Nana’s Golden Chiffon Cake and a Lesson in Grief

This weekend, my family is getting together to celebrate my grandpa’s 92nd birthday at his home in Cupertino, California. This party will also be a reunion of sorts, since many of us haven’t seen each other in years. I don’t see my grandpa or the whole family very often, so I am pretty excited.  Plus, I get to show off Jordan, which is always fun.

Golden Chiffon Cake with Seven-Minute Frosting recipe and image by Lacey Stevens-Baier, personal chef of Sweet Pea Chef

About a month ago, my mom asked me if I would be willing to bake a birthday cake for my grandpa’s party. My mom mentioned my grandpa’s favorite cake is a coconut layer cake with seven-minute frosting. Given that the cake sounded easy enough and that I thought it’d be a neat gesture for my grandpa’s birthday, I told my mom I’d be happy to do it.

Then I learned more.

Golden Chiffon Cake

About a week later, I found out the cake my grandpa loves is the same cake my grandma made for him every year for his birthday.

OK. Deep breaths. Don’t freak out.

I didn’t realize there was such history behind this seemingly simple cake. You see, my grandma passed away two years.  So, basically, I don’t want to mess it up.  I have big shoes to fill (actually, small shoes is more like it, since my grandma was a very petite woman, but you get the point).

Golden Chiffon Cake with Seven-Minute Frosting recipe and image by Lacey Stevens-Baier, personal chef of Sweet Pea Chef

Naturally, I wanted to back out desperately make a practice cake because I’m a control freak. So, to embrace this “experience,” I asked my mom if she could get me my grandma’s old recipe. After a few phone calls to my aunts, she found it. Apparently, the “coconut cake” recipe was actually a Golden Chiffon Cake with coconut flakes. If you’re interested, you can find it in the 1976 Better Homes and Gardens Cookbook. It’s right there on page 138: my grandma’s recipe.

As I stood in my kitchen baking this practice cake, I couldn’t help but picture my grandma’s kitchen–as if I was baking with her. Every so often, I would remember bits and pieces of different times in my life standing with my grandma and making food in her kitchen. At one point, I looked down to the floor where Jordan was playing with some plastic containers and I became profoundly sad.

Golden Chiffon Cake with Seven-Minute Frosting recipe and image by Lacey Stevens-Baier, personal chef of Sweet Pea Chef

It suddenly hit me that Jordan will never meet her great-grandma. This made me sad in a way I hadn’t anticipated. When I got the call two years ago in February that my grandma had passed away, I didn’t cry. I felt sad, yes. I guess it was hard for me to accept she was gone after only a phone call.   I haven’t visited since my grandma passed away, so its still difficult to imagine my grandparents’ home without my grandma.

Golden Chiffon Cake

Nana isn’t there anymore.

In a way, baking this cake helped me grieve for my grandma…when I didn’t even think I needed to grieve. Life is funny that way, I guess. I realize now that making this cake isn’t just for my grandpa.

Golden Chiffon Cake

It’s for me and Nana as well.

Miss you, Nana. (And, happy birthday, Grandpa!)

Golden Chiffon Cake with Toasted Coconut and Seven-Minute Frosting

adapted from Better Homes and Gardens Cookbook, p. 138-143 ©1976

For the cake:

2 1/4 cups sifted cake flour
1 1/2 cups sugar
3 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 cup canola oil
5 egg yolks
3/4 cup water
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 teaspoons grated lemon zest
1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar
1 cup (8) egg whites
2 cups coconut flakes

Directions

Preheat oven to 325 degrees.

Place coconut flakes evenly over a baking sheet lined with parchment paper in the oven for approximately 15-20 minutes. Every 5-7 minutes, check on the coconut and toss. Careful not to burn the flakes. Once evenly golden, remove from oven and set aside to cool.

In a large bowl, sift together first 4 ingredients into bowl; make well in center. Add in order next 5 ingredients. Beat until satin smooth.

Add cream of tartar to egg whites; beat till very stiff peaks form. Pour batter in thin stream over entire surface of egg whites; fold in gently. Bake in 2 un-greased spring-form cake pans at 325 degrees until a knife inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean, approximately 40-55 minutes. Cool on rack. Frost with Seven-Minute Frosting (recipe follows). Sprinkle sides and top with toasted coconut flakes.

For the frosting:

2 unbeaten egg whites
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar
1/3 cup cold water
dash of salt
4-5 drops yellow food coloring
1 teaspoon vanilla

Directions

Place all ingredients except vanilla in top of double boiler. Beat for 1/2 minute on low with electric mixer to blend. Place over, not touching, boiling water. Cook, beating constantly, until frosting forms soft peaks, (about 7 minutes, careful not to overcook). Remove from boiling water. If desired, pour into mixing bowl. Add vanilla and beat till of spreading consistency, about 2 minutes.

Frost sides, layer and top of cake. Sprinkle generously with toasted coconut flakes to completely cover cake.

Enjoy!

————————————————————–
As always, I want to thank you for reading. I welcome your comments, questions, recipe suggestions and food stories. Here’s to doing what you love!

2 1/4 cups sifted cake flour

1 1/2 cups sugar

3 teaspoons baking powder

1 teaspoon salt

1/2 cup vegetable oil

5 egg yolks

3/4 cup water

1 teaspoon vanilla

2 teaspoons grated lemon peel

1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar

1 cup (8) egg whites

few drops yellow food coloring

Sift together first 4 ingredients into bowl; make well in center. Add in order next 5 ingredients.

Beat until satin smooth. Add cream of tartar to egg whites; beat till very stiff peaks form. Pour batter in thin stream over entire surface of egg whites; fold in gently. Bake in ungreased 10-inch tube pan or

2 ungreased cake pans. in a slow oven (325) for 1 hour and 10 minutes. Invert pan; cool.

Frost with Seven-Minute Frosting (recipe follows) tinted with a few drops of yellow food coloring. Sprinkle sides and top with yellow tinted coconut.

Seven-Minute Frosting:

2 unbeaten egg whites

1 1/2 cups granulated sugar

2 teaspoons light corn syrup or 1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar

1/3 cup cold water

dash of salt

1 teaspoon vanilla

Place all ingredients except vanilla in top of double boiler (don’t place over boiling water); beat 1/2 minute at low on electric mixer to blend. Place over, not touching, boiling water. Cook, beating constantly until frosting forms soft peaks, (about 7 minutes, don’t

overcook!)Remove from boling water.If desired, pour into mixing bowl. Add vanilla, beat till of speading consistency; about 2 minutes.

Frost sides and then tops of cake. Sprinkle generously with light yellow tinted coconut flakes to completely cover cake. Decorate as desired.

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Comments

  1. Monica Vince says

    I found your comments whilst searching for a New Zealand author who wrote a cookbook based around her Nana’s favourite recipes.
    You wrote so beautifully about your grandparents and yes it is sad your little one won’t have the joy of meeting Nana but she has a wonderful heritage that you can give to her.
    I have saved your recipe for golden chiffon cake and will make it, it sounds absolutely scrummy!!

    Kind regards
    Monica Vince
    Australia

  2. says

    I made this cake last weekend and it is super yummy! I did have one issue though that I thought you might know the answer to. The icing came out really crystallized. At first I thought it was just sugar granules that didn’t melt but then when I went to ice the cake it was like the icing had formed a crystallized layer on the bowl and when you eat it it’s crunchy. Any ideas? Who knows…maybe it is just sugar granules that didn’t get dissolved.

    • says

      Hi there,

      I did some digging and found this to answer your question:

      “Grittiness is caused by undissolved sugar crystals in the mixture or from any sugar crystals left on the side of the bowl “seeding” the whole batch to crystallize. You can use regular table sugar, but superfine or confectioners sugar are better because they dissolve faster with their smaller crystal size. I also take some extra steps to prevent crystallization:
      1. Dissolve the sugar in the mixture thoroughly by frequent beating with a mixer on medium-low every couple of minutes, taking up to 10 minutes in total usually necessary when using table sugar;
      2. “Wash down” the crystals left on the sides of the pan at the beginning of cooking by creating steam from a lid and washing with a wet pastry brush; and,
      3. Don’t scrape the bowl. Hardened icing makes the batch gritty.”

      For more info, this except is from http://baking911.com/frosting-icing-etc/buttercream-meringues/seven-minute-vanilla-bean-icing.

      I hope this helps!!

  3. Dulce Andrade says

    I wanted to say that the prelude to the recipe is absolutely precious. I too miss my nana everyday and cooking beside her. I’ll be trying this recipe out. THANKS.

  4. Isabel says

    Hi,

    love the cake and planning to make it for my best friend’s birthday in five days :) I have a question, though: I may not be reading the recipe right, but all the coconut flakes are used for decoration and there is no coconut in the batter?

  5. says

    this was amazingly yummy. I tried this cake out for my husbands upcoming birthday party (New Zealand themed), and cut it into the shape of New Zealand (North and South island), wasn’t easy, but it worked out fine. It kept for days as well! I can’t wait to actually make this for the party! Thanks! :)

    • says

      Hey Michelle! I really liked this cake, too. It just screams birthday cake, doesn’t it? I’m so glad you’re going to make this for your husband’s party. How special. I’ve never tried to shape a cake before, but that sounds great. Happy birthday to your husband!

  6. Simone says

    thanks for the help i used the whisk but the consistency is a bit runny is that how its supposed to be before it cools off??

    • says

      Unfortunately, not so much. The idea is to get the peaks to form and remain formed. If it’s runny, it will probably stay that way. If you’re still not having any luck, I’d try cooling the frosting in the fridge for about 10 minutes to let it stiffen up a little, but it’s probably not gonna be “stiff” as the recipe is intended. It can be difficult, especially if you just aren’t whisking quickly enough or your kitchen is too warm…sorry :(

  7. Simone says

    Hey Lacey,
    It’s me again :) i am having trouble gettting the frosting to get soft peaks like the recipe. I am using an emulsifier to beat the frosting while over the stove, is that ok? should i be using the whisk, please tell me if there is anything i am doing wrong or that can help, please respond as soon as possible. Thank You

    • says

      Hi Simone! Welcome back. Sorry to hear you’re having trouble getting the frosting to form stiff peaks…it can be a little tricky. I would recommend using a hand mixer or whisk instead of the emulsifier, as that’s what I’ve seen work in the past. Try to whisk as quickly as possible — it will get difficult, but it should work. If using the hand mixer, use it on a medium-high speed. I hope this helps. Good luck! Please let me know if you need any further help.

  8. Simone says

    Hey Lacey,
    i am planning to make this cake for my mom’s birthday and i’m just wondering the height of the cake and how many people it will serve

    Sincerly,
    Simone Rubio

    • says

      Yay, Simone! I’m so happy you are going to make this cake for your mom. How special. If my memory serves me, each layer was about 2 1/2 inches high…plus the frosting layers and toasted coconut. I’d estimate the height to be about 6 inches–I think. Depending on the size of your slices, a 2-layer cake baked in 9″ cake pans should serve about 12-14 people, possibly even 16. I hope that helps! Happy birthday to your mom! I hope she likes it!

  9. Cindy says

    Grief is an odd thing. I love that through the cake the memory of your Nana lives on. I was wondering, what size springform pans did you use?

    • says

      Hi Cindy. Thanks for your comment.

      For my practice cake, I used a 9 inch pan but I wound up using a 10 inch pan for the real deal due to “technical difficulties.” Both turned out well, but the estimated baking time noted on this recipe is for a 9 inch pan. I hope that helps.

    • says

      Zoe, there’s something just so special about how old it is, right? I hope you try it out. It really is light and delicate and the flavors are lovely and subtle. Thanks for stopping by!

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