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The Miracle of the Pumpkin Chiffon Cake


The Miracle of the Pumpkin Chiffon Cake

November 29, 2013

If you were preparing for Thanksgiving dinner on Wednesday night, and recovering from it on Thursday night, the third night of Hanukkah might be the first time that you actually pay attention to the holiday this year. Given that, it doesn’t feel right to pull out some carved up, probably over-chilled leftover pies for the big finale. 

See below for ingredients and step-by-step instructions for a Hanukkah pumpkin chiffon cake:

Photographs by Clementine Quittner.

The women’s magazine from which my mother snipped a pumpkin chiffon cake recipe many decades ago is lost to history. But the cake is my pumpkin-season go-to, partly because it freezes well and partly because it delivers the thrill of a great pumpkin pie without the richness.

 It’s a classic chiffon cake, lightened by baking powder and egg whites, flavored with pumpkin puree and traditional pumpkin pie spices. But I like it even better flavored with garam masala, the Indian spice blend of cumin, coriander, cinnamon, black pepper and cloves (and sometimes mace, depending on the blend you buy). If you’ve got a jar of Middle Eastern Baharat spice blend, you could use that instead (check to see if yours includes pepper – essential for that lingering taste on your tongue).


Mom ices the cake with a thick maple frosting and covers it in chopped walnuts. I prefer it plain, served on Hanukkah with nothing but a big bowl of clementines, and maybe some roasted chestnuts that will keep friends at the table, peeling and telling stories (while the kids empty the bowl of chocolate gelt you left on the piano).

 If you like, you can spread the top with a glaze. Thin a cup of confectioner’s sugar with a few drops of maple syrup (or maple extract and milk), and spread it on top of the cake with an offset spatula, letting it drip down the sides. While the glaze is still wet, sprinkle the cake with chopped, toasted walnuts.


  • 2 cups cake flour 
  • 1 1/2 cups sugar
  • 3 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • Either 1 teaspoon cinnamon and ½ teaspoon each of cloves, nutmeg and ginger, OR 2 teaspoons garam masala, ½ teaspoon ginger and ¼ teaspoon cinnamon
  • 7 large eggs, separated
  • ¾ cup canned pumpkin puree
  • ½ cup canola oil
  • ½ cup water
  • ½ teaspoon cream of tartar

Heat oven to 350 degrees. Sift dry ingredients into a mixing bowl (except cream of tartar). Separate eggs. Mix the yolks in a small bowl with the pumpkin, oil and water. Make a well in the center of the dry ingredients and pour in the pumpkin mixture, whisking it until smooth. Beat egg whites until foamy, add the cream of tartar, then beat until whites are stiff.

Mix a spoonful of whites into the batter to lighten it. Then fold in the rest. Pour batter into an ungreased 10-inch tube pan. Bake for about 55 minutes, watching it carefully. When the top is just turning brown, it’s done (test with a toothpick – the cake is done if it comes out clean).

Invert the cake pan while it cools. When the cake is completely cool, you can glaze or frost it if desired, or serve plain with a dusting of confectioner’s sugar.

What else are you serving for Hanukkah? Allow us to suggest Leek Latkes Fit for a King.

Getting ready for the holidays? See all our Holiday Prep tips for entertaining at Thanksgiving.

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