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Saturday, March 5, 2011

Oil Is The Key

Do you have a bottle of Wesson Oil in your pantry? I do. Yep, right there next to my assortment of olive oils and vinegars. I have one bottle of Wesson Canola Oil. That one lone bottle of oil is the result of a complex and carefully developed process pioneered by a man by the name of David Wesson. Yes, there was a real man behind the name.

The story of the Wesson Oil and Snowdrift Companies begins at the Southern Cotton Oil Company founded in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania on March 5, 1887. In case you're checking the math right now, that's 124 years ago to the day. The purpose of this formation was to "carry on business of cottonseed crushing works and refineries located in the southern United States."

On March 5, 1887, the Southern Oil Company was organized in Philadelphia with Henry C. Butcher as president. A few days later, the officials of the Southern Cotton Oil Company were in Houston to locate a site for one of eight new oil mills for the company. The company planned to build mills for producing cottonseed "crude" across the South, and the Houston facility was one of the first.(source)
Before David Wesson's invention, cotton seed, a waste product produced during the ginning process used to separate cotton fibers, was virtually worthless.
courtesy of wiki
The tireless research, into producing edible cottonseed oil, took David Wesson 16 years to perfect.
In 1899, food chemist David Wesson, often regarded as "dean of oil chemists," developed a new process for deodorizing cottonseed oil through a high-temperature vacuum process. This new product originally was marketed as Snowdrift by the Southern Oil Company, but later was named the Wesson Process Company. In the 1920s, the vegetable oil division was spun off as the Wesson Oil & Snowdrift Company.
The first new shortening produced by the Wesson Process Company was Snowdrift. It was also the first commercial all-vegetable-oil shortening. These two circa 1920s die-cut Wesson Oil pamphlets are among the earliest recipe booklets in my collection of Wesson memorabilia.

Wesson Oil Snowdrift Die-Cut Recipe booklet
Wesson Oil Snowdrift Die-Cut Recipe booklet
It wasn't long before the company sent out recipe booklets touting the advantages and uses of "Wesson Cooking and Salad Oils" in place of lard or butter.

This booklet, dated 1926, holds the key to today's post. It has the usual salad information, its importance in the daily menu, the need for basically two salad dressings, Mayonnaise and "French Dressing" both made with Wesson Oil, and a few suggestions for sandwiches and salads. The Candle Salad is a unique rendition. Of course frying with Wesson Oil is also discussed as is baking with Wesson Oil.
"The Most Convenient Shortening You Have Ever Used"
Wesson Oil recipe booklet 1926Think of the convenience of a liquid fat. Think how much easier it is to mix Wesson Oil into flour than it is to work a hard fat into flour. Think of the number of recipes which ordinarily call for a melted shortening-cornbread, gingerbread, muffins, crullers, puddings, waffles, griddle cakes, white sauces and gravies.

Isn't it a waste of time and effort to melt a hard fat, when Wesson Oil is a liquid, all ready for use-especially since Wesson Oil is a good-to-eat fat and a choice salad oil? (remember it's 1926:)

Oil is the Key

Lillian Gish
Lillian Gish

Who doesn't love the romantic feel of shimmering chiffon floating across their fingertips. What if you could transform that whimsical elegance into a rich yet delicate cake fit for a princess?

Chiffon Cake

The notion of combining beaten egg whites into a batter prepared with egg yolks and oil belongs to creator and professional baker, Harry Baker. Baker owned a Hollywood pastry shop at 341 Larchmont Boulevard in Los Angeles, California.

Baker converted a spare room into his top-secret bakery, with 12 tin hot-plate ovens. There, using his "mystery key ingredient" he baked more than 40 cakes a day which he sold for $2 each to the Brown Derby Restaurant. The eatery later placed Baker’s cake on the menu. (Larchmont Chronicle)
Unfortunately, I've yet to set my mind on acquiring a copy of the Brown Derby Cookbook (1949) however, I can tell you that in its heyday, during the Golden Age of Hollywood, the Brown Derby was "thee" place to be seen. Not only was The Brown Derby the first restaurant to serve Chiffon Cake, it is also the birthplace of that infamous salad known as Cobb Salad.

As for Mr. Baker, well I think Betty Wason tells it best:

For years he had made cakes for Hollywood celebrities, who raved so about the excellence of his cakes that Harry concluded his recipe should be worth money. Many cooks have had similar dreams, only to be shocked by the discovery their recipes might bring them $10, seldom more. Harry Baker was luckier; he sold his recipe for thousands of dollars to General Mills. It's valuable secret: the shortening used was salad oil.(Cooks, Gluttons & Gourmets p. 321)
A few sites I happened across tell the story with a bit more depth. It seems, Harry was a fan of General Mills spokeswoman Betty Crocker. (yes, I know:) Supposedly, he wanted Betty to spread the word to all American housewives about his delicious new creation. After keeping the "key" ingredient secret for more than 20 years, Harry revealed his the recipe to the folks at General Mills. Company home economists honed it a bit and finally in 1948, introduced it as "the best cake in a century." It was described as "light as angel food, rich as butter cake." I just happen to have one of the Betty Crocker inserts announcing the new revolutionary cake.
Betty Crocker Sunburst Chiffon Cake

And here's the enclosed recipe for Sunburst Chiffon Cake. (slightly enjoyed:)

Betty Crocker Pumpkin Chiffon Cake

General Mills (which is now part of corporate giant Congra Foods) published the recipe and many variations through the years. Rochelle has the original Betty Crocker Chiffon Cake Recipes and Secrets booklet on her blog which includes "Betty's recipe for Orange Chiffon. In 1990, they included a simple Chiffon Cake recipe in their most requested recipes from the 1950 edition of the Betty Crocker Picture Cookbook Creative Recipes booklet #50.

Chiffon Cake

During its "heyday" Chiffon Cake was "thee" cake of the 50s. Its glamourous appeal and sheer simplicity, (as opposed to Angel Food Cake) was garnered by housewives throughout America as their "go to cake" when company was expected. It was advertised as being "fool proof." In fact, rumor has it that once General Mills began its media blitz of Chiffon Cake (cakeaganda) grocery stores couldn't keep up with the demand for oil.

Chiffon Cake Take a Bow

In May 1948, Better Homes and Gardens Magazine proclaimed Chiffon Cake the "first really new cake in 100 years."
As you have seen, as cakes go, Classic Chiffon Cake is a newcomer on the cake scene. It's best described as an Angel Food Cake, spongy and light, with a rich buttery type flavor. It also has more stability than an Angel Food Cake, which makes it simply perfect as a birthday cake. It's versatile too! It can be baked in an Angel Food Cake pan or in layers filled with luscious butter cream. (I really miss butter cream fillings) How else is a Chiffon Cake different from an Angel Food Cake?

Chiffon Cakes and Angle Food Cakes are both very tall, and have a light airy texture. Both Chiffon Cakes and Angel Food Cakes obtain their large volume and light airy texture from whipped egg white. However, Angel Food Cakes contain no fat, egg yolk or leavening agent. Since Chiffon contain oil and egg yolks they tend to be more tender, rich and moister. They also usually contain baking powder for increased leavening. The oil is beaten with the egg yolk and the flour, which allows the fat to coat the flour particles reducing the flours ability to form gluten and thereby creating a moist, tender cake.
They say its all in the technique. I decided to "test" my performance for you today rather than wait for National Lemon Chiffon Cake Day on March 29th. This is what I conjured up; Yellow Jacket Chiffon Cake!

Let's just say, I tried, but, truth be known, I am not a baker. Perhaps, if I didn't have such an aversion to baking a cake from scratch before I've even begun, things would go a heck of a lot smoother. We haven't tried it yet and since Marion is now fast asleep, I decided not to cut it until morning. I can already tell it didn't come out as good as the wide assortment of billowy clouds of chiffon I sailed past during my research. Despite my possible failure, I would suggest everyone bake at least one Chiffon Cake, one day:)
Yellow Jacket Chiffon Cake

Will I be baking another Chiffon Cake any time soon? Probably not. If by chance craving, I do desire a breath of soft wind, I may just try a cake mix chiffon cake recipe I found in The Cake Doctor by Ann Bryn. (p.384) It's also available here.

Resources
1. Congra Foods
2. History of Chiffon Cake
3. Chiffon Cakes Made Their Mark
4. The Secret Ingredient for Tender Cakes @ Fine Cooking
5. When Harry Met Betty (Excellent article. If you only read one, read this one:)
6. Larchmont Chronicle (Baker info)
7. How-To: Making Chiffon Cake
8. Rose Levy Beranbaum Chiffon Cake Video (I watched this many time:)
9. Chiffon Cakes-Including Lovelight Cakes and Icings featuring Wesson Oil Cakes (@ Food Company Cookbooks)
Recipes
1. Chiffon Cake With Lemon Icing
2. Sunshine Chiffon Cake (Marjie)
3. Lavender Chiffon Cake with Lime Curd, Cream and Lime Icing (@ Technicolor Kitchen)
4. Coffee Chiffon Cake
5. Orange Chiffon Cake (with a bit of cake styles:)
6. Florentine Schiacciata - Carnival Cake (Mary One Perfect Bite)
7. Just like Cotton Chiffon Cake (unique method)
8. Peaches and Cream Chiffon Cake
9. The Unbearable Lightness of Chiffon Pies