People who compliment me about my cooking often follow up their compliments with “Oh, your mother must be a great cook!”
And my mother is a great cook. Super, as a matter of fact. Her poulet a’la Veronique (chicken and grapes cooked in a creamy sauce) is amazing, as is her morcon (also known as matahambre, an Argentine dish featuring thinly-pounded beef wrapped around a savory filling of chorizo, cheese, pickled gherkins, and boiled eggs). And, for the love of everything sacred, don’t get me started on her never-fail rellenong manok (stuffed chicken, deboned in such a way that it becomes a globular loaf).
There is just one problem: my mother hardly ever cooks!
Yes, seriously: for someone who can easily put many professional cooks to shame, my mother rarely cooks. Most of the time, this only occurs around December when the Holidays roll in. The rest of the year, the kitchen is the domain of good ol’ Ate Sion who has been our helping hand since before my brother was born or me.
However, when Mom does set her hand to cooking and baking, the results are always great.
Case in point: her orange chiffon cake. The last time we had this – and I kid you not – was when my kid sister was in high school. That was over a decade ago.
Just a bit of a backstory here. Chiffon cake seems to be the default specialty of my mother’s side of the family. My late grandmother (my Lola Mama) and my mother are past masters – nay, queens – of the art of baking chiffon cakes. Lola Mama‘s coffee chiffon cake is the stuff of family legend: a light, gorgeously browned sponge flavored with instant coffee (Nescafe – the old school Nescafe, mind you) and drizzled over with condensed milk with more instant coffee.
The first time Mom baked a chiffon cake was when I was in high school. I don’t remember why she baked a cake; I only remember the excitement that came with watching her make it and the sheer bliss of eating it afterwards. I remember being mesmerized by the smell of oranges wafting through our small kitchen as she grated off the peel. I remember being pop-eyed while watching her beat translucent, slimy egg whites into billowy, opaque, starkly white clouds of meringue. She popped a tube-pan about half-full of batter into the oven and we waited patiently for it to bake. When it was done and cooled, she drizzled over a chocolate glaze she made from scratch – one with a runnier texture and a smokier, more grown-up taste than the kind you got from those pre-mixed tubs of Pillsbury icing in the supermarket baking aisle.
Dense and moist, yet strangely light. Bits and bobs of coarsely grated orange zest adding pops of bright, citrusy flavor against the vanilla sponge; the bittersweet chocolate icing gilding it perfectly. That was the cake of my childhood; that, for me, is how happy growing up years at home taste like.
So, when Mom decided to bake a cake yesterday, I was more than happy to help. There is just something therapeutic about grating the peel off oranges, letting their summery fragrance permeate the air around you. Sifting flour twice, even thrice, was more a pleasure than a chore. I was helping my mother bake; I was thirteen or fourteen again and all goggle-eyed that a HomeEc flunky like myself would be allowed to participate in this most glorious of tasks.
This time, though, she allowed me to make the icing. Believe me, a very simple chocolate ganache transforms this already magnificent dessert into something absolutely ambrosial.
Incidentally, Mom’s recipe is actually adapted from the one in the Better Homes and Gardens New Cookbook. In the original, orange and lemon zest were used (So you got something along the lines of a gateau St. Clement, I daresay.), seven (!) eggs, and cake flour rather than all-purpose. Mom’s cake only uses orange peel, all seven eggs, and all-purpose flour; be sure to double-sift your flour before measuring it out.
Likewise, the chocolate glaze is best made with dark chocolate that has at least 50% cocoa solids for a truly wicked, smokily bittersweet taste.
Zeny’s Orange Chiffon Cake
- 2 cups all-purpose flour, sifted before measuring
- 3 teaspoons coarsely grated orange zest (from at least two large oranges)
- 7 eggs, separated
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1-1/2 cups granulated white sugar
- 1/2 cup cooking oil
- 1/4 cup cold squeezed orange juice
- 1 tablespoon baking powder
- 1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar
- 1/2 cup cold water
- 1/4 teaspoon fine salt
Pre-heat oven to 325 degrees / Gas Mark 3.
In a medium-sized mixing bowl, sift together the flour, salt, baking powder, and sugar. Make a well in the center and add the egg yolks, water, orange juice, vanilla extract, and oil. Using an electric mixer, beat on the lowest speed until combined. Raise speed to the highest and beat for five minutes; by this time, the mixture will be smooth. Set aside.
Wash and dry your beaters thoroughly. Add the cream of tartar to the egg whites and beat until stiff peaks form. Carefully fold in the egg yolk batter into the egg whites until all combined. Pour the resulting batter into an ungreased 10-inch tube pan. Bake for 1 hour or until a skewer pierced into the center of the cake comes out clean.
Invert the tube pan over a funnel and allow to cool completely before transferring to a serving platter. Evenly drizzle over the chocolate glaze (recipe follows) before serving.
Midge’s Chocolate Glaze
- 100 grams dark chocolate, broken up
- 50 grams milk chocolate, broken up
- 1/2 cup milk
Place all the ingredients in a saucepan over medium heat. Stir slowly until the chocolate has all melted and the liquid has thickened considerably and looks glossy. Remove from the heat and stir well; allow to cool for about two minutes before pouring over the cake.