It’s been an intense week. As I discussed in a previous post, for students on a semester system, May is crunch time. It usually involves pulling all nighters, even bringing pillows to the library, and doing our best to survive finals’ week. This stressful time is then followed by relief to be done, and for some portion of students, great pride and joy because they are finally graduating. However, what is normally a really exciting and happy time for me, because I get to witness many of my student-parent friends walk the graduation stage with their families, and/or children, turned into a very tragic time for me, and the Berkeley student-parent community that I am a part of.
It is with a heavy heart that I write this blog post. My friend, Milanca Lopez (pictured with her son, Xavier, above), was suddenly and tragically taken away from us. She was in a car accident with her boyfriend and young son, and died on impact. Her son and her boyfriend are currently in the hospital fighting for their lives. It’s so crazy to write about this because only a few days before her death, Milanca had walked the graduation stage with her son, mom, and dad and was set to move back to Los Angeles to attend UCLA’s Graduate School of Education, and pursue her masters degree and teaching credential.
Milanca came to UC Berkeley when Xavi was only a one-year old, and she was only seventeen. However, one would never have guessed that she was so young because she was very independent, mature, strong, highly intelligent (she was her high school’s valedictorian), and ambitious. She was also a generous woman and a beautiful soul that gave her whole heart to all of us that were blessed to know her and call her a friend. She was a double major in Social Welfare and Chicano Studies, and she was involved with many activities beyond her own school work that benefited the lives of others in underrepresented communities (e.g., president of the Student Parent Association at Cal, a mentor and teacher to elementary school children in Oakland). Milanca also loved to bake, and cook, and I think she would approve of this cake.
I baked this cake for a favorite little guy of mine. My good friend’s son just turned two-years old, and I absolutely had to make him something to celebrate his life and the happiness and pure joy he brings to us. However, I am dedicating this post to Milanca. While I mourn her loss with many others that knew her, and while she would understand our broken hearts, Milanca would also want us to find a way to embrace all the joy that still exists around us. She was all about choosing happiness, and she embodied that happiness in every way. Her laughter and smile were infectious, and you couldn’t help but be happy when you were with her. She talked a mile a minute, and was an amazing multi-tasker. We are all going to really miss her. I will never forget about you Milanca, and I am praying hard for Xavi, and your family.
Here are the steps and recipe for the Strawberries and Cream Chiffon Cake.
I really like to grind a whole vanilla bean and granulated cane sugar together to make vanilla sugar. It serves the dual purpose of lightening up the weight of the sugar (essential for a tall and fluffy cake), and getting a nice vanilla flavor into the cake. It is also more economical since it uses the whole bean rather than just scraping out the seeds, which is great since vanilla beans ain’t cheap. If you don’t feel like making vanilla sugar, you can scrape the seeds out of a vanilla bean pod, or use two teaspoons of vanilla extract and then whip it with the egg whites.
This recipe calls for cake flour. I used cake flour from Anson Mills, in South Carolina which grows, harvests and mills near-extinct varieties of heirloom corn, rice, and wheat organically, and re-creates ingredients that were in the Southern larder before the Civil War. This cake flour is ground/milled to order and uses a milling technique where the wheat is hand-rubbed on a fine screen that extrudes the bran and germ oil into the flour, making it highly flavorful. This process is identical to techniques used in the milling industry in the 17th and 18th centuries in the American Colonies. White Lamas wheat mills to the lightest and freshest cake flour, and is perfect for this chiffon cake.
Whisk the egg yolks, oil, and milk together.
Whisk in the flour mixture.
Whip the egg whites. Once you get to soft peaks (as shown above), slowly add the sugar into the whites until you whip them to stiff peaks.
Stiff peaks show above.
Once you’ve prepared the egg whites put a small quantity in and stir it gently in the batter with a spatula. Then put about a third of the batter in and FOLD, do not stir, the batter. We want to keep this batter light and airy and not deflate the air that we worked so hard to get into the egg whites.
Click here for a great video demonstration on how to fold egg whites into a batter.
Place the prepared batter into a tube pan. No need to butter and flour the tube pan since the batter needs to use the sides of this pan to hang on, or climb up the sides as it grows taller (we don’t want it falling on itself and collapsing).
The cake is done once it has fully risen, is golden brown, and is springy and bounces back at you when you touch it with your fingertips.
No, this is not a spaceship. A tube pan is equipped with little legs/feet so that you can turn the pan upside down and let the cake cool this way for an hour. This is another way to ensure that the cake stays tall as it cools down.
Once it cools run a knife around the edges and push the cake out.
While the cake is cooling, cut the strawberries, squeeze in some lemon juice, and pour sugar in the bowl along with the strawberries. Fold the sugar and juice into the strawberries, and repeat every 2o minutes or so for an hour so that the strawberries will give off their juices.
Cut the cake into three equal sized layers, and then fill the bottom and middle layers with strawberries.
Top the strawberries with the whipped cream.
At this point, you can leave it as is (as is directed in the original recipe). Or, you can do like I did and use an additional cup of whipped cream and frost the whole cake.
Strawberries and Cream Chiffon Cake
Adapted from Martha Stewarts Living Magazine Summer Food Issue
For The Cake
2 1/4 cups cake flour (not self-rising)
1 1/2 cups granulated cane sugar, divided (I ground a half of a whole vanilla bean into the cane sugar)
2 1/4 teaspoons baking powder
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup grapeseed oil (or safflower oil, or other neutral tasting oil)
7 large egg yolks plus 9 large egg whites
3/4 cup whole milk
1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar
1 whole vanilla bean, split and scraped, or 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract (if you choose to grind the whole vanilla bean with the sugar, only use half of the bean)
For The Berries And Cream
2 pounds strawberries, hulled and halved or quartered (about 5 cups), plus more for serving
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
Pinch of salt
2 cups cold heavy cream (3 cups if you decide to frost the whole cake. 2 cups are used for the filling, and one cup can cover the outside)
1/4 cup confectioners’ sugar, plus more for sprinkling ( 1/2 cup if you go with three cups of whipped cream)
1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees. While the oven is preheating, in a bowl whisk together the flour, 3/4 cup granulated cane sugar (or vanilla sugar if you made it), the baking powder, and salt. In a separate large bowl, whisk together the oil, egg yolks, and milk in a large bowl. Then, whisk together the flour mixture into the egg-yolk mixture.
2. In a separate and large bowl (preferably a metal bowl that is clean–don’t use plastic since oil residues stick to plastic and make it difficult to whip egg whites to a stiff peak), beat the egg whites with a mixer (either a hand or stand mixer) on high speed until frothy. Add the cream of tartar and vanilla seeds or extract (if you didn’t make vanilla sugar), and beat until soft peaks form. Gradually add remaining 3/4 cup granulated sugar, beating until stiff, glossy peaks form, about 5 minutes. Whisk a small scoop of the egg whites into the batter and gently stir it into the batter. The, take place one-third of the egg-white mixture into the batter, and gently but thoroughly fold in the egg-white mixture with a rubber spatula, repeat two more times.
3. Transfer the batter to the tube pan. Bake until top of cake springs back when touched, 52 to 55 minutes. Let cool upside down (over a bottle or on tube-pan feet) 1 hour.
4. While cake is baking and cooling, Make the berries and cream by combining the sliced strawberries, granulated sugar, lemon juice, and salt, and let sit, stirring occasionally, 1 hour. Just before assembling, beat the heavy cream and confectioners’ sugar until medium peaks form.
5. Slide a paring knife around edges of tube and side of pan; release cake. Cut cake horizontally into 3 equal sized layers with a serrated knife. Transfer the bottom layer to a cake plate or platter. Spread with half the berries, and drizzle with juices. Spread half the whipped cream over berries, then top with middle cake layer. Spread with remaining berries and whipped cream. Top with remaining cake layer. If you decided not to frost the cake completely, refrigerate cake 1 hour then sprinkle it with confectioners’ sugar, and serve. Or, frost the whole cake first and then place in the refrigerator for at least an hour before serving (keep cake refrigerated until serving it).