At first glance, you might mistake a chiffon cake for an angel food cake. That's understandable since they look so similar. So what is chiffon cake and how do you differentiate chiffon cake vs angel food cake or chiffon cake vs sponge cake? Our Test Kitchen explains and shows you how to make chiffon cake from scratch.
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First things first: What is chiffon cake? Light and airy, chiffon cakes are indeed similar to angel food cakes and sponge cakes. These are the key differences: Angel food cake uses only egg whites; sponge cake uses egg whites and egg yolks. Plus, chiffon cakes use egg whites, egg yolks, and oil, so they are richer and moister than the other two. But because all these cakes rely on beating lots of air into the batter, each of them is light and fluffy in texture. Both angel food cakes and chiffon cakes are usually baked in tube pans, which is another reason they look so similar.

Chiffon Cake
Credit: Blaine Moats

How to Make Chiffon Cake

Get the Recipe

We cover the general step-by-step process here so you'll know how to prepare chiffon cake. For complete details, like ingredient amounts and timings, use our Chiffon Cake recipe.

Separate Eggs bowl yolk bowl
Credit: Marty Baldwin

Step 1: Separate Eggs

Separate the egg whites from the yolks using an egg separator ($7, OXO). Eggs separate more easily when cold, so separate them immediately after taking them out of the refrigerator. Even the tiniest bit of yolk can diminish the beating quality of the whites (if any yolk gets into the white, do not use it; refrigerate that white for another use). To ensure that no yolk gets into the whites as you separate the eggs, separate each white into a small bowl (such as a custard cup), then transfer the white to the extra-large bowl you will eventually beat them in. Place the yolks in a small mixing bowl.

Allow the egg whites to stand at room temperature for 30 minutes (for food safety, do not let eggs stand longer than 30 minutes at room temperature). The standing time ensures that the whites will reach their full volume when you beat them.

Combine Dry Ingredients bowl mix
Credit: Kritsada Panichgul

Step 2: Combine Dry Ingredients

As your oven preheats to the temperature specified in your recipe, stir together the dry ingredients—typically flour (or cake flour), sugar, baking powder, and salt. Make a well in the center of this mixture. To make a well, use a spatula ($23, Target) or wooden spoon to gently push the dry ingredients against the side of the bowl.

Why cake flour?

Many “retro cakes” like chiffon cake call for cake flour instead of all-purpose flour. Cake flour is a fine-texture flour with low protein content, so it keeps cakes and other baked goods more tender (less tuggy or chewy). But all-purpose flour will work as a replacement.

Step 3: Beat in Wet Ingredients

Add the oil, egg yolks, and other liquids called for in your recipe to the well of dry ingredients, making sure to add these ingredients in the order specified in the recipe. Adding the oil first helps prevent the eggs from binding with the flour, which can cause streaks in the finished cake.

Use an electric mixer ($50, Bed Bath & Beyond) to beat the mixture on low until combined then on high until satiny smooth.

Test Kitchen Tip: To measure liquids, such as oil, pour the liquids into a clear measuring cup that has measuring lines on the side. Get at eye level with the cup and fill just to the measuring line.

Beat Egg Whites bowl mixer
Credit: Scott Little

Step 4: Beat Egg Whites

Thoroughly wash and dry the beaters. In a separate bowl beat the egg whites and cream of tartar on medium to medium-high speed until stiff peaks form. At this stage, the tips of the egg whites will stand straight when the beaters are lifted.

Tips for beating egg whites:

  • Make sure your beaters and mixing bowl are clean and dry. A speck of oil or egg yolk on either one can minimize the volume of the beaten egg whites.
  • Avoid plastic bowls—even clean ones may hold oily residue that can affect the beating quality of the egg whites.
  • Use a bowl that’s wide enough to keep the beaters from being buried in the egg whites.
  • Add cream of tartar to stabilize the egg whites.
  • Do not overbeat or underbeat egg whites—your cake may fall. Egg whites should be stiff but not dry.
Fold Ingredients bowl mixture
Credit: Scott Little

Step 5: Fold Ingredients

Pour the egg yolk batter in a thin stream over the beaten egg whites. Gently fold the batter into the egg whites. Use a spatula to cut down vertically through the mixture. Move the spatula across the bottom of the bowl; bring it back up the other side, carrying some of the mixture from the bottom over the surface. Repeat this process, rotating the bowl, until the ingredients are combined.

Test Kitchen Tip: Be careful not to overmix at this stage. Overmixing can decrease the volume of the batter, resulting in a tough cake.

pour batter pan.bake tin
Credit: Scott Little

Step 6: Pour Batter into Tube Pan and Bake

Pour or spoon the batter into your chiffon cake pan, which is simply an ungreased 10-inch tube pan ($16, Target), and bake as directed in your preheated oven. Your cake is done when the top of it springs back when lightly touched.

angel cake remove pan hot pad
Credit: Scott Little

Step 7: Remove Cake from Pan

Immediately invert the cake (still in the pan) and cool it upside down to help set the cake’s structure. After the cake has cooled thoroughly, loosen the sides of the cake from the pan and remove it.

Why invert to cool?

If chiffon cakes cool upright, the light, airy texture deflates. Some tube pans (like the one pictured here) have little feet to keep the pan elevated when inverted. If your pan doesn’t have these feet, you can prop the pan over a clean glass soda bottle. If using the bottle method, check the cake periodically so it doesn’t slide out of the pan and down the bottle.

Step 8: Frost Cake

After the cake has cooled (about 1 hour), frost it as desired.

Now that you’ve mastered how to make a chiffon cake, put your skills to work in some of our favorite chiffon cake recipes like our Orange Chiffon Cake, Pineapple Chiffon Cake, and Golden Chiffon Cake.

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