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By October 14, 2015 , ,

There's something about being away from home that makes me crave for the taste of home even more. It is true that I miss the flavours that I used to take for granted. Luckily, now that I live in a predominantly South-East Asian suburb, I can easily source the ingredients from the Motherland, and rediscover the taste of my childhood.

Chief among the flavours that I miss is the Pandan chiffon cake. This is an incredibly plain and common cake in Malaysia, found everywhere from the school canteen to the servo. Wrapped tightly in cling wrap, it is incredibly fluffy and soft, as a good chiffon should be. But more than that, it is has the magic ingredient that is pandan.

What in the world is pandan? I call it the "vanilla of the East". A tropical garden plant normally found in the back yard of everyday Malaysian, its aroma is unique, and often incorporated with coconut milk to create a sweet, but delicate fragrance.

Don't let the appearance of this cake scare you away from this delightful, pillowy chiffon cake. The cake gets its green from pandan’s chlorophyll, though thankfully you can’t taste the chlorophyll.

It was my first attempt at making a chiffon cake, and a pandan one at that, which is extra time-consuming because it requires pandan extract. I’m sure there are  places in Melbourne that sells pandan flavouring, but I do like to do things the natural way. Afterall, the main characteristic of a good pandan chiffon cake is its beautiful creamy green colour.  So, after consulting the Google oracle, I found the way to make pandan extract, which can be prepared the night before you attempt to make the chiffon cake.

Essentially, you need to make pandan juice, using either a food processor or pestle and mortar (that’s dedication). After that, you run the pandan juice mixture through a fine sieve or cheesecloth into a (preferably) glass. Leave it in the fridge overnight. The next day you will find a layer of sediment gathered at the bottom of the glass. That, my friend, is the fabled pandan extract that will give you pandan fragrance and colouring.

The rest of the steps involved in making a chiffon cake is pretty standard if you are used to making a sponge cake. It must’ve been a good day because my meringue was shiny, glossy and stood proudly on my mixer. This recipe does require 8 eggs though, so it took a while for me to get it to stiff peak on my $15 Homemaker hand mixer.

I am so happy that my chiffon cake raised so high, almost to the top of the tin. After a bit of digging around on the internet, I realised that it’s possibly because I did not grease the tin, which allows the chiffon to “climb” up the sides of the tin. Another possible reason is that I tipped the tin upside down for as long as it took for it to cool down. Apparently doing this helps to prevent the cake from sinking while its cooling. I only managed to do this for 30 minutes because one side of the chiffon cake started falling out of the tin.

I was expecting cracks on the cake, but there was none! I decided to serve it upside down and was so happy to see that the other side was shiny and golden-brown.

I’m not blowing my own horns or anything, but it tasted heavenly! The golden-brown top and bottom had this amazing taste of baked meringue, but the inside was super soft, moist, fluffly and pillowy. I felt like I was eating a glob of green cloud… And the smell..Oh that delightful yet delicate fragrance of pandan and coconut, it was the stuff that tropical summer dreams are made of.

It was perfect with a cup of tea or coffee, or on its own. In fact, I gobbled up two slices while making dinner. I shared them with a few foodie friends and it was a hit! This is definitely a recipe that I will revisit…when I have the time and energy to make more pandan extract.

Pandan Chiffon Cake

(Recipe inspired by Life is Great)

For the ½ cup pandan leaf juice:
20-30 pieces pandan leave
3-4 tablespoons water
2 tablespoons coconut milk (approximate...more or less to make half a cup of pandan extract and coconut milk mixture)

For the flour batter:
200 grams top/cake flour (see note)
2 teaspoons baking powder
¼ teaspoon baking of soda
¼ teaspoon salt
100 grams extra-fine castor sugar (see note)
8 egg yolks
6 tablespoons corn (or other vegetable) oil

For the meringue:
8 egg whites
100 grams extra-fine castor sugar
½ teaspoon cream of tartar

Pre-heat oven to 170°C and position a wire rack at the lower third rack. Prepare a clean 24 cm or 25cm chiffon cake tin. Do not grease. Make sure the tin is dry.

Wash and cut the spears of pandan leaves into ½-inch pieces (using a pair of kitchen scissors is easier here). Place into a blender and add 3 tablespoons of the water. Blend to form a thick paste, add another tablespoon of water if it is difficult to blend. If you have a mortar and pestle, pounding the leaves will be easier and less water will be required. Remove and squeeze out all the liquid from the paste through a fine mesh sieve, strainer or cheesecloth. You should be able to yield close to 1 cup of liquid. Leave the cup of liquid in the fridge to chill overnight or until you are ready to make the chiffon cake.

Discard the clear or murky liquid on the top. You will be left with 1/4 cup (more or less) of dark green pandan extract. To top up and make exactly ½ cup, you can either add some coconut milk, which will go nicely with the pandan flavor, or add more water.

Sift the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt into a small bowl. In a separate large mixing bowl, whisk the egg yolks with the corn oil to form an emulsion. Add the pandan leaf juice or pandan leaf juice plus coconut milk mixture. Mix well before adding the sugar and whisk till sugar has melted. Pour the mixture into the dry ingredients and whisk well into a smooth batter, there should be no lumps. Set aside.

On high speed of a stand or hand held mixer, whisk together the egg whites and cream of tartar. Start adding the sugar once the egg whites begin to foam, gradually in 3 additions. Beat till the meringue is smooth and glossy, with stiff peaks. Be careful not to overbeat the egg whites.

Immediately stir in approximately 1/3 of the meringue into the flour batter. With a flexible rubber or silicon spatula, fold in the meringue gently and mix well. Once a roughly homogeneous mixture is achieved, add the rest of the meringue and repeat the gentle, light-handed folding process till the cake batter is well combined. Scoop from the bottom of the bowl to ensure no meringue or flour batter is left unmixed. Do not beat or overwork the batter as this will knock out the air you've put into the meringue. Pour the cake mixture into the cake tin. Using your spatula, dip it into the batter right to the bottom and make circles around the tin twice. This is to remove any large air bubbles possibly trapped while pouring in the cake batter.

Bake at 170°C for 50-55 minutes or until cake is done. The cake tester should come out clean. Don't fret if the top of your cake cracks a little, this is normal. Remove the cake from the oven and immediately overturn it to cool completely, which can be up to 2 hours. Do this over an upturned funnel if the legs of the chiffon cake tin are not long enough to avoid the top of the cake touching its resting surface - the cake should rise to the same level or slightly higher than the center tube. You can also use a narrow necked bottle but ensure that it's stable enough to support the weight of the cake.

Release the cake by running a sharp, thin knife along the sides of the cake tin and subsequently the bottom of the tube. The cake is meant to be served upside down as it is heavier on the top, however, you can display it top side up, if you don't mind the cracks and wrinkles. The cake keeps well chilled in an airtight container or cling wrapped up to five days (three if using coconut milk). If chilled, bring to room temperature before serving.

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