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ginger key lime chiffon cake

When I was five years old, I was so excited to take my first cooking class at the local community center. We made so many fun recipes, but my favorite part was when we learned how to make a cake. I remember feeling then—and I still feel now—a sense of amazement that you can take all these powders and liquids, mix them up, add some heat, and end up with a sweet and delicious cake. The first time I made this ginger key lime chiffon cake was for my birthday a few years ago, and from the first bite I was hooked (yes, I love to bake my own birthday cakes!). There are three layers of pillow-soft gingery chiffon, a rich and surprisingly tart key lime curd filling, and the entire cake is generously frosted with a silky smooth key lime buttercream.  –Ryan

Since chiffon cakes are made without butter and get their lift primarily from whipped egg whites, this gives them a light, spongy texture similar to angel food cake. In fact, they are so delicate that when you bake them, you don’t grease the pans because the pan sides hold the cake up and keep it from collapsing as it cools. The tenderness of the cake complements the richness of the curd and the fluffy frosting, so eating this cake is basically like taking a bite into a ginger-lime cloud.

One great thing about baking cakes is that most of the cooking can be done in advance. The cake layers and lime curd can both be made the day before and refrigerated overnight. That way, the following day all you have to do is make the frosting, decorate, and enjoy!

We have a wonderful collection of cakes that we are excited to share, and we started with this one because it is so unusual and so delicious. Everyone has tried chocolate cake with chocolate icing, but how often do you see ginger key lime chiffon cake? Not that there is anything wrong with chocolate, but this bright and summery cake is a perfect dessert, especially with a few candles on top.

Ginger Key Lime Chiffon Cake
adapted from Sky High by Alisa Huntsman & Peter Wynne
serves 12 to 16

For the ginger cake:
6 eggs, separated
1/4 cup vegetable oil
2 tablespoons freshly grated ginger
6 tablespoons water
1 1/2 cups sugar, divided
1 1/3 cups cake flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar

For the key lime curd:
6 egg yolks
1 tablespoon cornstarch
6 tablespoons sugar
6 tablespoons key lime juice
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature

For the key lime frosting:
4 egg whites
1 cup sugar
1/3 cup key lime juice
12 ounces unsalted butter, at room temperature

Bake the ginger cake:
Preheat oven to 350°F. Line the bottoms of three 8-inch round cake pans with parchment paper, but do not grease the pans.

In a medium bowl combine the egg yolks, oil, ginger and water, and whisk until smooth, then set aside. In a large bowl, sift together 1 cup of the sugar, the cake flour, baking powder, and salt. Stir the dry ingredients gently to combine, then add the egg yolk mixture and whisk until the batter is smooth and even.

Place the egg whites in a large mixing bowl and beat with an electric mixer using the whip attachment on medium-high speed until frothy. Gradually add the cream of tartar and the remaining 1/2 cup sugar, and continue to whip until soft peaks form. Take one fourth of the beaten egg whites and gently fold them into the cake batter, being careful not to deflate the eggs. Then add the remaining egg whites, folding them gently into the batter just until evenly combined.

Divide the cake batter among the three prepared pans, and bake for about 18 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Transfer to a rack and allow to cool completely in the pans. When cool, run a blunt knife around the edge of the pan, invert cake onto a wire rack, and peel off parchment paper.

Make the key lime curd:
In a small saucepan, combine the egg yolks, cornstarch, sugar, and key lime juice. Whisk until smooth, then place over medium-low heat and bring to a boil, whisking the entire time. Boil for one minute, then remove pan from heat. Place a fine-mesh strainer over a heatproof bowl, and pour the mixture through the strainer into the bowl. Add the butter, and whisk until butter is melted and the curd is smooth. Cover bowl with plastic wrap, pressing the wrap directly onto the curd to prevent a skin from forming, and refrigerate until cold, at least one hour.

Make the key lime frosting:
Place the egg whites in a large mixing bowl, and have ready an electric mixer with the whip attachment.

In a medium saucepan, heat the sugar and lime juice over medium heat, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Once sugar is dissolved, stop stirring and bring to a boil, cooking until the mixture reaches 238°F on a candy thermometer.

Turn the mixer on low, and slowly add the hot syrup to the egg whites, being careful not to pour onto the moving beaters. Once all the syrup is added, raise speed to medium and beat until the frosting cools to body temperature. Then with the mixer still running, add the butter a few tablespoons at a time, continuing to beat until all the butter is added and the frosting is smooth and creamy.

Assemble the cake:
Place one cake layer on a serving plate, and evenly spread half of the key lime curd on top, leaving a 1/4-inch margin around the edge. Place the second cake layer on top, and spread the remaining curd over it evenly, again leaving a 1/4-inch margin. Place the third layer on top, and frost the sides and top of the cake with key lime frosting.

a few notes:
— Cake flour is simply flour that is more finely ground than all-purpose flour, making it produce softer results. It is different from self-rising flour, which contains baking powder and salt.
— Fresh key limes are tiny, delicious, and difficult to find. We use bottled key lime juice which is just as good and is available year-round.
— The key lime curd is naturally yellow, but if you would like it to be green, simply add a few drops of food coloring as desired.