There’s something intoxicating about the flavour of pandan. It’s got a creamy sweetness similar to vanilla, but with faint vegetal undertones which give it a bright freshness. And it’s also got an alluring lemak quality. We folks in Southeast Asia have been using it in desserts, especially those involving coconut milk or oil (those two go together like Fann and Chris), almost since time began. But it’s just starting to take off in the West. “I think it’s going to be the new matcha; I noticed more and more people in America baking with pandan essence,” opined domestic goddess Nigella Lawson. CNN highlighted the pandan chiffon cake with a “radioactive hue” earlier this year as Singapore’s representative in their ‘Cakes of the World’ feature. And why not? There’s nothing more local, or irresistible then an beautifully fluffy cake perfumed with rich pandan and coconut.
What Makes A Good Pandan Cake?
According to respected local foodie, cookbook author and cooking instructor Christopher Tan, who has created his own pandan chiffon cake recipes, including one that was printed in American food mag Saveur, the chiffon cake recipe was invented by, oddly enough, an American insurance agent. It made its way to Singapore, where the local media first mentioned it in the late ’70s. Christopher, who also teaches pandan chiffon cake-baking classes at cooking school The Kitchen Society, reckons that a fab version must boast “good fragrance from freshly-squeezed pandan leaf juice” (he recommends using “80g to 100g” of pandan leaves per cake if you wanna make your own pandan juice), a discernible richness from coconut milk, plus a light and fluffy texture that still has some structure to it. Yep, time to throw out that bottle of artificial pandan essence lurking in your kitchen now. He adds: “The cake also shouldn't be so weightless and airy that it 'evaporates' or crumbles to bits as you chew it.”