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Heralded as "the first new cake in 100 years" when it was introduced, the chiffon cake -- one of the darlings of midcentury cuisine -- became famous for its wonderfully light and airy texture, seemingly weightless as angel food but with a moist tenderness almost like a rich butter cake. And the delicate creation was originally developed by a Los Angeles insurance salesman.

Harry Baker is the salesman who came up with the original formula in the late 1920s. He moonlighted as a caterer and was soon baking the popular creation for the Hollywood elite.

Baker kept his original formula secret for decades. Finally, in the late 1940s, he sold the recipe to Betty Crocker's parent company, General Mills.

General Mills fine-tuned the method and ingredients over 11 months and released the chiffon recipe in 1948. With a heavy marketing campaign, it wasn't long before the cake became a national sensation.

Because of its light structure, chiffon cakes work best lightly garnished. Don't weigh the cake down with a heavy frosting. Dust the cake with powdered sugar, maybe a little sweetened cocoa powder. Or leave the cake alone, sliced thin and served with a dollop of freshly whipped cream and fresh berries.

> Chiffon Cake

2 cups (8 ounces) cake flour

1 1/2 cups sugar, divided

2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder

3/4 teaspoon salt

7 eggs separated, plus 2 egg whites

1/2 cup vegetable oil

3/4 cup milk

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

3/4 teaspoon cream of tartar

Heat oven to 325 degrees.

In a large bowl, sift together the cake flour, 1 1/4 cups sugar, baking powder and salt. Whisk the dry ingredients well to make sure they are thoroughly combined. Make a well in the center of the dry ingredients.

In a small bowl, beat the egg yolks. Pour the egg yolks into the well, along with the vegetable oil, milk and vanilla. Beat the wet ingredients into the dry until completely smooth.

In the bowl of a stand mixer or in a large bowl using a hand mixer, beat the egg whites and cream of tartar until foamy. With the mixer running, slowly rain in the remaining one-fourth cup sugar. Continue to beat the whites until stiff peaks form when the beater is lifted.

Fold the beaten whites into the rest of the batter: Gently spoon one-third of the beaten egg whites into the large bowl with the batter. Slowly and carefully fold the whites into the batter using a spatula or whisk until mixed. Add another third of the beaten whites to the bowl and gently fold into the batter. Be very gentle as you fold in the whites as you do not want to deflate them; the whites lighten the batter and are largely responsible for the cake's ability to rise as it bakes. Gently fold in the remaining third of the whites.

Spoon or gently pour the batter into a 10-inch ungreased angel food cake pan. Place the pan in the oven and bake until the cake is puffed (it should rise over the top of the pan by 2 to 3 inches but will deflate a little as it cools), lightly browned on top and a toothpick or cake tester inserted comes out clean, 1 hour to 1 hour and 10 minutes.

Remove from heat and invert the pan over a wine or soda bottle. Set the pan aside until cooled completely, 1 to 2 hours.

Loosen the sides with a thin knife or metal spatula and tap it gently to remove the cake (if using a two-piece pan, loosen the outside of the pan to remove, then gently work the knife or spatula along the top of the insert and inside to remove the cake) before serving.

Serves 12 to 16.

> Chocolate Chiffon Cake with Chocolate Glaze

For chocolate glaze:

1/4 cup ( 1/2 stick) butter

1/2 cup heavy cream

1/2 cup water

3/4 teaspoon vanilla extract

3 tablespoons corn syrup

Pinch salt

1 pound bittersweet or semisweet chocolate (chips or finely diced)

For cake:

1 1/2 cups (6 ounces) cake flour

1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder

2 tablespoons instant espresso

1 1/2 cups sugar, divided

2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder

3/4 teaspoon salt

7 eggs separated, plus 2 egg whites

1/2 cup vegetable oil

3/4 cup milk

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1/2 cup cacao nibs

3/4 teaspoon cream of tartar

To make glaze:

In a medium saucepan, combine the butter, cream, water, vanilla, corn syrup and salt. Bring to a good simmer over high heat. Remove from heat. Stir (do not whisk) in the chocolate until melted and combined.

This makes about 2 1/2 cups glaze, which will thicken as it cools. Rewarm slightly to thin, or stir in a little extra cream to reach the desired consistency. The glaze will keep, covered and refrigerated, for up to 1 week.

For cake:

Heat oven to 325 degrees.

In a large bowl, sift together the cake flour, cocoa, instant espresso, 1 1/4 cups sugar, baking powder and salt. Whisk the dry ingredients well to make sure they are thoroughly combined. Make a well in the center of the dry ingredients.

In a small bowl, beat the egg yolks. Pour the egg yolks into the well, along with the vegetable oil, milk and vanilla. Beat the wet ingredients into the dry until completely smooth. Stir in the cacao nibs.

In the bowl of a stand mixer or in a large bowl using a hand mixer, beat the egg whites and cream of tartar until foamy. With the mixer running, slowly rain in the remaining 1/4 cup sugar. Continue to beat the whites until stiff peaks form when the beater is lifted.

Fold the beaten whites into the rest of the batter: Gently spoon one-third of the beaten egg whites into the large bowl with the batter. Slowly and carefully fold the whites into the batter using a spatula or whisk until mixed. Add another third of the beaten whites to the bowl and gently fold into the batter. Be very gentle as you fold in the whites as you do not want to deflate them; the whites lighten the batter and are largely responsible for the cake's ability to rise as it bakes. Gently fold in the remaining third of the whites.

Spoon or gently pour the batter into a 10-inch ungreased angel food cake pan. Place the pan in the oven and bake until the cake is puffed (it should rise over the top of the pan by 2 to 3 inches, but will deflate a little as it cools), lightly browned on top, and a toothpick or cake tester inserted comes out clean, 1 hour to 1 hour and 10 minutes.

Remove from heat and invert the pan over a wine or soda bottle. Set the pan aside until it has cooled completely, 1 to 2 hours.

Loosen the sides with a thin knife or metal spatula and tap it gently to remove the cake (if using a two-piece pan, loosen the outside of the pan to remove, then gently work the knife or spatula along the top of the insert and inside to remove the cake).

Drizzle the warm glaze over the top of the cake as desired.

Serves 12 to 16.

> Hazelnut-Orange Chiffon Cake

2 cups (8 ounces) cake flour

1 1/2 cups sugar, divided

2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder

3/4 teaspoon salt

7 eggs separated, plus 2 egg whites

1/4 cup vegetable oil

1/4 cup hazelnut oil

3/4 cup orange juice

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 tablespoon finely grated orange zest

1/2 cup chopped hazelnuts

3/4 teaspoon cream of tartar

Heat oven to 325 degrees.

In a large bowl, sift together the cake flour, 1 1/4 cups sugar, baking powder and salt. Whisk the dry ingredients well to make sure they are thoroughly combined. Make a well in the center of the dry ingredients.

In a small bowl, beat the egg yolks. Pour the egg yolks into the well, along with the vegetable and hazelnut oils, orange juice, vanilla and orange zest. Beat the wet ingredients into the dry until completely smooth. Fold in the chopped hazelnuts.

In the bowl of a stand mixer or in a large bowl using a hand mixer, beat the egg whites and cream of tartar until foamy. With the mixer running, slowly rain in the remaining one-fourth cup sugar. Continue to beat the whites until stiff peaks form when the beater is lifted.

Fold the beaten whites into the rest of the batter: Gently spoon one-third of the beaten egg whites into the large bowl with the batter. Slowly and carefully fold the whites into the batter using a spatula or whisk until mixed. Add another third of the beaten whites to the bowl and gently fold into the batter. Be very gentle as you fold in the whites as you do not want to deflate them; the whites lighten the batter, and are largely responsible for the cake's ability to rise as it bakes. Gently fold in the remaining third of the whites.

Spoon or gently pour the batter into a 10-inch ungreased angel food cake pan. Place the pan in the oven and bake until the cake is puffed (it should rise over the top of the pan by 2 to 3 inches but will deflate a little as it cools), lightly browned on top, and a toothpick or cake tester inserted comes out clean, 1 hour to 1 hour and 10 minutes.

Remove from heat and invert the pan over a wine or soda bottle. Set the pan aside in a quiet place until cooled completely 1 to 2 hours.

Loosen the sides with a thin knife or metal spatula and tap it gently to remove the cake (if using a two-piece pan, loosen the outside of the pan to remove, then gently work the knife or spatula along the top of the insert and inside to remove the cake) before serving.

Serves 12 to 16.