I am going through a kind of Chiffon Cake intensive right now. It’s such an amazing thing, not quite Angel Food Cake, not quite sponge. My seventy-year old Betty Crocker cookbook calls Chiffon Cake “the first new cake in 100 years”. I don’t know if that’s true, but it is super iconic and something that everyone should make at least once. It makes a great dessert, and the best thing about the ring shape is that you can fill the hole in the center with berries.
Chiffon Cake is an American creature, but Asian cultures who have had a lot of contact with those kids from the US of A have also adopted this cake. It’s perfectly suited to Asian desserts, because it’s not too sweet, and not so rich. So if you feel like branching away from the very traditional vanilla or lemon flavours, how about trying something a little more exotic?
Pandan leaves are well known in South East Asian cookery, and impart a slightly coconutty flavour to cooking. Better yet, they are blinging green. They can be used to make the oh so wonderful pandan jam, and if you are lucky enough to get your hands on some Pandan essence (like the day in the Balinese supermarket that I was browsing the shelves), then this Pandan Chiffon Cake could just be the best Asian-inspired cake you’ll ever make.
If you don’t have any Pandan essence, just substitute vanilla, lemon, almond, or another favourite essence. I should add, those little cakes on the side were made with one egg worth of mixture, and gluten free flour. Almost as good!
Traditionally, Chiffon Cake is made in an Angel Food Cake tin, a very deep ring pan designed so the cake can be let to cool upside down. This allows the cake to set with as much air in it as possible. The cake tin isn’t greased at all, the cold cake is released from the sides with a thin knife, then released from the base by a few very sharp taps on the bottom of the tin. As you can imagine, it’s important that you take care of the inner surface of the pan, make sure it’s scrupulously clean, and don’t let it get scratched!
Pandan Chiffon Cake
Makes a 10cm deep, 25cm cake
2 cups plain flour, sifted (substitute gluten free flour if desired)
1 1/2 cups sugar
3 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
125g butter, melted and cooled (most recipes use oil, I prefer butter)
7 eggs, separated
3/4 cup water
1 1/2 tsp Pandan essence
1/2 tsp cream of tartar
Combine the flour, baking powder, sugar and salt in a large bowl. Make a well in the center. Add, in order, the butter, egg yolks, water, and Pandan essence. Mix gently with a whisk to make a batter which resembles thick pancake batter.
In another large bowl, add the egg whites and cream of tartar. Beat the egg whites until stiff.
Tip the Pandan batter over the egg whites, and fold in gently until just combined.
Pour the mixture into the ungreased pan. Bake at 150 degrees Celsius for 55 minutes, then raise the temperature to 175 degrees Celsius and bake another 10-15 minutes.
The cake will still “whisper” when it is done, and sound slightly spongy when pushed.
Immediately invert the cake so that it “hangs” in the tin, and let the cake cool completely in the tin. When the cake is cold, run a thin spatula all the way around the outside of the cake and around the inner tube part of the cake. Invert the pan again and give the pan several sharp taps. This is a nerve racking process, but the cake will, after a few shakes, come completely away from the inside of the pan. It’s normal for the pan to have a thin layer of cake crumbs still attached after the cake has come free.
Decorate the cake with a liberal dusting of icing sugar, a drizzle (about 100mL) of chocolate ganache, and fill the center hole with 250g of strawberries.