Pandan chiffon cake

Pandan chiffon cake ranks high on the list of things that I miss when I’m away from Singapore, especially if you talking about Singapore desserts.

Like most Singaporeans, it is a cake that I grew up with. My eyes would brighten at the sight of that ubiquitous green  cake; I would gobble down three or four slices at a go, with a glass of milk on hand. But judge me not for it is so soft, so light and so fluffy – it doesn’t fill you up though it brings you  enjoyment aplenty.

I think I could go as far to say that pandan is one of my favourite Southeast Asian flavours.

Here’s the skinny on pandan for those of you who are unfamiliar with it: Pandan derives its flavour from its leaves (also known as screwpine leaves). It is fragrant and aromatic; it can be used in sweets and cakes or even be used to infuse savoury dishes – I would say that it works magically like vanilla bean though it doesn’t share the same flavours. Its unique flavour works brilliantly with coconut milk; you would rarely mention one without the other.

This chiffon cake celebrates the marriage of  pandan leaves and coconut milk; the two provides the cake with its primary flavour. Even though you can probably choose to use a pandan extract/paste, the leaves are the real McCoy.

Back to the chiffon cake which needs no introduction. I think that a well-made chiffon is one that is soft like cotton, light as air and fluffy like clouds. It ought to remind you of a beautiful summer’s morning – blue skies, sunshine, green grass, enough to make your heart sing.

And this chiffon cake is every bit of that beautiful summer’s morning.

A chiffon cake perfection may seem hard to achieve. I, myself, know it all too well. My initial attempts were a mess. All too often they rise beautifully in the oven, only to deflate onto themselves when out of the oven.

After plenty of trial and error (and tears), I’ve found the secret to the perfect rise, every single time. The key lies in whisking the meringue to the perfect glossy stiff peaks, never to overwhisk nor underwhisk them. Then ensuring that you fold through the mixture gently, making sure that it is gentle yet thorough at the same time. An important tip is to bake it in an ungreased tin and never in a non-stick tin, though this may sound terribly unconventional. Lastly (also the most critical point), your cake would only be as good if you nail the baking temperature and baking time; the chiffon cake needs to be in the Goldilocks zone, not too hot, not too cold.

Mastering this cake would open the door to a whole new world of chiffon cakes – the sky is your only limit.

Despite all the exciting flavours of chiffon cake, the pandan chiffon cake would always have that special place in my heart.

Recipe: Classic pandan chiffon cake
Makes a 23 cm (9.5″) chiffon cake

A chiffon is as beautiful as a summer’s day when it is light as air and fluffy like clouds. Though the texture of this cake is feather-light, its flavours are unmistakably pronounced, in a good way. Pandan and coconut milk complement each other and its beautiful marriage can be tasted in this chiffon cake.

Ingredients:
Group A:
100g egg yolks (or approximately 5 yolks), room temperature
35g sugar
40ml corn oil (or any other neutral flavoured oil like canola or soybean)
about 12 fresh pandan leaves, washed thoroughly
160ml coconut milk# (UHT packet)
20ml water
1/2 tsp pandan paste
120g cake flour+
3/4 tsp double acting baking powder
1/4 tsp salt

Group B
270g egg whites (or approximately 6 whites), room temperature
55g caster sugar
pinch of cream of tartar (optional)

Method:

1. Preheat oven to 180 degrees celcius. Have your chiffon cake tin mould ready. Do not grease it!

2. Whisk yolks with sugar until pale and light. Add in the corn oil and whisk until incorporated.

3. Prepare pandan coconut milk: Using a blender, place coconut milk, water and cut up pandan leaves and blitz. Pour mixture over a sieve and squeeze out the pandan coconut milk. Alternatively, you can use your hands (do wear disaposable gloves as pandan juice can cause your skin to itch) to squeeze out the pandan flavoured coconut milk. Discard the remaining pulp.

4. Mix the pandan coconut milk into your egg yolk mixture. Add in pandan paste and whisk in sifted dry ingredients. Whisk well until there are no lumps.

5. Prepare a meringue: Use group B ingredients to whisk a meringue to glossy, firm, just short of stiff peaks. Start by whisking egg whites until soft peaks before adding the caster sugar and whisk till glossy and firm, just short of stiff peaks. Do not overwhisk.

6. Add in 1/4 of the meringue to the egg yolk mixture. Whisk lightly to combine.

7. Add in 1/2 of the remaining meringue to the yolk mixture. Fold gently to incorporate before folding in the rest of the meringue. Make sure that the whites are folded into the mixture thoroughly.

8. Gently pour the pandan cake batter into the chiffon tin. Using a spatula, level and smooth out the top of the cake batter and gently tap the chiffon cake tin against the kitchen counter twice to remove any large air bubbles.

9. Bake at 180 degrees celcius for about 1 hr. The top of the cake should be lightly browned and springs back to touch when it is done. At about 25 minutes into the baking, check on your chiffon cake. If the top starts to brown or crack, cover the top with a aluminium foil before continuing with the baking. You can turn down the temperature slightly as well to about 170-175 degrees celcius.

10. Remove the ready cake from the oven, place a funnel into the center hole of the tin and invert the cake to cool on a cooling rack. Only attempt to unmould the pandan cake from its tin when it is cooled fully.

*Storage tip: The chiffon cake should be stored in the refrigerator once it is cooled completely.

#If using fresh coconut milk, you need not dilute it with water. Use only 180ml of fresh coconut milk instead.

*I’ve used minimal amount of sugar in this cake for a cake that is less sweet so that it is suitable for older folks to consume. It can do with more sugar so do feel free to adjust the amount of sugar to your preference.

+Ran out of cake flour? Make your own by using a cup of plain flour with 2 tbsp of corn flour. Whisk to combine and sift this mixture twice. Then measure out the amount you need for the recipe.

Some of the common problems with chiffon cakes include

- Chiffon cake rising then collapsing when taking out of the oven

- Chiffon cake not risen well

Tips for baking a chiffon cake:

The tin

1. The best tin to use is a stainless steel removable base chiffon cake tin, especially for an Asian chiffon cake like this one. Do not use a non-stick tin and do not grease it as the structure of the chiffon cake is very delicate. It needs to cling on the sides and center of the tin for support as it rises or it will collapse.

2. Do not attempt to substitue recipe into smaller/larger chiffon cake tins or loaf pans. It does not work.

Whisking of the egg whites

3. Always start with room temperature egg whites as they are better able to whisk better and attain more volume quicker. You can add in cream of tar tar as it acts as a stabliser for egg whites.

4. Always use castor sugar when making meringues as the finer granules dissolve in the egg whites better than granulated sugar.

5. Whisk the egg whites to firm, glossy peaks, slightly under stiff peaks. This means that the peaks are still able to hold its form and not fall over itself but they do not stay upright like stiff peaks.

Baking and oven temperature

6. Make sure your oven is at the right temperature. Do use an oven thermometer. This is very crucial when baking a chiffon cake. Too hot, the cake will start to crack. Too cool, the cake would not rise properly.

7. Check your pandan cake when it is in the oven at the mid-way of baking (about 20-25 minutes into the baking).  When the cake begins to crack, cover the top of the chiffon tin with aluminum foil. You can also lower the oven temperature slightly to 170-175 degrees celcius. Or choose to move the chiffon cake to the lower third of the oven.

8. The cake is ready in approximately 60 minutes. You should see the cake shrink slightly away from the sides of the tin. Also, it should spring back upon touch.

Cooling the cake inverted (to prevent the chiffon cake from collapsing)

9.  After you remove the ready cake from the oven, invert it over a funnel while it cools. This elevation helps air to circulate underneath the cake and will prevent condensation from forming on the cake. It is very important to cool the cake inverted so that it will not collapse on its own weight.

10. Only attempt to remove the chiffon cake when its cooled completely as the cake has a very delicate and fragile structure when it is still warm and may fall apart if you try to do so.

11. To remove the cake after it is cooled, run a palette knife against the sides of the cake tin. Turn it out gently onto a cake board.  The base of the cake tin would now be on top. Run a palette knife in one swift motion against the base of the tin. Allow the chiffon cake to gently fall onto the cake board.

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About jothetartqueen

My first love is eating. A very close second is my love for baking and cooking. I passionately believe that the best form of appreciation of something is almost always through the creation of it. This passion took me on a whirlwind, unforgettable ride through the patisserie diploma course at Le Cordon Bleu (Sydney). Join me on my discovery for the love of food – through the kitchen, through the markets, through experimenting, tasting and loving.
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32 Responses to Pandan chiffon cake

  1. mydearbakes says:

    I so so so want to have a slice of your pandan chiffon cake!!! =D

  2. I have never tried this beauty…but you wrote so beautifully and nostalgically about it, I feel conpelled to try it if only to experience even 1/10 of what you described :)

  3. pattyabr says:

    That green interior is fabulous. Many steps to the finale looks like it was worth it.

  4. Oh, I love pandan chiffon, grow up eating this for breakfast/noon snacks. Your cake looks very soft and delicious , I love the fact that you are using the coconut milk in the recipe, I am a sucker of everything with coconut milk, pandan and palm sugar.

  5. I’ve heard so much about how hard it is to bake a chiffon cake but thanks to you and your hard work testing it, I have the lowdown on how to perfect one! I find the flavour of pandan really hard to describe-someone once asked me and I was at a loss although like you, I adore it! :)

  6. A chiffon cake!! I haven’t had one of these in way too long. I love the color and just wonder what that pandan must taste like!

  7. Such a perfect lightness and colour :D

    Cheers
    Choc Chip Uru

  8. Pandan chiffon cake is one of my favorite cakes and I’ve been searching for a good recipe for a while. I will have to purchase a tin and give this a go.

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  12. Dina says:

    HELP ME I’ve baked pandan chiffon cake once. It rises beautifully in the oven. But i got a problem whilst cooling it. I put a narrow tip bottle into the hole and let it cool upside down. And suddenly i heard a ‘bamm’ and the cake fell down whilst it still hot. It deflated. I got no other option and just put it on the serving plate and ate it. Its delishcious but ugly. Now how do i get tht cake to cling longer onto the chiffon cake pan? Thank you :)

    • Hi Dina, Just to check with you what sort of chiffon cake pan are you using? Is it a non stick one?

      the pandan cake should cling on if you are using a normal stainless steel mould but it will probably fall out if using a non-stick one.

      and also, do not grease the cake tin as you would with other cakes.

  13. rachel says:

    Dear Jo,

    I noted you had removed the cake tin leaving the base while cooling in the above pictures. Does it matter if I leave the cake tin on while cooling?

    I have tried using a removable pan before as i do not have tube pan. Right after baking, I remove the tin and also the base and I realised the base is slightly wet. Not sure why this happen? is it because I remove the base? because i have thought the base will make the cake wet due to condensation but apprarently, I have read many sites to remove the cake only after the cake has cooled down completely.

    Not sure if you can help me.

    Thank you.

    Rachel

    • Hi Rachel,

      I did not remove the tin while cooling the cake. There are two photos. The one on the left is when it’s cooling ( still with the tin on) and the one on the right is when the tin has been removed after it has cooled completely.

      I think you should leave the tin on while cooling as suggested by the other websites. By propping the cake on a funnel, there is a gap between the cake and the wire rack and there won’t be a problem with condensation.

      The cake may have a wet bottom because of under baking or lack of heat from the bottom of the oven. There are many factors that may have caused this. How is the structure of the rest of the cake?

      • Rachel says:

        Dear Jo

        The cake is soft, except the base slight wet. I think it could be because of the temperature. The bottom of my oven has a big tray that I didn’t took out during baking and think this is the cause. Thanks for your advice. It really helps.

        Regards
        Rachel

      • Hi Rachel,

        Yes. I think that is a very possible reason. the tray would shield the bottom of your pandan cake from the heat it needs.

        Glad to be of some help. ;)

  14. xinyi says:

    Hi Rachel

    Tried your recipe a few days ago. It turns out ok. But it has a strong egg taste. Can I know how can I improve this….

    Thanks
    Xy

  15. gary says:

    Hi Jo,

    I made like 6-7 attempts with your recipe. Everything seems well except it’s not soft, light and fluffy but wet and heavy. Any idea what is likely the problem?

    Thanks.

    • Hi Gary,

      I’m sorry to hear that your pandan cakes haven’t been turning out quite right.

      Just a few qns: Does the cake rise up to a good height when it is in the oven? and does it stay at that height after taking out from the oven.

      I can’t exactly say what went wrong. But a few reasons that may have caused a dense and wet cake:

      1. Temp of the oven
      Temp may not be stable or too low so the cake doesn’t rise to its optimum height and the center is dense and wet. Do you use a separate oven thermometer when baking? Home oven temp tends to fluctuate and sometimes they are not at the temp that you set ( my oven tends to be about 25 deg cel higher than the temp I set. So I have to adjust accordingly.)

      2. The egg whites may be underwhisked or overwhisked.
      It needs to be whisked till glossy firm peaks, just under stiff peaks.

      Also, when you are folding in the egg whites, take care not to deflate too much air in the egg whites.

      hope this helps!

      • Gary says:

        Hi,

        If I remember correctly, it did sink a tiny bit after removing from the oven.

        1. I am not sure if it has risen to the optimum height but it looks beautiful on the outside when i remove it from the pan. I do not have a separate oven thermometer (will try to get one). Will temp higher than 180 result in dense and wet center or lower temp?

        2. Pardon my ignorance, what’s the big diff between glossy firm peaks and stiff peaks? How do i tell? – I am going to re-read your blog for the 101th time. 8-(

        What do you mean by “not to deflate to much air in the egg whites”? I tend to fold quite thoroughly to avoid white streaks. Is that a problem?

        Appreciate your advice.
        Thanks.

      • Hi Gary,

        Sorry for replying late.

        Do you invert your cake when cooling it. You should do that once you remove the cake from the oven to prevent it from sinking/ collapsing on its own weight.

        1. I would still strongly recommend getting an oven thermometer. It is cheap and essential for something as finicky as a chiffon cake or macarons for that matter.

        A lower temperature would be the likely cause of a cake with a dense and wet center.. Or, you may not have baked the cake long enough. It can be either reason or both.

        2. I’ve written about glossy, firm peaks and stiff peaks in the chocolate chiffon cake link below:
        http://jothetartqueen.wordpress.com/2013/09/12/back-to-basics-how-to-make-the-perfect-chiffon-cake/

        basically, glossy firm peaks are reached just before stiff peaks. The peaks will hold but the tip will fall back slightly onto itself.

        you can also check out this link on the whipping of whites and its different stages in pictorial format:

        http://www.thekitchn.com/a-visual-guide-soft-peaks-firm-115557

        3. I use a rubber spatula to fold the egg whites and I use the below method (see link below). I do fold it thoroughly as well to prevent clumps of egg whites in the chiffon cake mixture.

        This link may help: http://baking911.com/quick-guide/how-to-az/mixing-method-folding

        Hope this answers your questions. :)

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  17. Evelyn Guslin says:

    Greatt!! Gonna try this soon !! Thanks a lot for the recipe and tips ^^

  18. Johena says:

    I’m reading the recipe and I have a problem with the amount of egg whites. What size of eggs are you using for the recipe?
    If I refer for exeample to large eggs then 270g will bee approximately 9 egg whites and not 6, am I wrong?

    • Hi Johena,

      Yes, the eggs I use are very large.
      That’s why I prefer to use the weight of the egg/egg whites when I put it in a recipe.

      The amt, 270g of egg whites, is correct. Just follow the weight instead of the no. of eggs. Hope this clarifies.

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