This cake is the unholy, beautiful love child of mojitos and egg transmutation. The chiffon cake layers, which get their airiness from whipped egg whites, are delicately sweet and intensely lime-flavored; the mint frosting is soft and light under a crisp outer layer. The whole construction is ridiculously airy. Mojitos are made to be drunk when it is impossibly hot outside and milk makes your whole body want to explode. In that spirit, this cake is dairy free and enjoyable even when it is stupidly fucking hot outside.
In an ideal world, I made a beautiful four-layer cake the night before my roommate’s barbeque and greeted the guests with absolutely no flour on my shirt. In this world, I crushed my hand with a flat pack from Ikea and then got distracted by Parks and Rec, so I had to do all my shopping and baking that morning. If you learn one thing from me, learn this: always drink your coffee before going to the grocery store at seven in the morning.
On to the baking!
The components of this cake use a lot of the same ingredients over and over. To save you the math, I’ve listed all the ingredients you’ll need here. Yes, I am aware that this cake requires a stupid amount of eggs. Chiffon cakes allow you to destroy the omelet-y ambitions of an entire case of them, and I think that’s beautiful.
2 1/4 cups cake flour
7 3/4 cups granulated sugar (no, I am not shitting you)
One bunch fresh mint leaves (like… 10 sprigs?)
1/3 cup powdered sugar
1 tbsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
2 1/4 cup cold water
1/2 cup vegetable oil
5 limes (or two tbsp of fresh lime zest)
1/2 tsp cream of tartar
White rum (if you’re making actual mojitos)
Soda water (if you’re making actual mojitos)
Fancy Fucking Leaves
You will notice that the cake pictured above does not have candied mint leaves on it. That’s because I started baking the morning of the barbecue, and the leaves didn’t have time to dry properly. Also, I was feeding this to children, and I didn’t want them to think that I was trying to sneak some leafy salad bullshit into their cake. If you have more than four hours to work with and no children to impress, I recommend using these to decorate the mojito cake. (However, if you’re worried about food safety, they might not be the decoration for you. They’re probably safe, based on the principle that sugar murders the shit out of bacteria, but the cake is just fine without them.)
¼ cup of sugar
Some of the mint
Wax paper/plastic wrap/aluminum foil/something to cover your countertops
First, go through your mint. Sort out the prettiest leaves and set the rest aside in a Pile of Disappointment. Lay the acceptable leaves out in a single layer on your counter covering of choice.
Next, separate out your egg white and put it in the small bowl. You can throw away the yolk. We don’t want its golden cholesterol bullshit here. Take the pastry brush and paint over the leaves a few at a time. Sprinkle sugar over the wet leaves, coating them completely. Repeat until you’re out of leaves. Proceed to ignore them until they get dry and crispy.
It’s been a long time since I made a chiffon cake. I’m excited. Are you excited? You should be. Chiffon cakes are immensely fussy and incredibly satisfying to get right. They’re also totally manageable if you have an electric mixer, a dream in your heart, and a few hours to kill. My base recipe is Smitten Kitchen’s strawberry chiffon shortcake.
2 1/4 cup cake flour
Five limes (or two tablespoons of fresh lime zest)
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
1 tbsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
3/4 cup cold water
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 tsp cream of tartar
Two 9″ round cake pans
Electric hand mixer or stand mixer with whisk attachment
Four mixing bowls
Stiff rubber spatula or big spoon
Cooling racks, or MacGuyvered equivalent
Preheat the oven to 325F. Line your pans with parchment paper, but don’t grease them. Chiffon cakes are emotionally needy—if they can’t cling to the walls of the cake pan, they can’t rise. Zest your limes. In case you’re wondering, five limes comes out to about two tablespoons of zest. Save the sad denuded fruit for making actual mojitos later.
Here is the part where I get really excited and everyone else wants me to jump in a fucking lake: time to sift! Twice! Sift the flour, 1 1/4 cup of the sugar, the baking powder, and the salt together into your third-biggest-bowl, and then sift them back into the actual biggest bowl. Set that fluffy white stuff aside.
Separate out your eggs into whites and yolks. You’re going to need eight whites and five yolks, so start throwing the yolks away after the fifth egg. You might want to leave the shells somewhere visible so you can remember how many eggs you’ve cracked. (I’ve certainly never had any problems remembering numbers above four. Not once. Not ever.) The whites should go in the second biggest bowl, and the yolks should go in the smallest bowl. Put the whites aside for now.
Drop the lime zest, oil, water, and vanilla into the yolk bowl. Grab your electric mixer and mix it well. The combination will turn an appealing swamp color, and you’ll probably have lime zest hanging off your beaters like Spanish moss. Just scrape it back into the yolk bowl.
Pour the yolk mixture into the flour bowl and stir it very, very gently. Stop as soon as you stop finding little pockets of dry flour. I know we all want to go to town with the old bowl and spoon, but getting too vigorous with the mixing will make the cake batter dense and sticky instead of delicate and airy. Remember, friends: we’re going for mojitos, not milkshakes.
Now rinse off your beaters and turn your attention to the bowl of egg whites. Whip them up to soft peaks, drop in [x] cream of tartar, and keep whipping them until stiff peaks form. (Here is Joe Pastry’s wonderful tutorial on soft and stiff peaks.) Please note how goddamn enormous egg whites get after being whipped up.
YOU’RE GROWING SO FAST. I JUST CAN’T BELIEVE IT. COME GIVE ME A KISS.
Separate out approximately a third of the egg whites and drop them into your flour-yolk mixture. These are the sacrificial egg whites. Their beautiful air bubbles will be destroyed in the name of lightening the flour-yolk mixture. Stir them in just until the mixture is the same color all over. Then scoop the rest of the egg whites on top and fold them, very gently, and only until everything is combined together. (In case you’re wondering, I have a tutorial on how the fuck folding works in the Peppermint Patty Cake.)
Split the batter between the two pans and shake them a little back and forth to try and make the batter flat on top. Then throw them in the oven. I baked mine for about 30 minutes and they were a little underdone on top—35 minutes is probably right. You want the layers to be dry on top, and for a fork inserted in the middle to come out clean.
The Mess Report
Unless you have the world’s biggest mixing bowl collection, you probably want to wash two of these bowls before moving on to the frosting.
The base recipe here is Joe Pastry’s Colonnade frosting. The original recipe called for corn syrup, but I live in Southern California now, where no one gives you bags at the supermarket checkout and corn syrup is apparently the devil. Corn syrup, by the way, is no worse for you than any other sweetener. All of them are shitty! Sorry, everyone obsessed with agave nectar! But as tumblr user priorwaltering recently reminded me, my ancestors did not leave Poland so that I could cut sugar from my diet. So I just poured in more granulated sugar, and everything turned out fine.
I also drastically overestimated the amount of frosting I would need. You could probably get away with half of the frosting ingredients. Choose your own adventure!
Half the sad rejected mint leaves—if you’re making actual mojitos, set aside a sprig or two
4 1/2 cups granulated sugar
1 cup water
2/3 cup powdered sugar
Half the sad rejected mint leaves
2 cups granulated sugar
2 cups water
Candy thermometer (In this case, I really do recommend using a candy thermometer. The mint leaves will change the color of the sugar, so it’s hard to tell when you’ve hit the softball stage just by looking at the pot.)
Put 4 1/2 cups granulated sugar, a cup of water, and half the mint leaves in one pot. This is now your Frosting Pot. It goes on high heat on the stovetop, with a candy thermometer set to go off at 238F.
The other pot gets a cup of granulated sugar, a cup of water, and the rest of the mint leaves. This is your Syrup Pot. Put it on medium heat on the stovetop with no thermometer. Nobody gives a fuck how hot this pot gets.
While the pots are heating up, separate out the eggs. Put the egg whites in the bigger of your two bowls. You won’t actually need any of the egg yolks. I guess you could save them and make a metric fuckton of pastry cream. I threw them out, because I’m a monster. Whip the egg whites up to stiff peaks.
Once your egg whites are ready, the frosting pot will probably have reached 238 degrees. Take it off the heat and ignore the other pot. Strain the mint leaves out and pour it into your smaller bowl. Then drizzle some of that sugar-mint-syrup mess from the bowl over the whipped egg whites. Zap it with the mixer for five seconds. Drizzle, zap, and repeat until the small bowl is empty. Fun fact: the hot sugar syrup does actually cook the egg whites to above 160 degrees! I checked, because I love you.
This is an excellent time to taste the frosting and decide if you want to betray your principles. I decided that my frosting wasn’t quite minty enough and added an eighth of a teaspoon of that peppermint extract. However, I am a fiend for mint and a traitor at heart. You might decide that the frosting is just minty enough, and/or that you’re going to stick to your fresh mint guns. That choice is yours, to be made in the privacy of your heart. If you do add the mint extract, pour it on top and beat the frosting for a few more seconds to incorporate it.
Look at how shiny the frosting is!
Go rescue your other pot. The contents will have reduced down to a thick syrup. Strain the mint leaves out and pour it into the now-empty-other-bowl. If you’re making mojitos, now is an excellent time to pour out a cup of this syrup into a separate container.
Put your frosting, syrup, and other-syrup in the fridge.
The Mess Report
Your layers are probably ready by now! Pull them out of the oven when the tops are dry and a fork inserted in the cake comes out clean. Put the pans on the cooling rack and turn off the oven.
Time for a Fucking Drink
This is an excellent time to make yourself an actual mojito. You have the ingredients laying around, and all the cake components will need about an hour to cool off anyways.Gather up a short glass, the rum, the limes, the last of the mint, the mint syrup, a little bit of granulated sugar, the soda water, and some ice. A citrus reamer is also helpful at this point.
Drop three mint leaves into the bottom of your glass, and sprinkle some sugar on top. Muddle the leaves with the round back end of the reamer. If you don’t have a reamer, a spoon will work just fine. Pour about half a finger of simple syrup on top of the leaves. Drop some ice on top of the mint pile, and then pour two fingers of rum on top. Juice half a lime into the glass, and then fill the rest of the glass with soda water. Stir. Then sit your ass down and enjoy your drink.
Half an hour after taking the layers out, you should free them from the pan by running a rubber spatula around the outside rim of the pan and then flipping them out onto your hand/a cooling rack. This is how I realized I had underbaked my layers.
(This is, however, the opposite of a problem. Hello, preemptive cake snack!)
Continue to ignore the layers for half an hour, or until they are completely cool. Maybe clean up the kitchen; maybe make another mojito. I’m not the boss of you.
Once the layers are completely cool and the frosting has firmed up in the fridge, you’re ready to built the cake. Grab your cake leveler or bread knife. I am completely incapable of cutting a level line, so I rely on my cake leveler; you may be more skilled than me with a knife, and less reliant on an adjustable dessert guillotine. Pick your weapon and level off the top of the layers. This makes an appropriate snack for someone who has spent all morning making a cake. Alternately, you can throw the scraps in a bag and eat them while you’re at the gym, like Joe Mangianello if he knew joy.
Cut each layer into two thinner layers and pile them to the side. Here is a neat trick for not having a giant pile of frosting at the base of your cake! Put little scraps of parchment paper under the edge of the bottom layer while you’re decorating, and then tug them out when you’re done. This helps to avoid cakes that look like they’re melting into the abyss.
Put your bottom layer on top of the parchment paper scraps. Brush it with the mint simple syrup. Gloop frosting on top and smooth it out. Then repeat with the following three layers. This gif may help:
Make a crumb coat by putting on a thin layer of frosting over the entire cake. Then scrape off most of that same frosting and throw it away. The experts tell me that a crumb coat keeps the final layer of frosting smooth by sealing in the crumbs. My personal theory is that the crumb coat is a sacrifice to the gods of excess, whose benevolent intervention makes our cakes beautiful.
Clean off your spatula/knife/whatever to make sure there are no crumbs on it, then smooth on a final layer of frosting. If you have time, throw the cake in the fridge for 20 minutes before serving. That will let a thin, crispy crust form over top of the frosting, which provides an interesting texture contrast. If not, just eat that sucker. It’s delicious.
Happy summer, y’all!