Monday, August 31, 2015

Baking Around the World: Spekkoek

Spekkoek is often mistranslated as "spice cake" because you would think it meant that, when you see the ingredients of the cake. But spekkoek actually means "bacon cake," a reflection of the striping effect of the cake rather than its contents.

I think of spekkoek as the "cake of empire." It would have been impossible for this cake to exist without the European influence and the Indonesian spices. Dutch traders and settlers in the Indonesian islands came together to create this cake, and it is one of the remnants of empiricism worth hanging onto.  It seems like a cake designed to be either simple or impressive - a quick Google search will reveal some spekkoek that are complete works of art, simply unbelievable.

The cake uses a pretty unique technique - the two flavors of batter are alternated in thin layers of the pan and broiled until just set. Ideally the cake is quite high; I didn't pay attention and used a regular cake pan. It worked but I ran out of pan before I ran out of batter. The batter is thinner than normal cake batter, and it is almost like a pancake.

Some of the pictures I've seen have a darker brown batter, and I'm not sure if they are using more clove. One idea I had was to add espresso to help with the contrast. I also added some pandan juice to the white layer, but not enough to alter the texture or flavor really. There was a bit of "oh what is that" that can probably be blamed on the combination of six spices and pandan. (Also I used Chinese Five Spice Powder in place of the star anise that I didn't have on its own so that wasn't very traditional.)

One thing I liked about this cake was that once it cooled, I could slice it into wedges and drop them into a ziploc to take to work. It is sturdy and snackable and would be great for lunches the next day!

I used the recipe from Jenessa's Dinner but there are many out there (plus I thought her suggestion of serving this with maple syrup was strange so I did not do that). I also watched a fantastic instructional video in Dutch from an old grandmotherly type who clearly makes spekkoek pretty regularly (3 at a time!).  I'll add it to the end of this post.


Ingredients: (makes an 8"-9" round cake)

  • 2 tsp. ground nutmeg
  • 2 tsp. ground cinnamon
  • 1 tsp. allspice
  • 1 tsp. ground ginger
  • 1 tsp. ground cardamom
  • 1 tsp. ground cloves
  • 1 tsp. ground anise 
  • 3 sticks/1.5 cups unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 12 eggs, separated
  • 1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
  1. Prep: Line the bottom of a springform pan with parchment paper, and butter well.  Set the oven to broil.
  2. Combine all spices in a small bowl, set aside.  Separate the eggs.
  3. Cream the butter, 1/2 cup of sugar, vanilla, and salt.  Add the egg yolks, and mix until smooth.
  4. Fold in the flour by hand with a spatula.
  5. Combine the egg whites and remaining 1/2 cup of sugar, beat with a hand mixer until very stiff.  In four parts, fold the egg whites into the other batter.  Do not over mix.
  6. Divide the batter into two large bowls, stirring the spices into one.
  7. Add 1/2 cup of the spiced batter to the bottom of the buttered pan, spreading it evenly over the bottom.  Cook under the broiler for 2 minutes, or until lightly browned.   Spread a 1/2 cup of the plain batter on top of the cooked layer, broiling again for 2 minutes.  Repeat this process of layering/cooking with alternating batters until the pan is full.
  8. Allow to cool completely on a wire rack before removing from the pan.
  9. Dust with confectioners sugar and serve with maple syrup, whipped cream, or fruit preserves.  Wrap tightly in plastic wrap to store

Monday, August 24, 2015

Baking Around the World: Pandan Chiffon Cake

I'm finally back to some Oceania baking experiments. I've hopped on a boat and moved to Indonesia, which isn't far considering I was last in Papua New Guinea and West Papua, part of which is technically a part of Indonesia today.

An ingredient that comes up frequently while researching Indonesian baked goods is pandan.  Pandan is a leafy plant that smells of grassy vanilla. Just like vanilla in other countries, pandan is often imitated with chemicals - artificial flavorings and colorings. Around my area, it can be hard to find the real thing.  I did find some other crucial ingredients for my cooking and baking experiments.

I could find a lot of fake pandan. Fake pandan is easy to spot because it is bright almost neon green, and is a popular flavor throughout Southeast Asia - Thailand, Singapore, Malaysia too. Pandan cakes, pandan bubble tea, pandan ice cream and pandan paste. I really wanted to use the actual thing. Although my local Asian market did not carry the leaves (neither fresh nor frozen), I was able to find pandan juice made from actual pandan leaves, in a can.  And okay, I bought one little packaged cake with artificial pandan and a thai coconut layer jelly cake with artificial pandan, because I was curious!

A recipe I found multiple versions of along the way is Pandan Chiffon Cake. There is a lot of discussion on how the chiffon cake is a reflection of American influence in Southeast Asia, as opposed to the Dutch influence that may be seen in other recipes (stay tuned next week for an example!).  I'm not sure how American the chiffon cake is, but I had never made one. I had made angel food cakes back in my tearoom days, including a mocha version that I thought had more flavor - but angel food cakes are completely free of egg yolks. Chiffon cakes are made in a similar fashion, and folding the egg whites in at the end is a crucial step, but the batter contains a bit more fat in the form of oil and egg yolks.

This is one of the versions of Pandan Chiffon Cake that specifically mentioned using pandan juice in place of homemade paste or artificial flavoring. At the same time, I wonder if the change in liquid amount didn't have a slight change to the final product. I wasn't a huge fan of the texture, it was rather dry to my taste, and despite using 2 oz of juice I could hardly taste the flavor of it. While it was baking it smelled divine but I wish more had come across in the cake itself. Perhaps I should have boiled down the rest of the sugary canned juice into a syrup. You also can't taste the coconut milk as much as I would have expected, so I'd like to find a way to magnify that flavor as well. Coconut and pandan seem to be frequent companions.

A co-worker said her chiffon cakes don't normally have the larger holes in them so there is a definite chance I overmixed or underbeat or all the bad things that can happen to chiffon cakes. The 9 egg whites created quite a bit of volume to fold into the other batter and I actually think my standard KitchenAid mixing bowl was not large enough to accommodate it. 

There are quite a few different recipes for this cake out there. It must be one of those standards that every grandmother has a different recipe for. I looked at some that depended on the artificial pastes, and some that started with fresh pandan leaves. I went with the recipe I found on Serious Eats because it allowed for pandan juice and did not seem to rely on artificial extracts for flavor. I'm not sure how it compares to the rest. (The recipe is labeled as part of their "Singapore Stories" series and I have my eye on the Chinese Egg Tarts if I ever do a year of reading in China.)

Pandan Chiffon Cake
recipe from Yvonne Ruperti, Singapore Stories, Serious Eats

Notes: Look in your local Asian market for fresh or frozen pandan leaves. If you can't find it, increase the pandan extract to 2 tablespoons. Either green pandan paste or clear pandan extract can be used.


  • 6 pandan leaves, washed and roughly chopped
  • 6 large eggs, separated, divided
  • 1 cup (7 ounces) granulated sugar
  • 1/2 cup vegetable oil
  • 3/4 cup full fat coconut milk
  • 2 teaspoons pandan extract
  • 1 3/4 cup (7 ounces) cake flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 3 large egg whites
  • 1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar


  1. Adjust oven rack to middle position and preheat oven to 350°F. Line bottom of 10-inch tube pan with parchment paper. Place chopped pandan leaves in food processor and add 2 tablespoons water. Blend until leaves are pulverized, about 1 minute (add an extra tablespoon water if mixture is too thick to blend). Strain mixture though cheesecloth, squeezing tightly to extract as much juice as possible. You should have 3 to 4 tablespoons juice.
  2. In large bowl, whisk 6 yolks with 1/2 cup sugar until very light, about 1 minute. Whisk in oil until combined. Whisk in coconut milk, pandan extract, and 3 tablespoons pandan juice until combined.
  3. Sift cake flour, baking powder, and salt into medium bowl. Gently whisk flour mixture into pandan mixture until smooth.
  4. Using standing mixer fitted with whip attachment, beat 9 egg whites on medium low speed until frothy. Add cream of tartar, increase speed to medium, and continue to beat until meringue begins to look opaque. Increase speed to medium high and slowly add remaining 1/2 cup sugar. Continue to beat until meringue reaches stiff but not dry peak.
  5. Fold 1/3 of meringue into batter until combined. Carefully fold in remaining meringue in two stages until just combined, being careful to not deflate meringue.
  6. Pour batter into ungreased 10-inch tube pan and bake until cake is golden on top, set, and long skewer inserted into the center comes out clean, about 45 minutes. Completely cool cake in pan, about 2 hours. Invert onto serving plate to serve.

Monday, August 03, 2015

Low-Sugar Blueberry Muffins

I realized as I planned this post that the majority of my posts the last few months have been blueberry baked goods of all varieties. I would apologize but blueberries are in season. You can always substitute another berry or nuts or chocolate chips if you are just not that into them. Plus take heart! I am in the mood to make something, something I've never made before, and I have been eyeing recipes and ingredients from Indonesia today. (If you have any ideas, please let me know!)

This blueberry muffin recipe has its origins on PaleOMG, one of my favorite lower sugar, lower carb baking blogs. We aren't committed to paleo eating at my house (the last paleo book I read said you couldn't be paleo without daily consumption of organ meat and NO COFFEE so that is pretty much never going to happen) but paleo is pretty close to how we try to eat, reducing sugar and carby things. Paleo recipes are often a good place to start, and I have enjoyed some of her recipes in the past.

Not needing to strictly follow Paleo ways, I replaced her coconut oil with oil, her honey with sugar alternatives, and her almond butter with cheaper peanut butter. Because of this I suspect these muffins have a bit too much fat, since peanut butter is nuts PLUS hydrogenated oil. It is worth further experimentation. They weren't awful, in fact they were quite nice, a better muffin texture than those I've made entirely of coconut flour.

Healthier Blueberry Muffins
  • 1 cup peanut butter
  • 1 cup almond meal/almond flour
  • 3 eggs, whisked
  • 1/3 cup sugar alternative (brown sugar Splenda or coconut/palm sugar)
  • ⅓ cup vegetable oil (or melted coconut oil)
  • ½ teaspoon baking soda
  • ½ teaspoon baking powder
  • ¼ teaspoon sea salt
  • pinch of cinnamon
  • ½ cup fresh blueberries (I used 1 cup)
  1. Preheat your oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Mix all ingredients together in a bowl, wet with wet, dry with dry, then wet into dry. Gently fold in blueberries last.
  3. Spoon into muffin tins or silicone liners (about 10).
  4. Bake for 15-20 minutes.