Tuesday, March 24, 2015
Although I am never a follower of any food blogs in particular (contrary to popular belief), I read with interest this piece at Lottie and Doof and its ensuing comments. It made me wonder if I'm boring and will you be so surprised to hear me tell you I find myself boring sometimes? Due to circumstances of course, because if we could all go play in my head, I'd assure you I'd be here way more often. I just find it an irony how people are drawn to people so much like themselves (it's only natural, really) and then come around the corner saying "No, I don't think I can read this anymore because this is so much like my life. I mean, I just cooked this last week!"
All this drama sprouting from a competition pitting one cookbook against another, looking for 'the best'. Forgive me for being blunt, but these days, anyone, and I mean anyone can publish a cookbook. Whether or not one pulls your fancy can be as subjective as a piece of art exhibit at the gallery. We read cookbooks for different reasons now. Some for the recipes because they are really tested and unique, some for the stories and (gasp!) photography, others for the entire package (because believe it or not, these are the people who should write cookbooks).
I think the world and its food is big enough and one doesn't have to dig around too deep to look for diversity. While I don't make béarnaise, mole or choux every other weekend it doesn't mean I can't read about it or even see how they are best made. I won't dismiss anyone as boring just because oh look, there's another pot of pork belly stew like the one I ate yesterday.
No, not another recipe of marble cake, or anything with kale because we want to be over it like it's some sort of poison to our seemingly exciting eating life. While yet another talk about this green, cottony cake may make your eye roll, I'd like to think that someone in Paris would find this weird and mistake it as a matcha tea cake.
While herd mentality threatens to seep into every crevice of our being, media is one of the food world's greatest enemy. To sell and promote what others are looking for. To publish cookbooks and magazines people would buy. Eggs at brunch. Homemade looking cakes must be cheap - why am I paying four bloody dollars for something which that auntie at my bakery downstairs sell for a dollar fifty? Pandan gula Melaka anything, salted caramel and popcorn on cakes, coffee that's not 'acidic'. Oh we don't lack criticism at all in this part of the world because we are so in it we know everything. When in doubt, just check that latest propaganda, hashtag, Twitter feed or 'famous' Instagram account with the most followers.
As for me, I don't know that much. For God's sake I'm still trying to make this cake better. As I slowly wash every piece of pandan leaf and snip them off into the blender, separate so many eggs and beat yet another batch of meringue, I think to myself - how boring can I be? But as the cake unmolds and I take my time to scrape the cake tin down to those last bits of fragrant crust stuck between the corners, I wanted to eat a full slice. After that slice I wanted another. So be it if I am boring, I will have my cake and eat it too.
Pandan Chiffon Cake (Improved)
Recipe adapted from this one, it still makes a 25cm 5-inches tall cake.
Notes: I've made the following changes in this recipe.
Pandan leaves increased - as I prefer not to use pandan essence or any other artificial flavorings. To make the juice extraction process easier, I use more water during the blending process. The resulting liquid from 20-30 pieces of leaves will be about a cup. I then chill the juice in the fridge (right in the measuring cup, cling wrapped) and let it sit overnight. The concentrated chlorophyll will form a sediment at the bottom, like so here. When preparing the batter, discard the clear liquid without the sediment and you will find yourself making a cake so green, fragrant and flavorful without a drop of essence!
Top or cake flour instead of AP flour - for a finer, softer texture. Top flour is processed to be extra fine and soft, especially to make chiffon cakes. Failing this, you can use cake flour (or make your own).
Extra-fine castor sugar instead of regular castor sugar - again, for a finer texture. The only problem is, I've not seen this sugar at regular supermarkets. You can get them easily from Phoon Huat or other specialty baking supply shops. It's worth the effort I think, if you like chiffon cakes enough. Reserve this sugar for the finer things like this or to torch on a crème brûlée.
For the ½ cup pandan leaf juice:
- 20-30 pieces pandan leaves (see note)
- 3-4 tablespoons water
- 2 tablespoons coconut milk (optional)
For the flour batter:
- 200 grams top/cake flour (see note)
- 2 teaspoons baking powder
- ¼ teaspoon baking of soda
- ¼ teaspoon salt
- 100 grams extra-fine castor sugar (see note)
- 8 egg yolks
- 6 tablespoons corn (or other vegetable) oil
For the meringue:
- 8 egg whites
- 100 grams extra-fine 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 (using a pair of kitchen scissors is easier here). 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, baking powder, baking soda and salt 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 homogeneous 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 50-55 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, for at least 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, however, you can display it top side up like this, displaying cracks and all. Cake keeps well chilled in an airtight container or cling wrapped up to five days (three if using coconut milk). If chilled, bring to room temperature before serving.
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