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Heresy is a word we rarely use these days. Now that burning at the stake is no longer a risk, we really don’t pay attention to the rabble rousers. There are fanatical types on the other side other planet but very few in Manhattan — I’m ignoring politics policy. Some people might consider me a political heretic, but I just think about my ancestors, like Attila the Hun, and move gently through life.

I could, of course, cause a bit of a ruffle. How about Thanksgiving without pumpkin pie? Just the idea could raise hackles.

Actually, I first posted this pumpkin chiffon cake three years ago. But I did not have a picture and a picture can make you think twice about a “no pie holiday.”

Chiffon cakes use a mixture of egg and oil to create a very light, fluffy texture that you will appreciate with the first bite. Chiffon cakes were “invented” by a California insurance salesman, Harry Baker, who had become a caterer. Mr. Baker first baked chiffon delights in 1927 and kept the recipe secret until he sold it General Mills in 1947. A Betty Crocker pamphlet — not book— introduced the chiffon cake to the American public.

Less popular now that in the 1950’s or 1960’s chiffon cakes deserve to be rediscovered. This pumpkin version is sublime and a treat that any Thanksgiving cake will embrace.

We discovered this cake in the midst of a big cookbook testing project.

Suzen led her Cooking by the Book team as the official test kitchen for the last two editions of The Joy of Cooking. That last time, she was the only test kitchen. This wasn’t a one week job. It was 18 months, five days a week, with 4 or 5 people here every day.

That testing process is now mostly a blur. In all that time, with all those recipes, it’s hard to remember any one thing. Hard, but not impossible. We all remember testing this cake and being stunned by how absolutely, delectably wonderful it is. Truthfully, her team made it twice just to make sure it was as grand as it seemed. It was and is.

This cake is made with 8 egg whites. But that airiness is now filled with pumpkin flavor. It’s truly a wonderful dessert, and one that all your Thanksgiving table will give thanks for.

You can adorn the cake with nothing, and just enjoy the cake, or do whipped cream or ice cream. Or a spice icing that follows just below.

Pumpkin Chiffon Cake

Yield: about 10 slices

Equipment: one ungreased 10-inch tube cake or a139-inch cake pan

Have all ingredients at room temperature, about 70°F. Preheat the oven to 325°F.


  • 2 ¼ cups sifted cake flour
  • 1 ¼ cups sugar
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 ½ teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • ¾ teaspoon ground ginger
  • ½ teaspoon grated or ground nutmeg
  • ¼ teaspoon ground cloves
  • 5 large egg yolks
  • 3/4 cup water
  • 1 ¼ cups cooked or canned pumpkin
  • ½ cup vegetable oil
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 8 large egg whites
  • ½ teaspoon cream of tartar
  • ¼ cup sugar


In a large bowl, whisk the cake flour sugar, baking powder, and salt.

In a mixer bowl place the egg yolks, water, oil, pumpkin, and vanilla. Beat on high speed until smooth.

Clean the beaters. Any remaining trace of egg yolk or oil will cause problems with the egg whites. In a clean bowl, place the egg whites and cream of tartar. Beat on medium speed until soft peaks form. Then gradually add the sugar, beating on high speed. Beat the whites until they are so stiff they being to lose their gloss. Use a rubber spatula to fold 0ne-quarter of the egg whites into the egg yolk mixture, then fold in the remaining whites.

Scrape the batter into the pan and spread evenly. Bake until the top springs back when lightly pressed and toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, 55 to 60 minutes, for a tub e pan or 30 to 35 minutes for a baking pan. Let the tube cake cool upside down as for an Angel Food cake. Rest the 9×13-inch pan on 4 glasses.

Unmold when cooled.

To finish the cake, you have many options: whipped cream, ice cream, a cream cheese frosting, or a quick icing with some spices. I opt for the icing with some ginger and cinnamon. Here’s the recipe.

Spiced Quick Icing


  • 4 cups (1 pound) confectioners’ sugar, sifted
  • ½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
  • 4 to 6 tablespoons milk, dry sherry, rum, brandy or coffee [I prefer half milk, half brandy]
  • ½ teaspoon ginger
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla
  • ¼ teaspoon salt


In a mixing bowl, add the sugar and butter and beat until combined.

Add the remaining ingredients, using just 4 tablespoons of the liquid. Beat until smooth. Add more liquid to achieve the consistency you want.

With this icing, you can attempt to classically frost the cake. Or you can add more liquid to have a runny consistency so this icing is more of a glaze, which you can simply pour over the cake.

Source: The Joy of Cooking 75th Anniversary Edition