It’s been ages since I’ve been here. My laptop had been broken and it was impossible for me to write from my phone. I’ve missed it! The good news is I have quite a few recipes awaiting to be introduced to a wider spectrum than just my partner and his work colleagues (who now are my most reliable critics).
You probably haven’t heard of pandan, which is totally understandable. We had no idea such a thing existed until we set off for our journey throughout Southeast Asia. There is nothing even vaguely similar to pandan, the flavour and smell is exquisite, not comparable to anything else.
Pandan is a common plant grown in people’s gardens like, say, rhubarb in Europe. It’s a small bush-looking plant, with long green leaves which later can be processed into pandan juice, pandan kaya or pandan cakes. Nowadays, you can buy a bunch of pandan leaves in London Chinatown, for instance, for merely £1.75. So I did.
Let me take you on adventure of recreating a flavour of pandan cake I’ve tried in Vietnam. It may be a little bit of a pain, trying to get all the ingredients (some of them I had to order online), but hey, who doesn’t like a challenge?
PANDAN AND COCONUT LAYER CAKE
for the pandan juice
7-8 pandan leaves (for pandan juice)
3/4 cup of water
for the sponge
400g coconut milk
3-4 pandan leaves
1 and 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
2 tbsp pandan juice extract
3 cups good quality wheat flour
1 tbsp baking powder
3/4 tsp salt
6 egg whites
2 cups of sugar
for pandan kaya
1 tsp white agar-agar powder
80g pandan juice
1/4 tsp salt
240ml coconut milk
70g white hun kwee flour (mung bean flour)
drop of green food colouring
desiccated coconut for decoration
HOW TO MAKE?
1. We have to start our pandan adventure from making a pandan juice which later will be used for both, sponge and kaya (custard). Wash the pandan leaves and cut them in about 3cm pieces. Add the leaves to a blender together with about 3/4 cup of water. Process until your leaves become a puree.
2. Strain the pandan juice through a kitchen cloth (be warned that you won’t be able to use that cloth again because of the huge green stain in the middle). Simply place a cloth on a strainer and then a strainer over a bowl. Pour the mixture over, saving the pandan juice in the bowl underneath. Pandan juice should have a lively green colour.
3. Add the coconut milk into a small saucepan. Add two-three pandan leaves tied in a knot. Let the milk simmer over a low heat until the milk is reduced to about one cup. Stir the milk occasionally while simmering.
4. Prepare an ice bath for the coconut milk. Add some ice into a medium bowl and place
smaller bowl on top. When the coconut milk has reduced, take out the pandan leaves and pour the milk into the bowl on top of the ice.
5. Once the milk has cooled down, stir in vanilla extract and pandan juice. Set aside.
6. Preheat the oven to 180 degrees and prepare two round baking tins. Grease them with butter, line with baking parchment and set aside.
7. Sieve the flour and baking powder into a big bowl. Add salt and set aside.
8. In another big bowl, whisk the egg whites. When they begin to foam, add 3/4 cup the sugar, without stopping the mixer. Keep whisking on a medium-high speed, until the whites become glossy and quite stiff. Set aside.
9. Prepare another big bowl. Beat the butter until soft, add the remaining 1/4 cup of sugar and keep mixing until the mixture becomes soft and creamy.
10. From now on, you need to be extra careful not to overmix the batter. Don’t stop the mixer, just keep beating while adding next ingredients, making sure it doesn’t take too long between each addition. Add half of the dry ingredients (flour, baking powder and salt you should have prepared in a separate bowl, already mixed). Add half of the coconut milk and mix. Add remaining flour and coconut milk in next two addition. The ingredients do not have to be perfectly incorporated after each addition, do not exceed mixing time unnecessarily.
11. Add one third of the egg whites and fold it in gently. Then add another two thirds, one by one. Now the batter is ready and you can pour it into previously prepared baking tins. Try to divide the batter evenly between the two tins. Bake until the wooden skewer comes out clean, about 25-28 minutes. Let the cakes cool on the wire rack for about 10 minutes, then remove from the tins and let them cool completely.
12. Time to make the filling, called pandan kaya. It’s custard-like, slightly jelly-like and stunningly delicious. Prepare medium saucepan. Add the water, agar-agar powder, sugar, butter, pandan juice and salt into the saucepan and start heating up the mixture, on low to medium heat. Heat up just until the agar agar powder dissolves, should not boil.
13. In a separate bowl mix together coconut milk and hun kwee flour. Make sure there is no lumps.
14. Add the coconut mixture into the saucepan with agar agar and the rest, mix well. Add some green food colouring and stir thoroughly. Cook the mixture until it’s thick enough to coat sides of the pot thinly. Do not overcook it. It shouldn’t be too thick because it will be too hard when chilled. But also, make sure it’s not too runny; if the pandan kaya is too runny it won’t make layers while assembling the cake, it will ‘escape’ underneath the bottom of the cake instead.
15. To assemble the cake, prepare the baking tin first. Line it with kitchen foil, bottom and sides, creating sort of a shell for the cake. Cut each of the pandan cakes in half, you’ll have four now. Place the thickest cake on the bottom of the cake tin, cut side up. Pour 1/4 of the pandan kaya. Move the pan from side to side and swirl kaya to form even layer. Wait about 30 seconds until the kaya thickens slightly. Cover with another layer of cake, pressing lightly. Repeat until you’ve used all your layers. Pour the rest of the pandan kaya on top of the cake and sprinkle with desiccated coconut. Place your cake in the fridge to thicken properly. It’ll be ready to serve in about an hour.
Well done! You’ve just made your first pandan cake. Now it’s the time for you to indulge in the amazing flavour of pandan, which will instantly become one of your favourite flavour of all. Enjoy!