I have been going looooony over chiffon cakes. I buy them when I am feeling generous. I cut myself a slice. I close my eyes as I savour it, and then before I know it, my hands are reaching out for another slice. I blame my husband, M, for this. His love for chiffon cakes has been rather infectious. Because of him, I have cultivated an insatiable appetite for these pillow soft cakes, and I am not about to stop going on a rampage.
One of our favourite chiffon cakes has got to be the pandan-flavoured ones. Pandan is a tropical plant that yields leaves commonly used in Southeast Asian cooking. It has a characteristic fragrance that is hard to describe, one that is beautifully lifted and accentuated by coconut milk. You can’t substitute this flavour with anything else, and I suggest you try a pandan cake to see what I mean. You will love it!
Unfortunately for us, pandan chiffon cakes are rather pricey in London. We often stare longingly at the cakes on the shelves in Oriental marts, hover over them for a minute or two, pick them up only to convince ourselves, as we get to the till, that we don’t need to have the cake. Thankfully, pandan (otherwise known as screwpine) leaves can be easily found in London and they cost nothing more than a pound for a generous bunch. It seems to make incredible sense to make my own pandan chiffon cakes at home, except that…..
…I am terrified of making them. You see, there are some things that I fear in my kitchen. Xiao long bao, macarons, soufflés, pastries and most definitely, chiffon cakes. Of these, I have managed to master the science of making macarons, thank goodness for that or my deflating ego will have to suffer a most terrible death after being rudely trampled on by my losing battle with xiao long bao. I am planning to learn the art of making an erect soufflé and buttery pastries, but for now, I tackle the chiffon cake.
Perhaps I fear them because I don’t understand this whole thing about being a chiffon cake. How can a cake be so soft, delicate, airy and moist, yet stand tall and brave in the face of predatory consumers? I did a lot of research online before I even prowled around for a recipe and found some answers.
The secret to making a successful chiffon cake is in the use of certain ingredients and techniques. Instead of butter, oil is used to create the moist texture of chiffons. A proud meringue has to be made and incorporated into the batter for the cake to rise and acquire the weightlessness that makes it a chiffon. And then, there comes the golden numbers. How about egg whites should I use for that many egg yolks? How much oil should I use? How many minutes should I bake the cake at, and at what temperature? It was after all the reading that I realised chiffons are very much like macarons. They are finicky, temperamental and can go very wrong when things get out of hand. So I approached the recipes like research. I made notes, I tweaked the steps, I measured things down to the last gram. That way, I was in control and well on my way in making the perfect chiffon cake.
For this first instalment, I tweaked ieatishootipost’s recipe (this site has a very good exposition on the components that make a pandan chiffon cake too) slightly for my tin and oven. Much to my delight, the recipe yielded a soft and slightly chewy pandan chiffon cake. The flavours were perfect, so no complaints there. But I did wish that it was a little less chewy, a little more delicate and that the cake would hold its structure better when cut. It was still a really good pandan chiffon cake, nonetheless, and M and I finished every crumb within two days. Without further ado, I invite you on my journey of creating the perfect chiffon cake. Watch this space!
Here’s the recipe:
Pandan chiffon cake
(adapted from ieatishootipost)
For a 23-cm chiffon cake tube pan
3 egg yolks
50g caster sugar
60ml sunflower oil
70ml coconut milk
95g plain flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon pandan juice
1 teaspoon vanilla paste
1/2 teaspoon pandan essence
1/2 teaspoon green colouring
4 egg whites
50g caster sugar
1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar
1. Preheat oven to 170 degrees Celsius. Ensure the wire rack is on the lowest level in the oven. Sift flours, baking powder and salt together twice and set aside.
2. In a clean, oil-free metallic bowl, whisk the egg whites till foamy, add the cream of tartar and whisk briefly. Add 50g caster sugar gradually and continue to beat till you get stiff peaks. Set this aside.
3. In another bowl, cream yolks and sugar till the volume triples and mixture looks pale. Add the oil, coconut milk, pandan juice, vanilla paste, pandan essence, and colouring and whisk till combined. Mix in the flour mixture from Step 1 until combined.
4. Fold 1/3 portion of the meringue (from step 2) into the egg yolk mixture (from step 3). It is imperative to do this very gently. Then fold in the rest of the meringue, again very gently until well-incorporated.
5. Pour the batter slowly into the chiffon cake tube pan and bake at 170 degrees Celsius for about 20 minutes. At this point, the cake would have risen and mine started to crack, so lower the temperature to 160 degrees Celsius and bake for another 10 minutes. Lower the temperature again to 150 degrees Celsius and bake for another 15 minutes.
6. Remove the cake from the oven and quickly turn the pan upside down and leave the cake to cool in the pan. This will prevent the cake from collapsing.
7. When the cake is completely cooled, carefully unmould the cake by running a knife round the edges of the cake (at the sides and in the centre where the ‘tube’ is). Serve the cake. To keep the cake soft, place a piece of bread over the cake. You will find that the bread hardens, and the cake should remain soft with time. Be careful not to use stale bread, you don’t want to get any tummy aches…!!
Check out my next instalment on perfecting the chiffon cake – this time…lychee chiffon!