The Seedy Side of Chiffon: Pumpkin Seed Chiffon Cake

A friend recently gave me and Tom a nice bottle of pumpkin seed oil. I had never used pumpkin seed oil before, but the gifter -- a former professional chef -- encouraged us to try it as a finishing oil and let him know what we thought. Of course the first thing I thought about was how I could use the oil in a baking project.

I was already planning to make Rose Levy Beranbaum's "Almond Shamah Chiffon" cake and it occurred to me that it would be easy to adapt the recipe to use pumpkin seed oil. The cake (named for Beranbaum's friend David Shamah) is an almond chiffon layer cake frosted with raspberry whipped cream. I decided to substitute the canola oil and ground almonds in the cake with pumpkin seed oil and ground pumpkin seeds.

To make the cake batter, you beat egg yolks and sugar with a whisk attachment until very thick and fluffy; beat in oil, water, almond extract, and vanilla; dust over the sifted dry ingredients (Wondra flour, the ground pumpkin seeds, and baking powder) without mixing them in; and fold in meringue (egg whites that have been beaten with cream of tartar and sugar to stiff peaks) in several parts. I had not really thought about what color the pumpkin seed oil would be -- it came in a metal container, so I couldn't see it until I poured it out to make the cake -- but it was a deep blackish-green and it imparted a lot of color to the batter. I split the batter between two 9-inch pans, baked them, and unmolded the cakes immediately after taking them out of the oven.

You are supposed to brush the cake layers with amaretto syrup (sugar, water, and amaretto) before filling and frosting them with raspberry whipped cream. I skipped this step because chiffon cake is typically very moist and I didn't think it would be necessary (okay, I also was in a bit of a rush). I made strawberry whipped cream (instead of raspberry) for the frosting by beating strawberry preserves with whipping cream. The color contrast between the pale pink frosting and the chartreuse cake was striking.

I thought this cake was absolutely delicious. I can't say that I would have been able to identify pumpkin seeds and pumpkin seed oil as ingredients, but it had a rich nutty flavor. I loved the whipped cream, even though I'm not certain that strawberry is the optimal pairing with pumpkin seeds. The combination of cake and strawberry jam (jam specifically, not just strawberries) gives me a warm fuzzy feeling and takes me back to my childhood, when my mother baked me birthday cakes with sweet buttery frosting and layered with strawberry jam.

If I have one complaint about this cake, it's that it didn't have the lightness and soft texture I expect from a chiffon cake -- the very thing that makes chiffon cake so special. This cake was moist and springy, but it was more like a regular sponge cake. Beranbaum mentions that because this cake isn't baked in a tube pan, the recipe includes more flour and less liquid to give the cake more structure. I suspect another reason the cake wasn't very soft is the fact that I had to store it in the refrigerator because of the whipped cream frosting.

But whether you think it's a chiffon cake or sponge cake, it's terrific all the same. I still want to try the almond version of the cake the way the recipe is originally written, but I was positively delighted with the way this pumpkin seed variation came out; I even found the odd color captivating.

Recipe: "Almond Shamah Chiffon" from Rose's Heavenly Cakes by Rose Levy Beranbaum.

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