Wednesday, May 02, 2012
Today is a good friend's birthday and this cake almost didn't happen. Despite Najah being the first person I baked a birthday cake for two consecutive years, I was twiddling my thumbs about whether or not to attempt this up till the last minute. First of all, the birthday girl is on diet, hanging on to wholemeal-less dairy-low carb offerings, counting her calories and going to the gym despite her busy schedule. Secondly, there was no cake for her last year and I seemed to have gotten away with it - we had Indian vegetarian for her dinner treat (!). Thirdly, I only recently pounded a bunch of pandan leaves to make this green thing, so when Vijay came home one night to see me with my mortar and pestle on the floor, he had some questions.
The thing is, Najah has a new found affection for that piece of green cake with brown frosting from Cedele (photo above, top row, left). Pandan butter cake with gula Melaka buttercream frosting sounds and tastes divine. With this in mind, I devised a recipe using Magnolia's famous vanilla cupcake recipe, swapped the milk with coconut milk and vanilla paste with pandan extract. I should have stopped there, but with all the ombre cake craze going around some of my favorite cake blogs lately, I had this insane idea to attempt the an ombre effect using just natural pandan extract.
Except for a small commotion when I accidentally dropped half an egg shell into the cake batter while the mixer was running (never break your eggs directly into a running mixer, ever!), the ombre cake layers came out better than I expected. A good 15 minutes was spent carefully passing the egg-shell-bombed batter through a sieve but I clocked good time in finishing the baking and even made it to the gym. The darkest layer was moist and tender, I ate all the scraps trimmed from the top crust. The Swiss meringue buttercream tasted incredible flavored with the gula Melaka caramel. I even managed to dress up the decoration the way I pictured it in my head.
Over a dinner of Najah's nasi lemak and prawn sambal, when it came to the time of tasting the cake, this was what happened after she cut herself a huge slice - her son took the first layer and her husband the second two while she was away from the table, calling it the cendol cake (pandan, coconut milk, gula Melaka). She was left with the darkest layer, my favorite, and savored it slowly with some iced coffee. Even Vijay, who doesn't eat anything pandan (and especially not cendol), ate half of my piece. Not too bad for my first adapted creation I must admit!
Pandan Ombre Cake with Gula Melaka Swiss Meringue Buttercream Frosting
Cake recipe adapted from this Magnolia's Vanilla Cupcake, frosting recipe adapted from this Swiss Meringue Buttercream.
Yield: One 6-inch round 6-inch tall 4-layer cake
Notes: The recipe is also good for an 8-inch round lower layered cake, layers are up to you, adjust baking time accordingly. Cake layers will be easier to ice chilled, with frosting at room temperature. To keep things simple and avoid from ending up with a mountain of dirty dishes in the sink, I weighed my KA mixing bowl beforehand, then weighed out the batter into four batches accordingly. Because of the liquid nature of my pandan extract, the darker cake layers are more moist and required gradual increase of baking time. If you're using pandan paste/essence/food coloring, baking time will vary less.
I baked the cake layers with the following batter weight-pandan extract-baking time combinations:
First layer: 300 grams batter - about 1-1 1/2 teaspoon pandan extract - 25 minutes
Second layer: 300 grams batter - about 3 teaspoons pandan extract - 30 minutes
Third layer: 380 grams batter - about 6 teaspoons pandan extract - 35 minutes
Fourth layer: 450 grams batter - about 10-12 teaspoons pandan extract - 40 minutes
For the extract:
- 15-20 pieces mature pandan leaves, washed and snipped into 1-inch pieces
- 3 tablespoons water
For the cake:
- 1 1/2 cups cake flour
- 1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- 1 cup/2 sticks/227 grams unsalted butter, softened
- 2 cups granulated/castor sugar
- 4 large eggs, at room temperature
- 1 cup thick coconut milk (if using canned/boxed coconut cream, thin out slightly with water to make 1 cup)
For the frosting:
- 100 grams gula Melaka, crushed
- 1/4 cup water
- 300 grams unsalted butter, at room temperature
- 5 large egg whites
- 220 grams granulated sugar
- 2 tablespoons pure vanilla extract
- pinch of salt
- 1/4 cup desiccated coconut (optional)
Prepare the pandan extract: With a mortar and pestle or a blender, mash the leaves finely along with the water into a paste. Use as little water as possible. Press through a fine sieve or squeeze through cheesecloth to extract the green juice only. You should obtain at least 100 ml liquid. If you have the time, let it sit for a few hours. The green extract will settle at the bottom and you can remove the excess water before using.
Bake the cake layers: Preheat oven to 350°F. Line and grease cake tins, set aside. In a small bowl, combine the flours, baking power and salt, set aside. In a large bowl, on the medium speed of an electric mixer, cream the butter until smooth. Add the sugar gradually and beat until fluffy, about 3 minutes. Add in the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Add the dry ingredients in three parts, alternating with the coconut milk. With each addition, beat until the ingredients are incorporated, taking care not to overbeat.
Using a rubber spatula, scrape down the batter in the mixing bowl to make sure all the ingredients are well blended. Divide batter into desired portions and mix in the prepared pandan extract accordingly to color each layer. Bake each layer for about 25-40 minutes or until a cake tester inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean. Cool the cakes completely on a wire rack before icing. You can, at this point, cling wrap and chill/freeze the cake layers for later use.
Make the frosting: In a heavy-based saucepan over medium low heat, melt the gula Melaka with the water. Stir till all the sugar has melted, then let it reduce slightly, about 3-4 minutes. Remove from heat and let cool completely to room temperature. The caramel will thicken more as it cools. If it becomes too thick, thin out with a little bit of water before using. Combine the egg whites, sugar and salt in a heatproof bowl over a pan of simmering water. Whisk frequently, keeping it over the heat, until the mixture reaches about 160°F/70°C and the sugar has dissolved (rub some between your fingers - if it feels grainy, it hasn't dissolved).
Transfer the mixture to a mixer with a whisk attached and beat on medium-high for 8 minutes, until stiff peaks have formed and the mixture has cooled to room temperature. Turn down the speed to medium and start adding small chunks of butter, checking that it has incorporated before adding more. Keep beating until it comes together, this will take about 5 minutes. With the mixer running, add in the gula Melaka caramel, one teaspoon at a time, beating until well combined between each addition. Add between 6 to 9 teaspoons, according to taste.
Assemble the cake: Secure the bottom cake layer (the lightest or darkest layer) onto the cake board with some frosting. Layer on frosting and add on the cake layers accordingly. Coat the entire cake with a thin crumb coat, then chill the cake for 15-20 minutes. Ice the cake and decorate as desired, with some desiccated coconut and piped rosettes.
Do ahead: The pandan extract can be prepared before hand and chilled until required. Cake layers can be made up to 3 days before, frozen within 3 layers of cling wrap. Swiss meringue buttercream can be made ahead and refrigerated till needed. Bring to room temperature and whip to a smooth consistency before frosting. The buttercream requires no refrigeration for up to 5 days. It will keep in the refrigerator for 3 weeks and in the freezer for at least 3 months.
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