Pie is unquestionably the most popular of desserts. You never hear anyone say “as American as apple cake,” after all. But it does seems that in the warmer summer months, cake makes a comeback. Sheet cakes star at big family reunions, and shortcakes, topped with berries of all kinds, are the happy conclusion to a meal centered around the grill. One of the centerpieces of the summer celebrations I remember from my childhood was a chiffon cake. The showpiece of the most accomplished family cooks, it came in two popular variations — the coffee chiffon cake, served with vanilla ice cream, and the strawberry-filled version, a crowd-pleaser at every summer birthday party that fell in late June and early July.

In my (highly selective) memory, the other foods at these gatherings — whether the clam fritters, chowder and steamers of clambakes, shoreside lobster dinners, or simple burgers and dogs on the grill — form a faint pentimento, while the dessert cake is the highly colored vision occupying center stage. Alas, those cakes of yesteryear seem to have fallen off the dessert radar. Proof of their demise? If you want to find a tube pan, look no further than the nearest yard sale or thrift store. I have a good collection of them, in different sizes, some with feet to hold them off the countertop for cooling, or with removable bottoms to facilitate cake removal, not one of them purchased new.

Why the chiffon cake now appears to be a relic of 1950s cuisine is a mystery. When it first burst on the baking scene in the 1940s, it was deemed a national sensation, the first “new” cake in 100 years. A type of sponge cake, chiffon used whipped egg whites for its airy height, giving it the look and feel of angel food. To give it an almost buttery richness — and the moist crumb not normally found in a sponge cake — chiffon included a unique ingredient for cakes at the time: vegetable oil. Oil, unlike butter, remains liquid at room temperature, keeping the cake moist and tender. At a time when much baking was from scratch, the steps used to create a chiffon cake — making a batter that required separated eggs, their whites beaten into stiff peaks before being folded into it — didn’t seem particularly onerous. Today, one-bowl cakes or cakes from mixes are more the norm, which may be the answer to the chiffon’s decline in popularity. If, however, you can find a 16-cup tube pan with a removable bottom, you can make a chiffon cake that will cement your reputation as a baker extraordinaire. Once you’ve made one, filled it with seasonal strawberries and frosted it with whipped cream, you’ve captured the spirit of summer in a slice of cake.

C H I F F O N   C A K E

5 large room-temperature eggs, separated
1 tsp. cream of tartar
112 cups sugar
113 cups cake flour
2 tsp. baking powder
12 tsp. salt
34 cup water
12 cup vegetable oil
1Tbsp. vanilla extract
Adjust oven rack to lower-middle position and heat oven to 325 degrees. With electric mixer whip egg whites and cream of tartar until soft peaks form, about two minutes. With mixer running, slowly add two tablespoons sugar and whip until just stiff and glossy, about one minute; set aside. Combine flour, remaining sugar, baking powder and salt in large bowl. Whisk water, oil, egg yolks, and vanilla in medium bowl until smooth. Whisk wet mixture into flour mixture until smooth. Whisk one-third whipped egg whites into batter, then gently fold in remaining whites, with a slotted spoon if you have one, one scoop at a time, until well combined. Scrape mixture into 16-cup ungreased tube pan. Bake until toothpick inserted into center comes out clean and cracks in cake appear dry, 55 to 65 minutes. Cool, inverted, to room temperature, about three hours. NB: If your pan has no legs to keep it standing up off the counter while cooling, set the middle of the tube over the neck of a wine bottle.

S T R A W B E R R Y  F I L L I N G   A N D   T O P P I N G

1 quart strawberries
34 cup sugar
2 cups whipping cream
1 tsp. vanilla extract
Rinse and hull strawberries, then slice into a bowl and sprinkle with 12 cup sugar. Stir and set aside for an hour or so, stirring a few more times and pressing with the back of a spoon to express the juices. Whip cream until soft peaks form, sprinkle on remaining 14 cup sugar, continue whipping until stiff peaks form. Cover and refrigerate. When ready to assemble the cake, set the cake, top side down, on a cake plate or platter. Using a small serrated knife, cut a 4-inch-deep, V-shaped wedge out of the top of the cake, forming a trench that leaves about an inch-thick wall both inside and outside. Cut the removed cake into half-inch cubes and toss the cubes into the strawberries, letting them absorb all the juices. Pile the cake and strawberry mixture back into the trench and smooth the top. Frost with the whipped cream. Chill until ready to serve.