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
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.
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.
Sift cake flour, baking powder, and salt into medium bowl. Gently whisk flour mixture into pandan mixture until smooth.
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.
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.
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.