As much as I love this cake to bits I've not baked it since I was still in school, more than 10 years ago. You tend to cook and bake for the people you love and Vijay is not particularly passionate about anything primarily pandan or cakes as light as chiffon. So whenever I feel like downing a few pieces of this aromatic green fluff, I resort to buying them from Bengawan Solo for my lonely consumption, void of any fanfare and the joy of observing the same cake-love from my other half. Then my regular pandan chiffon habit stopped after this one time I got a little carried away, bought an entire cake for myself and finished it all in three days.
But one would never swear off a cake, not when one has eaten and baked the cake since she was wee and all she can remember every time she savors a piece of pandan chiffon are those precious moments when the cake rose steadily in the oven and the smell of the intoxicating dark green pandan leaves melded with a hint of coconut milk filled the air of her childhood home. When I saw the cake at my office canteen a few weeks ago, I couldn't help myself and bought a piece, even though it's made with fake flavoring and food coloring, dry and in short, a far cry from the real deal. My colleagues then asked if I can make this - my baking stunts have been made known to them after the Chinese New Year pineapple tart craze - and, when I said yes, proceeded to request that I bake one for them. No need to worry if Vijay doesn't eat any, just bring them the entire cake, they persisted.
Finally! A chance to bake this and not having to eat it up all by myself. I got Mum to email me (yes, Mum is technologically inclined even well into her sixties) her recipe from her little green (no pun intended) book and went out to get myself a chiffon cake tin, even as my tiny kitchen is running out of space for yet another humongous bakeware - when cabinet estate is limited, anything measuring 10-inch is deemed huge and best avoided.
While paying for my purchase at Phoon Huat, a lady asked the man at the till if he could tell her why her chiffon cakes fall out every time she turned them upside down to cool. The man couldn't help her but instead pointed to me, the lady with a huge aluminum chiffon cake tin in her bag. I tried my best but couldn't recommend any concrete solutions as there were no recipes to refer to and other possible factors for her repeated disasters. On retrospect I should've probably asked for her contact to follow up but at that moment this avenue of assistance completely escaped me. Now whenever I bake a chiffon cake that poor lady will come to my mind.
I'm lucky enough to have never experienced a collapsing chiffon, unlike my mother. An avid baker in her heydays, she would come home after work, prepare the ingredients for a good meal from scratch, fix us kids a nutritious and tasty dinner, do the dishes, clean the kitchen spotless and then proceed to whip up a cake. Failures or flops didn't deter her from trying again (and again) if she had to. She would phone up her school friend (the source for most of her recipes and another baking mum) as she watched her chiffon falling flat, demanding to know the reason and how she could fix it. If she had time (before my dad came home) and enough ingredients, she would start all over again the same night.
By the time I was old enough to hold a wooden spoon and not mess up her cake batters, Mum had already ironed out all her baking issues and things like caved-in chiffon cake dramas were history. As I graduated from mixing the flour batter to beating the meringue and eventually to folding together the final batter, our chiffon cakes came out perfect and tall every time. Even when I made a cake all by myself for the first time after years of playing those assistant roles, under the watchful eyes of Mum everything turned out alright. Having not faced those daunting baking accidents, I was a bit nervous when I set out to bake this cake last Sunday morning - after all one can only truly learn from one's mistakes. Alas, everything turned out alright as the cake swelled upwards in the oven, giving me the cause to make little jiggy dances around it (yes, if you don't know already, I do this when no one's looking and my cakes are on the pathway to success) and after that staying put in the overturned tin while it was chilling out.
As for the upside down cooling method, I received a few queries over Twitter and Facebook when this following photo went up. Some were curious as to why it must be upside down - this is to prevent the cake from collapsing on its own weight as it is trying to reach a stable structure while its temperature is dropping. Others couldn't make out what the tin was standing on. I used a plastic funnel - I explained why in the recipe.
Back in my parent's home in Kuala Lumpur, we used to have a pandan leaf plant my late father grew for Mum specifically for her to make this cake regularly. I missed the superior quality of pandan leaves I took for granted back then when I tasted this cake. The possibly mass produced and less fresh leaves from markets here didn't deliver that intense taste and color I was looking for. I might just up the quantity of leaves the next time and see how that will work out.
Ending on a different note, I believe right now Japan is currently in most of our hearts. As I'm writing this my utmost respect goes to her people for maintaining incredible composure and dignity even when faced with such tragedy and for some still ongoing challenges. I hope that they will remain tall like this cake regardless of the collapsed buildings around them and that we food bloggers unite to do what little we can to help.
Makiko Itoh of the long time Just Hungry has informed us of ways to assist while actively posting updates translated from trusted sources of the Japanese media.
A virtual bake sale is going on at The Tomato Tart (thanks Irvin) with proceeds going towards the similar plight.
Chika of She Who Eats is currently running a fund raising through a giveaway of three beautiful sakura sets for the purpose.
For people in Singapore, check this out for ways to donate - main avenue is Singapore Red Cross. In Malaysia, you may donate through Groupon to the Malaysian Red Crescent - (thanks SweeSan). People in the San Francisco Bay Area may want to check out this Bakesale for Japan organized by Samin Nosrat happening on April 2nd in three locations (via The A+M Blog).
If you know of other activities run by food bloggers for this purpose, kindly drop a comment and I will update this section.
Pandan (Screwpine) Chiffon Cake
Recipe from my mother's friend, original source unknown, makes a 25cm 5-inches tall cake.
Notes: I didn't have any self raising flour as I don't often bake with it so I made my own by using 180 grams all-purpose flour, 2 teaspoons baking powder and a ¼ teaspoon salt, based loosely on the conversion method at Deb's Smitten Kitchen. This recipe has over 80% of flour over liquid ratio so it is a very stable chiffon. It is kept soft and moist with the equal amount of egg yolks used as opposed to the whites.
I realized after speaking to a few friends wanting to make this cake that many do not own a 25cm bundt or angel food cake tin. There are two ways you can handle this situation without getting a bigger tin. The first is to make the entire recipe, pour enough batter into ¾ of your tin and bake the rest in lined muffin tin(s) for about 30 minutes. The muffin-sized cakes will be more dense but will still be great. Alternatively use the following tin size-number of eggs conversion to modify the recipe.
14cm tin - 1 egg
17cm tin - 2 eggs
21cm tin - 4 eggs
23cm tin - 6 eggs
25cm tin - 8 eggs
For the ½ cup pandan leaf juice:
- 10-12 pieces pandan leaves *
- 3-4 tablespoons water
- 2 tablespoons coconut milk (optional) **
For the flour batter:
- 180 grams self-rising flour
- 100 grams castor sugar
- 8 egg yolks
- 6 tablespoon corn oil
- ¼ teaspoon baking of soda
For the meringue:
- 8 egg whites
- 100gm 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 25cm chiffon cake tin, do not grease.
Wash and cut the spears of pandan leaves into ½ inch pieces. 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 strainer. You should be able to yield close to ½ cup of liquid. 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 and baking soda 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 homogenous 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 10 minutes. Lower the temperature to 160°C and bake for another 45 to 50 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, up to 2 hours. I like to do this over an upturned funnel as 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 - you have no idea how many times that single piece of cake toppled as we took photos.
Cake keeps well chilled in an airtight container or cling wrapped up to five days (three if using coconut milk).
* For a better recipe, I will update this amount in weight once I make the cake again (it totally escaped me on a Sunday morning). Pandan leaves can be found fresh at Asian markets. For best results use the longest and darkest leaves you can find. Where fresh leaves are not available, some Asian markets stock frozen leaves or pandan paste, which are the next best alternatives. If using the paste, dilute 1½ tablespoons with water to make ½ a cup of liquid.
** Coconut milk is optional and will enhance the pandan flavor of the cake. I used freshly squeezed first press from a few handfuls of grated coconut flesh. If using coconut cream, dilute a tablespoon of coconut cream with a tablespoon of water.