I explained to Eve that pandan leaves (bai toey in Thai, la dua in Vietnamese) was a common staple in Southeast Asia where its herby flavor and cheery color were well-loved. I’d been waiting for the right occasion to make the chiffon cake for months. I had a supply of frozen pandan leaves leftover from the Asian Market Shopper app and need to use them up.
While chiffon cakes are an old-fashioned American sweet, it got a tropical treatment in Southeast Asia with the use of pandan. This kind of chiffon cakes is particularly popular in Singapore and Malaysia. In Vietnam, people gravitate towards the pandan and coconut tapioca cake (banh bo nuong). The chiffon cake has a more tender crumb, though its green color is not as brilliant.
Even though Eve and her husband Michael were good sports about trying new foods, the couple eyed me with slight suspicion when I explained that pandan leaves have a perfume and color similar to wheat grass. The rest of the menu included Indonesian beef rendang, Malaysian turmeric celebration rice, and long beans stir-fried with shrimp paste. “Of course, we were going to make this same meal tonight but figured that you’d cook it instead,” Michael said sarcastically. LOL.
When I later served the cake, both of them remarked how it was just a really nice slice of cake. That’s all I wanted to hear.
Pandan Chiffon Cake
Check this earlier post on pandan leaf to find out more; there is also an entry in the AMS to help you find it at the market. Remember to use a tube pan with a removable bottom. That kind of pan, the same as what’s used for angel food cake, helps the cake to rise well and brown evenly. Mine is nonstick. It’s a little tricky to invert the cake at the end because the pan will still be a little warm. But you have to do it to make the cake easier to unmold.
Makes enough for 10 to 12
10 to 12 ounces frozen pandan leaves, thawed
1/3 cup coconut milk
8 ounces cake flour, or 7 ounces all-purpose bleached flour plus 1 ounce cornstarch
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons baking powder
10 1/2 ounces sugar
7 large egg yolks
1/2 cup canola or vegetable oil
1 to 2 teaspoons vanilla (optional)
8 large egg whites, at room temperature
1 teaspoon cream of tartar
1. Position a rack in the middle of the oven and preheat to 350F degrees. Have an ungreased round tube cake pan handy.
2. Use scissors to cut the pandan leaves into short pieces, no more than 1 inch long. In 2 batches, blend the cut leaves with the coconut milk (use half of the milk at a time) in a food processor until it looks like bits of grass. Pause and push it down as needed. Transfer to a thin cloth, such as a piece of muslin.
Firmly squeeze to render the opaque green liquid into a measuring cup. Discard the solids. When done with both batches, you should have about 14 tablespoons total. Add extra water, if needed to get that quantity. Or, remove some of the liquid if you have too much.
3. In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, salt, baking powder, and all but 1/4 cup of the sugar. In another bowl, whisk together the pandan-and-coconut liquid, egg yolks, and oil. Whisk the liquid into the dry ingredients until well blended and smooth. Taste the batter, and if you like, add the vanilla. Set aside.
4. Using an electric mixer on low speed, beat the egg whites for about 15 seconds to break them up and get them a bit frothy. Then sprinkle in the cream of tartar as the machine runs. Increase the speed to medium, then gradually add the sugar.
5. Take about 1/4 of the egg whites, and swiftly stir with a spatula to blend and lighten the batter a bit. Now scoop the remaining egg whites onto the batter. Use cut-and-fold motions to combine the ingredients. A few thin streaks of white in the batter are okay.
7. Cool the cake on a rack for 5 minutes. Meanwhile find two bowls or jars that can be used to support the can pan in an upside down position. They have to be at least as tall as the part of the tube pan that extends beyond the rim!
Without much hesitation take the pan and invert it, positioning the rim on the bowls or jars so that the pan is elevated. Let the cake cool for 1 hour, before running an icing spatula around the edges (inner and outer) and unmolding. Slice and serve.
Have your own recipe for chiffon cake or pandan chiffon cake? How is it different from the one above? We served the cake with an orange sorbet. Something tropical would be terrific too. Or, just serve it as it. Have any serving suggestions?