For the longest time, I've been trying to perfect a decent rendition of a pandan chiffon cake. A chiffon cake is akin to angel's food cake, except it also has egg yolks to make the taste a little richer, but uses oil instead of butter to maintain that soft spongey texture. Pandan chiffon cake is common in Singapore and Malaysia, sold in most bakeries and eaten commonly as teatime snacks.
To me, the perfect pandan chiffon cake would have to be very light (almost cotton candy like), have an airy crumb (tender but stretchy, so not too cake-like), rise evenly without cracks or doming, fragrant, the colour of light jade not psychedelic neon green (some store bought ones blind me!), have an even brown (but not burnt) crust and of course taste yummy!
This is by no means an easy feat and I was on a pandan cake baking obsession for about a month, making cake after cake, trying out various recipes and tweaking them. Friends benefited from my endeavour, as I would dole out pandan cake weekly. Two of my friends' toddlers really liked the pandan cake, finishing up an entire slice on their own, as it was so light and soft (and probably sweet). I think babies are very discerning eaters, hence I declared the resulting recipe a success :) It also fulfilled most of my criteria above, except that it rises quite a bit and ends up doming and cracking.
Nonetheless, it's as close to perfect as I can get it. I started out looking at various recipes on the internet, which included those on Rose's Kitchen, Aunty Yochana, Baking Mum and ieatishootipost. Out of these recipes, the one that was closest to what I was after was the one on ieatishootipost plus there was a great deal of exposition and analysis on what makes a pandan cake tick on Dr Tay's website. One problem that I found across the recipes, was the differing pan sizes, which greatly affected the volume of batter as well as the baking time and temperature. Dr Tay's recipe was a whopping 9 egg whites (and 6 egg yolks) and was meant for a 25cm (10inch) tube pan. I only had a 21cm pan and where eggs are involved, it's a little harder to just scale proportionally down. As a result, I tweaked the proportions and came up with a texture I really liked, even though I still had a bit too much for my small pan. Perhaps I should just buy a bigger one!
Here's the final recipe that I came up with. I've rewritten it in the way I feel makes most logical sense to me in terms of the mise-en-place and sequence. It would probably fit a 23cm (9 inch) tube pan nicely, but if like me you have a smaller pan, just bake off the rest in a small tin. Never waste :)
Pandan Chiffon Cake (makes a 23cm/9inch cake)
(recipe adapted from ieatishootipost)
9 pandan leaves
2.5 tbsp (~40ml) coconut milk
90ml corn oil
120ml coconut milk
1/2 tsp vanilla essence
1/4 tsp pandan paste (I try to add as little as possible as it makes the batter very green)
160g cake/pastry flour (I substituted with 120g plain flour and 40g corn flour)
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp baking powder (can be omitted)
5 egg yolks (I use large eggs)
70g caster sugar
7 egg whites (I use large eggs)
80g caster sugar
1/2 tsp cream of tartar
Preheat an oven to 170deg C (I used mine on fan mode, if you have a regular oven, I think you can set your temperature to 180deg C).
1. To obtain pandan juice:
Cut the pandan leaves into pieces into a food processor. Add the coconut milk and blend until leaves are shredded. Squeeze and strain mixture through a muslin cloth to obtain all the liquid. You should get about 2 tbsp of pandan juice from this.
2. Mix corn oil, coconut milk, vanilla essence, pandan paste and the pandan juice together and stir evenly through. Set aside.
3. In a mixing bowl, measure out the flour, baking powder and salt. Set aside.
4. In another mixing bowl, whip the egg yolks and 70g sugar together until pale and yellow. Pour in the liquid coconut and pandan mixture and whip until incorporated.
5. Sift the dry flour mixture into the egg yolk mixture. Whip on medium speed until incorporated and batter is smooth. Set aside.
6. Add the cream of tartar to the egg whites and whip until foamy. Add one-third of the remaining 80g of sugar and continue whipping. Gradually add the rest of the sugar in 2 stages until the whites are whipped to stiff peaks.
7. Add one-third of the whites to the batter and gently fold in with a spatula. (To make it easier to fold in, you may add a small amount of whites to the batter and mix it quite roughly to even out the texture before folding in the rest of the whites more gently). Continue to add the remaining whites in 2 stages until you get a light, foamy batter. Make sure to smooth out any meringue lumps.
8. Pour the batter into the tube pan, making sure there are no large air bubbles trapped in the batter (if not, you will get a large hole in your cake!). Tap the bottom of your pan to ensure all air bubbles are expelled.
9. Bake for 45-50 minutes in a 170deg oven for 20 minutes, then lower it to 160deg for the remaining time until a skewer comes out clean when inserted and the top crust is a nice golden brown. If it browns too much or you realise there's a thick crust, you're cooking it for too long and the oven temperature may be too hot.
10. Once cooked, take it out and cool it inverted to let the cake structure continue to elongate (instead of sinking). If your pan has 'legs' for it to balance upside down, great. If not, I always stick mine on top of a funnel. When it's cooled, run a knife or spatula around the edges of the pan to loosen it and unmould.
*edited 2 Feb