whisk. Set aside.
  3. Put the egg yolks, juice and oil in a small jug and set aside.
  4. Put the egg whites in a clean, dry, grease-free bowl and add the cream of tartar (or salt) and beat on low for two minutes or until frothy. Increase speed to high and beat until very stiff peaks form. Don’t overbeat.
  5. Make a well in the centre of the dry ingredients and pour in the yolks mixture and add the zest. Beat on low for 1 minute, then on medium for three minutes or until the batter is smooth.
  6. Add one third of the egg whites to the batter and fold in with gentle circular movement (from bottom to top, in one direction only) with a rubber spatula. Repeat with the remaining whites in two more batches. Pour the batter into ungreased tin. Bake for 50-55 minutes or until a skewer inserted in the cake comes out clean. DO NOT OPEN THE OVEN DOOR for the first 40 minutes or your cake may deflate.
  7. While you are waiting for the cake to bake make the candied orange slices and the drizzle: Put the sugar and water in a medium sized saucepan and bring to the boil. Cook until syrup is thick and coats the back of a wooden spoon. Arrange the orange slices in one layer in the syrup and cook on medium heat for three minute. Oranges will release juice and dilute the syrup so stir very gently to mix the syrup with the juice. Now cook on low for a few minutes or until the syrup is thick again, turning the orange slices once or twice halfway through to cook them evenly. Let the orange slices cool in the syrup. For the drizzle sift the icing sugar and cocoa and put in a small bowl. Add the vanilla and a tablespoon of boiling water (or more if the icing is too thick). Mix well until smooth and set aside.
  8. Once the cake is done take it out of the oven and check to make sure it’s properly sticking to the sides of the tin. If it doesn’t it’s best not to bother with the upside-down cooling process. If it does properly cling to the tin stick the neck of a bottle or funnel in the hole in the middle of the tin and invert on a board and let cool completely.
  9. If you are using a proper chiffon tin run a palette knife around the cake and the middle hole. Put a plate on top of the tin and invert, then give a gentle push to the bottom of the tin (now facing upward) to release the base. Remove the tin and lift the bottom piece using the palette knife.
  10. Put the cake on a serving dish and drizzle with the chocolate icing. Arrange the orange slices on top and drizzle with a little syrup from cooking the orange slices. Let stand for a couple of hours at least for flavours to develop. Enjoy!

An Apple Expert’s Chicken & Apple Stew Recipe (Khoresht-e Sib)

I have a Persian apple and chicken stew recipe for you today that is quite unique because it comes from a man who has dedicated his life to growing not one or a few but literally hundreds of kinds of apples and other fruit trees. He also happens to be an excellent cook.

In October I had the honour to visit Keepers Nursery in Kent, England, where Hamid Habibi, Sima Morshed and their son Karim have probably the largest private collection of apple trees in the world. The sheer variety of apples they grow is truly stunning. I saw apples that weighed nearly a kilo as well as tiny ones in all colours and shades and many others in between. They also grow Persian and other varieties of medlars and quinces. I got to taste some of Hamid’s superb quince jam and spiced pickled pears the first time I visited.

Keepers-nursery
Hamid Habibi, Sima Morshed and their son Karim. Cookies, the family dog, has a taste for tart apples and competed with me in tasting.

Cooking with fruit is a characteristic of the Persian cuisine. We love putting fruits of all sorts in our food to give it the sweet and sour flavour (malas) we so much love. Hamid is Iranian but has lived in Britain for many years. When he told me he does a Persian apple khoresht with chicken I had to beg for his recipe. He agreed to give me his recipe as well as an interview to share with my readers. So let’s meet Hamid first:

Hamid, please tell us a little about yourself. How long have you been growing apples? How many varieties do you think you have in your collection?

My wife Sima and I have been growing apple trees as amateur gardeners for a long time but professionally for about 25 years. Our professional involvement really started as a result of my father-in-law setting up a little orchard in part of our garden for our two sons when they were small. He thought it would be nice for them to grow up with fruit trees like we had as children in Iran. To cut a long story short we ended up buying some land around our house and going into partnership with the nurseryman who planted the little orchard for us. This was over 25 years ago. We now have what is probably the largest private collection of fruit trees in the country which includes about 600 varieties of apple. The nursery has grown and our younger son Karim, now grown up, has also become our partner (and occasionally boss!) in the business. We believe that we have the largest range of fruit trees for sale anywhere.

apples-keepers-nursery
A few of the many varieties of apples from Keepers Nursery

You obviously have a huge supply of many different varieties of apples from the orchard. In what different ways do you use them?

There are lots of ways apples can be used but there is nothing quite like biting into a fresh, crisp and juicy apple straight off the tree. We are lucky to have almost an endless supply from August until about Christmas. We manage to get through quite a few every day: For breakfast, as dessert after lunch or dinner, or just as a snack straight off the tree while we are working in the nursery. We juice some and have our own apple juice throughout the year and some to give to friends as well. One of our favourite cakes is what I call “triple apple cake” because it has a lot more apple in it than cake! We also make apple sauce with cinnamon as a dessert or to have with yogurt or on cereals. We also make dried apple which is a great healthy snack. One of the favourite dishes in our house is a Persian apple stew – khorest-e sib – and we have our own recipe for it.

This red-fleshed tart apple was the best I tasted during my visit.

This red-fleshed tart apple was the best I tasted during my visit. 

Where does your apple khoresht recipe come from? Your family in Iran? 

When we were first married Sima said that her favourite dish when she was a child in Iran was khoresht-e sib. Apparently it was a regular dish in their house. I had never had it. In fact it is not a very common dish. Anyway I came up with my version of khoresht-e sib which while it follows the basic pattern of Persian khorsht recipes, is probably unique to our house.

What’s your favourite variety of apple to cook with? What kind of apples work best in your recipe? Any commonly found UK varieties you can recommend?

I have tried a lot of different apple varieties but one of the best, which happens to be one that is available from supermarkets throughout the year in Pink Lady. The khoresht needs a sweet apple with a firm texture which does not break up easily when cooked. It also needs to be an apple which does not discolour too quickly.

What’s the key spice in your apple khoresht recipe?

The key spice is saffron which gives a golden yellow colour to the apples. But I also use turmeric and cinnamon in the recipe.

I had dinner with Hamid and Sima recently. Hamid had made the apple khoresht for us with rice and a delicious golden tahdig (crust from the bottom of the pot). The khoresht smelled and tasted heavenly. I took some pictures of his khoresht but the lighting was not good and none was usable so I made the khoresht this weekend according to his recipe and the house once again filled with the lovely aroma of saffron, cinnamon and apples. So here is his recipe for 4-6 servings:

 

Ingredients:

  • 750g chicken thighs, skinned
  • 1.5Kg Pink Lady apples
  • 2 onions
  • 5 tbsp sunflower oil
  • 2 lemons
  • 100ml white cider vinegar
  • 100ml sekanjebin (Elderflower cordial syrup works well as an English alternative)
  • 1 tsp turmeric
  • ½ tsp cinnamon powder or small stick of whole cinnamon
  • 1/8 tsp ground saffron
  • 1 tbsp plain flour 

Method:

  1. Peel and finely chop the onions. Put 3 tablespoons oil in a pan. Add the chopped onions and cook over medium heat until translucent. Add the turmeric and cinnamon and stir in.
  2. Add the skinned chicken thighs to the pan and cook until they are well covered with the spices and sealed. Sprinkle the flour over the mixture, season with salt and a little pepper and stir. Add 500ml of boiling water and bring back to boil. Lower the heat and gently simmer for 30 minutes or until the chicken is well cooked. 
  3. Meanwhile, core and cut the apples into 8-10 segments. An apple segment cutter is ideal for this. Heat 2 tablespoons sunflower oil in a sauté pan. Add the apple segments and sauté for 5 minutes.
  4. Mix the saffron with 2 tablespoons boiling water in a cup. Pour over the apple segments and stir. The apple segments should become golden yellow as they absorb the saffron. Put the apple segments in a bowl. 
  5. Once cooked allow the chicken to cool sufficiently to handle. Gently take the chicken meat off the bone and place the pieces in the sauté pan. Pour the stock left from cooking the chicken into the sauté pan. Arrange the apple segments on top.
  6. Mix the juice from the two lemons, vinegar and sekanjebin (or elderflower syrup) and pour it over the contents of the sauté pan. Simmer gently for about 15-20 minutes checking regularly to ensure that the apple does not overcook. It is important to cook the apple segments to exactly the right amount. They are ready when they are soft and fairly limp but have not yet started to fall apart. Serve with rice and enjoy.

 Reminder from Hamid: “Like most Persian dishes khoresht-e sib benefits from allowing the flavours to blend. We call it ja oftadan. Many are allowed to cook slowly. As this is a dish that cooks relatively fast, I like to leave it to sit for an hour or two and to re-heat it before serving.” 

A note on Sekanjebin: This Persian syrup is very easy to make at home. Put 1/2 cup sugar and 1/2 cup water in a small saucepan and bring to boil. Add 2 tbsp white wine vinegar and 2 large sprigs of mint. Simmer gently for 10 minutes. Turn off the heat and discard the mint when the syrup has cooled. Use as called for in the recipe.