The sweet smell of pandan leaves steeping in a pot of simmering rice is, perhaps, one of my earliest and fondest recollections of food as a child.  My mom would tie the long, narrow, bladelike leaves into a simple knot and add them to steaming rice.  Pandan adds a subtle fragrance and flavor that I find difficult to describe.

My mom would measure rice using an old tin milk can, roughly equivalent to a cup. She would pour the grains in a pot and thoroughly wash them over running water.  She would wash them three times, tossing the water after each wash either in the sink or in a bowl to use the wash later to boil fish. She would fill the pot of rice with water and then dip her hand in the pot, fingers first and fingers straightened. She would use the folds of her fingers as her guide to make sure she added ample amount of water.  She would then bury a knot or two of pandan leaves in the bed of rice.  As soon as the water boiled, she would turn the heat down and let the rice simmer gently.  The fragrance of the pandan leaves would then delightfully permeate the kitchen and the entire house.

Last Saturday, I turned 37 and found myself happily reunited with the endeared pandan.  Filipinos not only love using pandan leaves in cooking rice but in cooking and baking with coconut as well.  I took Thomas Keller’s coconut cake — a simple white cake, very much like an angel food cake — and added pandan flavor to the cake batter and meringue frosting. I let the pandan flavors steep in the coconut milk by adding leaves to the milk as I reduced it.  Into both the cake batter and meringue frosting I added pandan juice that I extracted by whirring leaves and water in a blender.  The cake is beautifully white, despite adding the strikingly green pandan juice, and has a wonderful texture from the lightly toasted coconut.  But the marriage of coconut and pandan flavors is what makes this cake truly delightful.

Pandan leaves are available frozen in most Asian grocery stores.  This cake is best served the day it is made.

 

Pandan Juice Recipe,
Recipe based on Andrea Nguyen’s Viet World Kitchen, makes 1/2 cup juice

6 pandan leaves, thawed, if frozen, and washed
1/2 cup water

Cut the leaves into 2-inch strips.  Place the leaves and water in a blender or food processor and puree for 10 to 20 seconds.  Strain the pandan juice through a cheesecloth or a fine mesh strainer.  Collect the juice in a small bowl and discard the leaves.  The pandan juice has an intense green color that resembles wheatgrass juice.

The juice is added to the cake batter and the meringue frosting to give the distinct pandan flavor.

 

Learn how to cook with pandan leaves

 

Coconut Pandan Cake Recipe,
Recipe based on Thomas Keller’s Coconut Cake from Ad Hoc At Home

1 14.5-ounce can coconut milk
4 pandan leaves, thawed, if frozen, and washed
1-1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 tablespoons pandan juice extract
3 cups cake flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
3/4 cup egg whites (from about 6 large eggs)
2 cups granulated sugar
12 tablespoons (1-1/2 sticks; 6 ounces) unsalted butter, at room temperature
2 cups dried shredded unsweetened coconut
meringue

Pour the coconut milk into a small saucepan and whisk to blend. Add two to three pandan leaves tied in a simple knot. Bring to a simmer over medium heat and simmer gently, stirring occasionally, until the milk has reduced to 1 cup.

Meanwhile, prepare an ice bath in a medium bowl and set a small metal bowl on top.

Pour the coconut milk into the small bowl. Once the milk is cool remove from the ice bath and stir in the vanilla and pandan juice.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Butter two 9-inch round cake pans. Line with parchment paper, butter the parchment, and coat with flour, tapping out the excess.

Sift the cake flour and baking powder together into a bowl. Stir in the salt and set aside.

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, whip the whites on medium speed. until they begin to froth. With the mixer running, slowly add 3/4 cup of the sugar, then increase the speed to medium-high and continue to whip until medium peaks form .

Remove from the mixer. (If you have only one bowl, transfer the whites to another bowl and wash out the mixer bowl.) Switch to the paddle attachment.

Put the butter in the mixer bowl and beat on medium-low to medium speed to soften, about 1 minute. Scrape down the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula, add the remaining 1-1/4 cups of sugar, and mix on medium speed until light and creamy, stopping to scrape the sides as needed, 3 to 4 minutes.

From this point, it is important not to overmix the batter. Each addition does not have to be completely incorporated before you add the next; there may be some visible streaks remaining. Add half the dry ingredients to the butter and mix on medium-low to medium speed. Add half of the coconut milk and mix. Add half of the remaining dry mixture, then the remaining milk, and finally the remaining dry mixture. Remove the bowl from the mixer. Scrape down the sides and the bottom of the bowl to incorporate any ingredients that may have settled in the bottom of the bowl, and mix with the spatula so there are no longer any streaks.

Top the batter with one-third of the whites and fold in gently. Gently fold in another third of the whites and finally the remaining whites.

Divide the batter evenly between the pans and gently smooth the tops. Bake until a cake tester or wooden skewer inserted in the center comes out clean, 26 to 28 minutes. Let the layers cool on a cooling rack for about 10 minutes, then turn out of the pans and let cool completely.

Meanwhile, spread the coconut on a baking sheet and toast lightly in the oven, 6 to 8 minutes. Transfer to a small bowl and let cool completely.

Lay strips of parchment paper around the edges of a cake stand or serving plate to catch any excess frosting or coconut when you decorate the cake. Position one of the cake layers in the center. Spread a 1/3-inch-thick layer of meringue evenly over the cake layer. Sprinkle light layer of the coconut over the meringue. Top with the second layer. Spread the remaining meringue evenly over the sides and top of the cake. Sprinkle the remaining coconut on the sides and the top. Pull away and discard the pieces of parchment paper.

This cake is best served the day it is made.

 

Coconut Pandan Cake

 

Meringue Recipe,
Recipe based on Thomas Keller’s Coconut Cake from Ad Hoc At Home

1-1/4 cups plus 2 tablesppons plus 1 teaspoon granulated sugar
1/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon water
3 large egg whites, at room temperature
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 tablespoons pandan juice extract

Combine 1-1/4 cups of sugar and water in a medium saucepan and heat over medium heat to 220 degrees F, stirring at first to dissolve the sugar. Meanwhile, in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, whip the egg whites on medium speed until they begin to look foamy then gradually add the remaining 2 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon sugar. Increase the speed to medium-high and whip until the whites form soft peaks. With the mixer running, slowly add the sugar syrup, pouring it down the side of the bowl to avoid the whisk. Add the vanilla and pandan juice and continue to whip until stiff peaks form and the bowl is cool.

It’s best to make meringue right before you need it and to eat it the day it’s made.

  • Nancy

    Hi Jun, I’ll definitely try this. Hope to see you again sometime soon!

  • Amy K.

    Love love love the minimalist step-by-step photos. Beautiful.

  • Amy K.

    Love love love the minimalist step-by-step photos. Beautiful.

  • http://thislittlepiggywenttothemarket.blogspot.com Lala

    here i go again being so eager and first up to comment, like a keener student! lol

    i have been quietly looking for coconut cake recipes for years, but none of the ones i’ve seen looked decent. well, since u’re filipino and understand exactly what a coconut cake entails, i will place my faith in you and this recipe. the awesome pics help too.

    salamat for sharing! my life’s work is now half complete :P

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  • http://www.skiptomalou.net skip to malou

    i am blown away by your pictures Jun. Nothing bola. Here I am showing my daughter how stunning your photos are… they look so divine… so pure… just love loVe LOVE them! Happy 37th again.. looking forward to know you more through your blog… CHEERS!

  • http://blog.junbelen.com/ Jun Belen

    Thank you, Nancy! I hope you’ll try it soon. The pandan flavor is so delightful!

  • http://kitchen-confidante.com Liren

    I can’t think of a better way to celebrate a birthday – this cake is almost too beautiful to eat. Almost too beautiful to adorn with candles! Thank you for the pandan tutorial – that is so helpful and I can’t wait to try it!

  • http://www.obviouslyomnivore.com Xai Losito

    this cake is so beautiful and i bet it was just perfect for your birthday. and yes the flavor that pandan imparts on rice is difficult to describe, but really good on the taste buds.

  • http://www.almostcrunchy.com Enya

    Damn. I almost licked my monitor. You have the best food porn ever! Beautiful cake and I love the step by step photo instructions.

  • Lisa

    What a gorgeous cake. I’m half-Filipino yet I’m pretty sure I’ve never had pandan but now I’m so intrigued! Btw, happy (belated) birthday. :)

  • http://blog.junbelen.com/ Jun Belen

    Thank you, Enya for stopping by and for subscribing to jun-blog!

  • http://blog.junbelen.com/ Jun Belen

    Thank you, Lisa! You should try it one of these days. Pandan in steamed rice is one of the simplest ways of cooking with it but you will absolutely love it. Guaranteed.

  • http://www.happylittlebento.blogspot.com Sherimiya

    What a beautiful blog and pictures! I love coconut, and the combo with pandan sounds wonderful.

  • Moowiesqrd

    This is gorgeous, Jun! It’s awesome that we share an affinity for TK’s recipes. I just made his carrot cupcakes from Ad Hoc and will definitely try the coconut cake with your adjustments. My favorite thing with pandan is the rice from my mom’s Hainanese chicken and rice. Such a great ingredient.

  • Madelinemoy

    What an elegant use of pandan in a dessert! So different from neon green buko pandan. I definitely will try your recipe.

  • Lemons and Anchovies

    Leave it to you to make something already good and make it even better. What a beautiful cake to celebrate your birthday with. I hope it was a wonderful day for you, Jun. :-)

  • http://blog.junbelen.com/ Jun Belen

    Thank you! I didn’t really want to add any food coloring — I actually couldn’t find any natural green food coloring. And I thought, the whiteness of the cake was so elegant! Thank you, once again!

  • http://blog.junbelen.com/ Jun Belen

    Thank you, Sherimiya! The coconut-pandan combination was so delightful!

  • http://www.saffronlane.typepad.com Elizabeth @ Saffron Lane

    I’m sold and will definitely try your suggestion on using pandan in steamed rice. Thanks for the inspiration — and gorgeous photos!

  • http://gourmandeinthekitchen.com sylvie@gourmandeinthekitchen

    Wonderful step by step pictorial on extracting pandan juice. How interesting that the green juice did not at all affect the whiteness of the interior of the coconut cake, I guess 2 TB isn’t sufficient to impart any of the green color to the batter. I’ve never heard of pandan before, I will have to look out for it now.

  • OysterCulture

    I’ve not used pandan before but have been so intrigued as those who have say its superior to vanilla. This recipe sounds simply delicious, thanks for sharing.

  • chef_d

    Delicious!! You take such beautiful pictures!

  • Eatcakefordinner

    This cake looks delicious. Great photos.

  • http://twitter.com/quaypocooks Krystle

    The step by step instruction is wonderful. I can see the amount of effort you put in to share this with us. The cake looks divine! Thanks!

  • http://huntingfortheverybest.wordpress.com Dina

    thank you for educating me about pandan. your cake looks so nice. the layers are so good looking. i’d like a slice right now!

  • http://la-roquette.blogspot.com Robbiegalea

    Your photography looks absolutely stunning :)

  • http://twitter.com/sippitysup sippitysup

    Well pandan is finding a place in my house soon. I love the memory of this leaf being one of your earliest food memories, yet I just discovered it today! The wide world of food always delivers something new and exciting for, no matter how much I try to learn it all. GREG

  • http://twitter.com/sippitysup sippitysup

    I think disqus ate my message! GREG

  • Christina @ Sweetpeaskitchen

    Mmmmm…this cake looks delicious!! Yummy! Wish I had a piece right now! :)

  • ww

    Hi,
    got a question. what is the qty of 1 can of coconut milk??

  • http://blog.junbelen.com/ Jun Belen

    Thank you for stopping by. Coconut milk usually comes in 13.5-ounce or 400-mL cans. So when you reduce it to a cup over low heat, you’re reducing like less than half of a can.

  • Authenticsuburbangourmet

    Thank you for the lesson on Pandan – I had never heard of it until now. BTW – Happy belated birthday!! I adore the tradtional coconut cake and yours with the twist of pandan looks amazing.

  • Amelia from Z Tasty Life

    Jun: what a delicate cake and must be a very delicate aroma too…intrigued by pandan (have never tried it before). Aromas from childhood are special. This must have meant a lot to you. And how surprising that the cake did not turn green. Hope you can celebrate every year with a special memory, like this one!

  • Anonymous

    I love using pandan juice in baking!

  • http://www.beyondtheplate.net/ Danielle

    Ok, that’s it. I’m taking this as a sign that I need to get my act together and start making kaya (coconut pandan custard), stat! Love love love the step-by-step photos for making pandan extract.

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  • Peter

    What can I do if I can’t find pandan leaves? More extract with the coconut milk, maybe? The cake looks so good and delicious! I’m definitely thinking of doing this on a date.

  • http://blog.junbelen.com/ Jun Belen

    Thank you, Peter for stopping by.  Frozen pandan leaves are usually available in some Asian grocery stores.  In case they don’t, try checking if they have pandan extract, usually in tiny bottles.  And in case they don’t have pandan extract, Thomas Keller’s coconut cake is delicious on its own without pandan.  If you make the meringue, it is best to make it the day you eat the cake.  Let me know how it goes, okay?

  • MyPha

    These are EXCEPTIONAL fotos of the Pandan leaves. & Great instructional guidance.

  • Bips1212

    I have been searching for a good Pandan Cake recipe, and have long tried to figure out how the heck I can incorporate the subtle and intriguing pandan flavor- without using the bottled extract.  I found the frozen pandan leaves at Island Pacific some weekends ago and my mind just started to work wonders, all the posibilities!  Thanks for sharing the recipe (T.K recipe, how can one go wrong?) and the beautiful photographs.  Like you, I am an avid cook and foodographer.  Thanks again!

  • Elizabeth

    OK, I am thrilled to find this recipe and more, thrilled to discover your blog — thanks for the most user-friendly (for a Californian) recipe — I recently discovered pandan and it is everything you say, now I am excited to try this recipe.  All best and thanks again!

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  • susan salzman

    Jun – where do i get Pandan leaves?

  • http://blog.junbelen.com/ Jun Belen

    Susan, pandan leaves are available frozen in some Asian stores.  They are, unfortunately, difficult to find.  Best of luck in hunting it down.

  • http://www.facebook.com/loremivillones Loremi Cedo Villones

    Is the flavor the same as using a pandan essence?  

  • http://blog.junbelen.com/ Jun Belen

    If you don’t have fresh or frozen pandan leaves you can use pandan essence.

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