I have often teased Weylin, of Only Slightly Pretentious Food, pi-02-05-03 (a lifestyle blog), and dear friend, that she should quit her coporate-y day job and become Singapore’s answer to Martha Stewart. In her spare time, she cooks, decorates, flower arranges, designs, letterpresses, and crafts. Mark my words, “One day.”
Pandan chiffon cake is one of my favorite local treats. I’ve wasted many coins at Bengawan Solo, a local bakery, to cure my fix. So who better than Weylin, my Macaron Mentor, to share her recipe with you.
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Pandan cake was ubiquitous when I was growing up in Singapore. I never liked the colour green in baked goods nor the strong taste of bottled pandan flavouring so, for years, I shunned it in stores and at parties. Then one day, a wonderful family friend and fellow baker made this cake, from a recipe that she claimed was augmented out of one of those thin, simple “Asian Baking” type paperbacks that you can buy near the check-out counters of NTUC.
The aroma of her home-made version lingered through the house and the warm, inviting, and dense fumes of coconut coming from the oven drew me immediately into the kitchen. I never knew that pandan cake could smell like this! I realized that the recipe really draws and benefits from the use of local produce but you must take the time to use fresh pandan and coconut milk. It might seem tedious to grind pandan leaves for essence but trust me, the cool, green, full-bodied, and fragrant taste is entirely worth it. This cake quickly became a favourite in my family too and is one of the few desserts that my mother and aunts, who can’t take a lot of (and anyway, dislike) rich cream cakes, really enjoy. It’s relatively healthy, very light, and a cake that really celebrates living in the tropics!
Pandan Chiffon Cake
18 stalks pandan leaves
1 coconut, grated, or 300 ml coconut milk
9 egg whites
1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar
1 tablespoon caster sugar
8 egg yolks
160 grams caster sugar
150 grams cake flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1. Make fresh pandan extract by blending the pandan leaves and a small amount of water (just enough to liquefy the pandan leaves) in a blender or a food processor. Make sure the pandan leaves are very finely ground. Strain the liquid and let it stand refrigerated, overnight.
2. The mixture will separate into two parts, water on the top and a thick, green juice that sinks to the bottom. This is the pandan extract and this recipe calls for 2 1/2 tablespoons of this juice. Gently pour away the water. If you have excess pandan essence, freeze it in ice cube trays for subsequent cakes.
3. Pre-heat the oven to 170 degrees Celsius.
4. Buy fresh grated coconut from a wet market (300 ml is about 1 coconut’s worth of milk) and extract the fresh coconut milk by squeezing it from the grated coconut. To extract the coconut milk, you have to add a little water to the ground coconut and then wring the damp coconut in a cheesecloth or towel. I gave the recipe to a friend who was wringing dry coconut until her helper said, “Ma’am, must add water first.” Only buy the fresh coconut on the day of baking, as it will not keep more than a day.
5. Beat the egg whites with cream of tartar and the tablespoon of caster sugar until stiff. You can omit the cream of tartar, as I do, but your cake will have larger air pockets, as the cream of tartar helps to bind the beaten egg white tightly together.
6. In a separate bowl, add the remaining 160 grams of caster sugar to the egg yolks and whisk. Add the coconut milk and the 2 1/2 tablespoon of pandan extract together, then add the cake flour, baking powder and salt.
7. Fold the egg white mixture into the egg yolk mixture gently and pour into a bundt pan. This recipe works best with a bundt pan to ensure that the chiffon rises and bakes evenly.
8. Bake the cake for 35 minutes, cool and slice the cake out of the pan with a thin bladed knife. Neatly! This picture was taken after I entrusted a male friend, unsupervised in the kitchen, to slice the cake off the base of the bundt pan. When my mother saw this photo, she was horrified “You know, your cake is sooooo awful,” she said. “How come it has these holes everywhere and a big hole on the top?”
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I welcome recipes from Singapore and beyond for Cooking with…. Priority is given to original recipes that have not yet appeared online. Please indicate if your recipe has already appeared online or has been submitted elsewhere. Please email all recipes, including high-quality .jpgs, to me with the subject line ‘Recipes.’