A pandan cake needs pandan leaves to make it taste like pandan. Artificial pandan flavours just won’t do. What about pandan extract? It will not taste the same. Without pandan leaves, you are better off baking an Orange Chiffon Cake (image below). What are pandan leaves?

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Commonly found growing in humid climates, pandanus/screwpine leaves have a multitude of uses: the leaves could be weaved or folded into receptacles to hold and/or cook food, blades of leaves could also be added into sweets, savouries… it imparts a sweet, floral, grassy fragrance. The leaves as they are, are fibrous and can’t be eaten. If they are not cut and thrown into the pot to be fished out later, then the leaves are pureed and strained to obtain the vibrant green colour and fragrant extract.
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This recipe is an evolution of one passed down to me. The original recipe worked well enough but I had wanted it a touch more moist. So without sacrificing the height of the chiffon cake which a good chiffon cake is often judged by (erroneously in my opinion), I adjusted that recipe to my choice of sugar and the number and ratio of egg yolks to egg whites.

I’ve had individuals who can hold their own in the kitchen tell me how apprehensive they are about baking chiffon cakes. They are afraid or they have had the cake collapse on them or the cake did not rise high enough. Even more demoralising, when they thought success was round the corner, the outer layer of the cake stuck so badly to the cake pan, they ended up with a ‘bald’ cake. It ought not be intimidating. I have weighed out the ingredients, including the egg whites and yolks. Weighing the eggs is important as my ‘large size’ egg could differ considerably from yours. Pictures are helpful when baking chiffon cakes and I have included them to guide you along. For a successful bake, keep these pointers in mind:

  • weigh all ingredients (‘Cup’ measurements differ from country to country as 1 cup could mean either 250ml, 220ml…. I advise you move away from cups here and use precise measurements on kitchen scales)
  • whip eggs to stiff peak (don’t over or under beat)
  • fold in gently and quickly
  • bake a little longer than what you would expect
  • get an oven thermometer to ensure you are baking at my recommended oven temperatures
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My Orange Chiffon Cake which can also be made with grapefruit!

Pandan Chiffon Cake

Prep: 20 minutes
Cook: 65 minutes
Inactive:
Level: Moderate
Serves: At least 8
Oven Temperature: 380F (190C), lowered to 340F(170C)
Can recipe be doubled?
Make ahead? As this cake is coconut based (coconut turns rancid fast), keep it tightly covered and refrigerated after the first day.

Ingredients

9.17oz (260g) self raising flour
OR
3 teaspoons baking powder + 3/4 teaspoons salt, top up with all-purpose/plain flour until scale registers 9.17oz(260g).
7.05 oz(200g) caster sugar
10 blades of pandan leaf*
1/4 cup(2.11 US fl oz) (62.5ml) neutral tasting oil
~1 and 1/3 cups (11.26 US fl oz)(333ml) of unsweetened coconut milk**
1/2 cup (4.22 US fl oz)(125ml)(4.76oz)(135g)Z(~8) egg yolks
1 and 1/4 cup (10.58 US fl oz)(313ml)(11.04oz)(313g)(~9) egg whites
1 teaspoon cream of tartar
3.52oz (100g) icing/confectioner’s sugar
* Buy fresh ones mostly available from Asian grocery stores. I haven’t tried the ones found in the freezer but I reckon you could wipe those free of any water and use, ~ 2 cups worth (packed down).
** I use refrigerated pasteurised coconut milk. On the package it reads from “skin peeled white fresh coconut” – that means the thin chocolate-coloured outer layer has been scrapped off  to obtain a more ‘white’ milk. Most pasteurised coconut milk is processed the same way.

 

Method

Use a chiffon/angel food cake/tube pan. Mine is made of aluminium. The bottom diameter should be 9″(23cm) and the height 4.3″(11cm). Do not use non stick or silicon. I have tried it with dismal results. It never bakes as high and the outer layer of the cake inevitably sticks to the pan.

Turn the oven on to 380F(190C). Oven rack adjusted to the lowest rung. I do recommend you invest in an oven thermometer as the internal temperature of ovens differ widely.

Dry ingredients
1. If you are making your own self-raising flour, remember to sift flour, salt and baking powder first. Mix in the self-raising flour with the caster sugar. Break up any lumps in the process. Set aside.
2. Sift the icing sugar and set it aside ready for the egg whites.

Wet ingredients
1. Wipe the mixer bowl you will be using to whip the egg whites and the whisk attachment(s) with a little vinegar or lemon juice. This gets rid of any traces of oil which will prevent the egg whites from whipping into stiff peaks. Add the egg whites into bowl and have the machine set up ready for whisking. Set aside.
2. Snip the pandan leaves (wipe off any water) into 1″ (1.25cm) pieces. Place that in a food processor and add the 1 and 1/3 cups of coconut milk (room temperature). Grind into a puree. Strain off the residue to get 1 cup of pandan coconut milk. Set aside.

Putting the cake batter together
1. In a large mixing bowl, use a whisk to incorporate, egg yolks, oil and the 1 cup pandan coconut mixture.
2. Next, use the whisk to stir (not whisk) in the dry ingredients. Break up any visible lumps. Do not over mix as you do not want to overwork the gluten in the flour or you might end up with a doughy and heavy as opposed to a light cake. Set aside.
3. Add the cream of tartar into the egg whites. Start the mixer on medium speed. When the egg whites are frothy, gradually add the sifted icing sugar a teaspoon at a time. With my KitchenAid, this process takes less than 2 minutes.

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4. Once all the icing sugar has been added, if there is any visible icing sugar that has not been incorporated, stop the machine and scrape down the bowl with a clean spatula.
5. Turn the machine back on medium speed and let it run for ~5 minutes or until the whites reaches ‘stiff peak’ stage. You will notice that the egg whites would have started to leave thick trails as the whisk rotates.

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6. When you lift up the whisk attachment(s), the whites will hold its peak and not flop to the side. Do not over beat. You would know you have over beaten the whites, when the whites do hold its ‘peak’ but instead of billowy egg whites, you have clumpy egg whites that look like foam balls when you try to fold whites into pandan coconut/egg/flour mix. You can still use the whites, but it will be a little difficult to fold in and as a result you will lose some air bubbles from the over folding.

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7. Add a dollop of egg whites into the pandan coconut/egg/flour mixture to loosen the mixture.

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8. Work fast but do not over work it. It takes less than 15 seconds. The whites do not have to be fully incorporated at this stage. Refer to the photograph below.

img_7196-19. Switch to a spatula or a long wide-face spoon. Fold in the remaining egg whites in 2 intervals. Again, be gentle but work fast. Below, the first half of the egg whites have just been folded in. It is not evenly mixed at this stage which is perfectly fine.

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10. Second half of egg whites goes in now. This time, get the mixture as evenly mixed as possible. Look out for clumps of egg whites and be sure to incorporate them in.

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11. Pour the batter into the chiffon cake (tube) pan (no need to butter, flour or grease pan) and level out the batter.

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12. Before putting it on the bottom rack of the heated oven, drop the cake pan 3X on the work counter from a 1″(2.5cm) height to get rid of excess bubbles.
13. Once cake is in the oven, reduce the temperature immediately to 340F(170C).
14. Bake for 25 -30 minutes, then cover the top with aluminium foil to prevent cake from over browning and continue to bake for another ~40 -35 minutes (total baking time is ~ 65 minutes).

When is the cake baked through?
Unlike other cakes you do not use a cake skewer. Instead, use your fingers to press half an inch down the top of the cake. The cake is ready when the cake springs back quickly (just a wee bit slower than the bounce back of a dry kitchen sponge when pressed on). This cake has to be baked a bit drier than you would a normal cake. Why? The cake has to be cooled completely in its overturned cake pan that should be propped up on a can of bake beans.

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If the cake is too moist, it will be heavy and fall out of the overturned cake pan as it cools. Therefore, remove the cake from the oven only when the cake gives a quick bounce back when pressed.

Removing cake from tin
1. To dislodge cake, work a narrow palette knife (works better than a kitchen knife) around the inside circumference of the cake ring (refer to picture below). Press the palette knife firmly against the aluminium as you slide the palette knife in a gentle sawing motion around the circumference of the cake tin. You want to scrape every lovely cake crumb off the inside of the cake tin.

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2. Do the same for the inner tube of the cake ring (refer to the picture below).

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3. Pull on the inner tube to lift the cake out from the cake ring. Set down on a level surface.
4. Press the palette knife against the bottom inside of the cake tin (refer to picture below). Using a wide sawing motion, work palette knife around the base of the cake.

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5. Invert the cake directly on to your cake stand. If you have done a good job, the entire cake will be a lovely golden brown with no missing or peeling cake crumb.
6. Slice with a serrated knife.

Tips

Tips for a successful bake? I pretty much outlined it all under ‘Method’ and in my introduction.

WHAT’S COMING UP NEXT?

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