It's Oscar season in Hollywood and that means it's time to entertain in a grand style from the board rooms of the powerful to the legendary ballrooms of Tinsel Town's elegant hotels and restaurants. And though all concerned will be seeking that innovative touch of the new and novel that will guarantee the oh so precious press cover, Hollywood also values tradition, especially were food is concerned.
That's the cue for the entrance of a Hollywood favorite - the oh so classic Chiffon Cake. Flashback to 1922 when the very first red carpet ever was rolled out for Douglas Fairbanks at the premier of his silent film, Robin Hood. At the same time a very bored and flustered insurance salesman named Harry Baker was walking the streets of Hollywood and wondering if this was all there was to life.
When the day was done, Baker returned to his very small kitchen to began work on what, to the surprise of his many friends, was his current fascination - baking cakes. Soon he was as bored with the traditional cookbook cake recipes as he was with the standardized insurance policies he had been trying to sell during the day.
Finally, like an innovative director who throws away a stale script and starts from scratch, Baker started to play with the recipes, changing and adjusting the ingredients. Finally in 1927 he found what he had been looking for - a change that would create the first new cake recipe in 50 years.
By replacing the traditional butter in the cake recipe with oil and beating the egg whites seperate from the yolks, he had crafted a cake that was a perfect balance between a light angel food cake and a heavier butter cake. The texture was rich but delicate. And the flavor seemed to float and linger in the mouth.
Now Baker needed a name. Having lived in Hollywood for a number of years, he knew that a name could make or break a product or a star. Baker started with a long list of possible names and one by one crossed them off until only one was left: Chiffon!
It described the cake perfectly and matched the feeling of Hollywood at the time. The Great Depression was in full swing and Hollywood was helping the nation forget as fantasy film after fantasy film was rolling off the sets. It was the era when Ginger Roger would gayly dance across the screen to the swirling tunes of Cole Porter. Yes, 'Chiffon' was the perfect name for the new cake.
All Baker needed now were clients and he knew how to get them. He left his hated day job and formed an elite catering company centered around his treasured cake. Insightfully, he hand delivered small sample cakes to a select list of the rich and famous of Hollywood.
Soon, his cake was the must have "mystery" cake of A list party givers. The Derby Restaurant, where the stars of the day gathered to see and be seen, begged him to allow them to serve the cake at their famous establishment. Baker agreed but only if they purchased the cake completely baked from him - the recipe would remain a secret.
Finally as age and success advanced, Baker knew it was time to release the recipe and retire - after all, one can only make so many cakes in a lifetime, no? General Mills was only to willing to purchase the recipe for the now famous cake for an undisclosed amount which was rumored to be very large. Imagine their shock when they found the unique texture and flavor was simply an easy recipe adjustment! Corporate shock!
Making the best of the situation, General Mills launched a massive advertising campaign that resulted in their more than recovering their investment and then some. During the years that followed, a seemingly endless number of delightful variations were created and the rest is culinary history. And yes, it's still being enjoyed today at the Oscar parties of many saought after Hollywood hostesses. Why not enjoy it at your's?
Your Culinary World copyright Ana Kinkaid/Peter Schlagel 2011