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Troubleshooting: Chocolate chiffon cake

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Hi all,

I hope someone can offer me some advice on a chocolate chiffon cake recipe!

I want to make the mocha cake from Suas' "Advanced Bread and Pastry", and I'm having some serious issues with chiffon cake base. Let me also point out that I'm very new to pastry and cake mixing... I've baked my way through most of the bread part of the book, and now I'd like to dive into the (scary) world of pastries. I managed to mix a splendid coffee buttercream (which is now waiting in the fridge), but I'm running into trouble with the chiffon base. I've had three botched attempts so far. OK, since I'm completely new, let me give the details of what I'm doing. Please bear with me! The recipe is as follows for a 20 cm cake:

Dry ingredients:


- Cake flour: 85 gr. (100%)

- Baking powder: 4 gr. (4.67%)

- Baking soda: 1 gr. (1.33%)

- Granulated sugar #1: 100 gr. (120%)

Liquid ingredients & chocolate emulsion:


- Water: 50 gr. (60%)

- Chopped semi-sweet chocolate: 65 gr. (74.67%)

- Egg yolks: 50 gr. (60%)

- Canola oil: 45 gr. (53.33%)



- Egg whites: 90 gr. (105.33%)

- Granulated sugar #2: 50 gr. (56%)

- Cream of tartar: 1 g. (0.93%)

OK. Here's what I do:

- I sift together the dry ingredients.

- Mix the meringue to medium peaks.

- Boil the water and pour it over the chocolate. Let it sit for 1 min., and then gently whisk together.

- Whisk in liquid ingredients (yolks and canola oil) into the chocolate emulsion.

- Whisk the dry ingredients into the chocolate emulsion.

- Fold the meringue into the chocolate batter. I do this in three turns, and fold until there are no white streaks.

- Pour into a 15 cm form, and bake for approx. 25-30 mins at 170C.

I don't have a 20 cm form, so I'm using a 15 cm one instead. I'm approximately filling this halfway up (a little less actually), and I discard the rest of the chiffon cake batter. The oven is well pre-heated to the specified temperature.

OK. So, for the first 15 mins or so of the bake, the cake is rising nicely, up to somewhere around 3/4 of the form. The middle of the cake is somewhat lower than the edges, so it's a bit soggy in the middle. Then, after about 15 mins, it almost looks like the top starts cracking, and there's a circular crack appearing. This becomes more and more distinct, and after approx. 20 mins, it's almost like the middle of the cake starts to cave in on itself; like the cake is not able to hold its own weight. I was surprised by this, since I'm only using a 15 cm form, and I supposed the edges would support it better than they do...

Anyway, I'm freaking a bit out about the caving in part, so I immediately remove the form from the oven, and flip it upside down to cool. After it's cooled for 90 mins., I turn it around, and it looks like this:


See the crack in the surface? The surface is also more greyish than dark brown. Out of the form, this is what I get:


It's extremely crumbly, and there's that greyish crust color running around the top. Now, according to Suas, this base is supposed to be cut in four layers. My base is very crumbly, as you can see from the photo below, where I've gently removed the grey top:


The whole thing is just very delicate and crumbly, and there's no way I'm able to get this in four whole pieces...

Now, as I mentioned, I'm completely new to serious pastry stuff. I've read the theory bits in Suas' book about cake mixing, meringues etc., but there are obviously pieces I'm missing. I've had three go's at this, all with the same result. I've varied the meringue mixing (going from medium to stiff to medium-soft), but the result has always been the same. I'm using a digital scale, so I'm pretty confident that I'm scaling the amounts correctly.

I'm really not sure where I should start looking? Would mixing the cake batter more improve the results? Should I bake it slightly shorter (until just before the crust starts cracking, for instance)? I hope someone can nudge me in the right direction! I still have that awesome coffee buttercream in the fridge, and I'd love to use it for this mocha cake...

Thanks so much in advance!

Edited by hansjoakim (log)

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I don't know it looks good to me.

Bake two of 'em to get your results.

Not all recipes are created equal.

Real fresh cake can be very crumbly.

It doesn't look dry.

One often removes the top crust.

Torting cold cake is easier.

No worries.

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I've only baked chiffon cakes in a tube pan. Like an angel food, the cake may be too delicate to support itself and that's why it falls.

Ruth Dondanville aka "ruthcooks"

“Are you making a statement, or are you making dinner?” Mario Batali

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I had a problem like this with a pound cake recipe. The cake rose nicely, then collapsed in the latter part of the baking time. Sank with a trench in the middle. It had a crust, also. I made the cake three times, all failed, then the lightbulb went on upstairs and I calculated the proportion of ingredients according to Corriher's balanced cake formula (in Cookwise). The amount of sugar was way over proportionate compared to the amount of flour in the recipe.

When I emailed the authors of the cookbook, they checked their manuscript and found the typo. Yep, part of the flour was missing.

Corriher says a few things about chiffon cakes in Cookwise, including: "Spongecake...can be prepared in layers too. It is important to have the correct amount of batter for the pan size, so follow recipe directions." Perhaps your 15cm pan is the problem?

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with chiffon cakes like this, i tend to change the sugar measurements around to make a more stable meringue. in other words, with this recipe, i'd take some of the sugar from the dry ingredients and move it to the meringue section (maybe 40 or 50 grams).

when making the meringue, start with room temp whites and whisk until the whites are very foamy and are already starting to froth and become opaque. then, add the sugar gradually, allowing each addition to be absorbed/dissolved before adding the next. with this small amount, i'd probably add in three increments. you want something the consistency of a nice thick shaving cream.

i'd also up the temperature a little bit. if my conversion is correct, 338F is a little low for a chiffon, i'd go up to 350F at least. if it takes too long for the egg proteins to set up, they might have a chance to explode during their expansion and then collapse before the cake is finished baking. also, make sure that your oven is calibrated and running correctly.

the chocolate chiffon i've made uses cocoa powder which is a drying ingredient, so i usually add a touch more water. i'm a little at a loss with this one since it uses melted chocolate...maybe add another egg yolk?

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Thanks so much for your suggestions all :smile:

I'll have another go later today with some modifications:

- Instead of adding sugar to egg whites before mixing, I'll put it slowly in when the egg whites are well foamy.

- Bake at slightly higher temperature, and perhaps a bit shorter

- Check batter size vs. pan size more carefully

I'll also have a look at the sugar measurements in the original recipe. I've compared with some others I've seen, and it looks alright, but I'll do some more comparisons. Thanks again!

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Bake two of 'em to get your results.

Not all recipes are created equal.

It could be your technique of course, but as K8 implies, there are too many good recipes out there (especially chiffon) to waste 4+ tries on one recipe.

Generally, if a recipe doesn't work for me on the second (or first) try, I move on to another one. For a chocolate chiffon, you could try the Rose Levy Beranbaum or Flo Braker recipes. Both have turned out successfully for me.


Edited by sanrensho (log)

Baker of "impaired" cakes...

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Despite the fact that they were supposed to make life easier for housewives in the 1950's, I think chiffon cakes are one of the most difficult to make as there are a lot of variables.

I think your cake looks delicious and just as it should, nice and crusty on the top, and a nice open crumb. Perhaps it may be a tad overbaked, but it is very difficult to tell when a chiffon cake is done. Regarding being able to cut it into 4 tiers, I often find recipe yields are much smaller than in reality...think about all those recipes that say they'll make 5 dozen cookies and you only end up with 2 dozen. So I think just cut into 3 layers and perhaps brush with simple syrup to remoisten the cake.

Congratulations on entering the world of cakes. I am thinking that maybe if you want to perfect a cake, perhaps you should invite a few friends over and do a scientific study comparing a butter cake, chiffon cake, and maybe a couple of sponge cakes. At the end of the evening, you could compare notes and see which cake recipe you like the best.

Stephanie Crocker

Sugar Bakery + Cafe

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but it is very difficult to tell when a chiffon cake is done.

Um, no it's not. Chiffon cakes are what I bake constantly and they have a lovely little spring to them in the center when done. For me, they are the easiest cakes to make, bake and torte.

If you are having trouble torting a chiffon cake because it's "crumbly", the easy easy way around that is to freeze it. A chiffon cake does not set up hard when frozen like a butter cake does. I actually prefer to split my chiffons when they are frozen.....they are very easy to work with that way.

In my opinion, chiffon always needs a little syrup on it, I never complete a chiffon without some sort of soak. Right now, my strawberry cream cake has a triple sec/simple syrup brushed on layers.....really good.

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but it is very difficult to tell when a chiffon cake is done.

Um, no it's not. Chiffon cakes are what I bake constantly and they have a lovely little spring to them in the center when done. For me, they are the easiest cakes to make, bake and torte.


In my opinion, chiffon always needs a little syrup on it, I never complete a chiffon without some sort of soak. Right now, my strawberry cream cake has a triple sec/simple syrup brushed on layers.....really good.

Would you be willing to part with your base recipe for the chiffon cake layers?

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Hi everyone,

And thanks again for all the thoughtful replies!

Well, some good news: I took my last eggs and had a final go at the recipe I wrote in the original post. What I did different this time around, was that I loosely covered the form with a layer of aluminum foil at the start of the bake. I made sure that it was not covering the form tightly (to avoid any issues with steam), and pre-heated the oven to 170C. After approx. 25 mins., I removed the aluminum foil. The cake was then very moist at the top, and had risen from about 1/3 filling to about halfway up. I reduced the temperature to 150C, and continued to bake without the foil for roughly 25 more minutes. At the end of the bake, the cake was between 2/3 and 3/4 up the form, the top was brown and shiny and springy. I removed it and cooled it upside down.

This was far less crumbly than the previous cakes, so I split it in three, soaked each layer with some cake syrup, sprinkled apricot jam over, then a layer of coffee buttercream. It was delicious :smile:

I'd love to try to learn something from this, so that I can make these kinds of cakes more confidently and consistently in the future. I'm guessing that the original oven temperature was too high? Do you think this might've caused the top to set too fast, and that the interior somehow collapsed as it was trapped and couldn't expand further? If so, the aluminum foil remedied this...? I'm also wondering about how the stiffness of the meringue peaks affects cakes like this? Some recipes say soft peaks, others medium-stiff. How will the stiffness of the peaks affect volume and texture of the cake?

Thanks again for your input all!

Edited by hansjoakim (log)

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Would you be willing to part with your base recipe for the chiffon cake layers?

Sure. I'll grab my recipe at work and bring it home and type it up for y'all......ya want white or chocolate? :laugh:

I'd love both :rolleyes: but if I have to pick one I'd say White.

Thanks so much in advance.

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Hi Chef Peon,

I really like chiffon too, especially its softness even after chilling.

I've always wondered though: is it absolutely necessary to cool them upside down? because particularly in a bakeshop setting, with such a large number of cakes, do you professionals invert them?

Or is it dependent on the formula? (by the way, did you ever post your chiffon base? :smile: )

Thanks in advance!


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That sounds great. I love chiffon cakes! :) And the chocolate flavor reminded me of the Chocolate Rice Pudding that I cooked yesterday. :)

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