Pandan Chiffon Cake
I totally took this pandan chiffon cake for granted when I was living in Singapore. It was one of those things that was so readily available, that I never thought twice about it, or really craved for it. If you walk by any traditional bakery in the suburbs, you will more than likely get a huge whiff of the ubiquitous pandan aroma wafting out onto the pavement. That, or the smell of bread baking. Of course I’ve been to other bakeries in other countries, but that smell of bread is different, and I’ve never smelt it anywhere else. You know how smells play such a huge role in human experience? To me, these smells are the epitome of my childhood. Many a time on my visits to Singapore I had to give in to the delicious pandan fragrance and get a freshly-made pandan waffle slathered with Nutella (for $1!). In Australia, I came across a pandan chiffon cake in the Asian grocery one day, and I just had to have it, as it transported me back to ‘home’. But as I was eating it, I started wondering for the first time how it was actually made, so that I could then have it whenever I liked!
When I started doing research on chiffon cakes, I realised they were the same thing as the American angel food cake that I had only read about or watched in movies, and never knew what they were, exactly. One downside: an angel food cake tin. You really needed one to make a chiffon or an angel food cake. Soy and I randomly came across one when we were on holidays in Indonesia, and I jumped at the chance to buy it.
For those unfamiliar with pandan, it’s actually a leaf (also known as screwpine leaf) and imparts a sweet fragrance. When I was growing up, we had a pandan plant in the garden so we could just walk outside, pick a leaf or two and use it in whatever recipe called for it. In Australia, it is only grown in the humid tropics of Queensland, but fresh pandan leaves are available from any Asian grocery. I guess because the pandan leaf is green, all pandan desserts are a vivid bright green. I made this cake for work last year, and was apprehensive about everyone’s willingness to try this very strange-looking green cake. But, everyone was really curious about it and loved it so much that it was all gone by the end of the day.
There are a plethora of different recipes for this cake. I have to admit, I chose the one that looked the healthiest! Some recipes I came across used coconut cream or coconut milk, some up to 10 egg yolks! I can’t remember which website I got this recipe from originally, so I can’t give it the due credit, but I was so happy with the results the first time I made it, that I never went back to try the other recipes- I do wonder how the taste might differ. I use both fresh pandan juice and pandan extract. To get pandan juice, you just put some pandan leaves (about 3) into a food processor with some water (I use 115ml, as this is the amount called for in the recipe), blend and strain the leaves. You will be left with a fragrant, green juice, which is essential for the depth of flavour and fragrance for the cake.
I found that using the pandan juice alone was not sufficient for the flavour and colour I was after, and so I use this pandan paste for a kick of concentrated flavour and for the vivid green characteristic of a pandan chiffon cake.When baking the cake, make sure you don’t grease the pan. The batter needs to cling to the pan so it can creep up to great heights (like a soufflé).
There are 2 important textures to achieve with this cake. The first is a pillowy soft, airy texture (Soy‘s brother-in-law calls this cake an “air cake”) and the second is a subtle chewiness. To me, what sets a great pandan chiffon cake apart from a good pandan chiffon cake is its chewy texture, and the slight resistance it has when you bite into it, rather than just melting away in the mouth. The airy texture comes mainly from the whipped egg whites, but the key to the chewiness is in resting the cake on its feet once it is baked. That’s another reason why it’s so important not to grease the pan- the cake sticks to it, and gravity does the rest!
The last thing to do before sinking your teeth into this light and fragrant cake is to cut it with a serrated knife so that you don’t just squash down the beautiful height you so painstakingly created. I’ve also used this base recipe to make an orange chiffon and a chocolate chiffon in the past. I think a lemon chiffon would be beautiful for a warm day in spring or summer, but pandan is a staple flavour all year round! I think you’ll be surprised at how you will go back for more and more, and how quickly this cake will disappear- its height and size is deceptive!
Pandan chiffon cake
4 large egg yolks
70g caster sugar
¼ tsp salt
2-3 drops pandan extract
85ml oil (use any mild-flavoured oil)
115ml pandan juice
150g self-raising flour
1 tsp baking powder
4 large egg whites
70g caster sugar
½ tsp cream of tartar
Preheat oven to 170° Celsius.
Sift C twice, set aside.
Cream A until sugar dissolves. Add B in order listed. Mix well after each addition.
Fold in sifted flour and mix well.
Beat egg whites until frothy. Add cream of tartar then beat until soft peaks form. Add sugar and beat until stiff peaks form. (A good way to tell when eggs are stiff is to turn your bowl upside down. If they don’t fall out, they’re done!)
Fold ½ egg whites into yolk mixture gently. Fold in the rest of the egg whites. Pour into tin (ungreased) and bang hard on counter top to release air bubbles.
Bake for 40-45 min until cool, invert cake and stand on ‘feet’ for 1 hour until completely cooled. Cut cake with a serrated knife.