First, I wanted to address the name. I really wrestled with what to call this, probably more than a normal food blogger should, but I’ve been seeing the term “snack cake” used to describe cakes that look like this. Wiki describes “snack cake” as a baked dessert confectionery made with cake and icing, but I’m wondering if that’s strictly for commercially produced items? If anyone knows, please enlighten me in the comments sections below! For now, I’m going to go with Pandan Lime Snack Cake.
While I know being Filipino-American doesn’t automatically mean that I’m readily familiar with all things Asian, I’m a little embarrassed to admit that I’ve not had much experience with pandan. How did I miss out on this flavor? I may have seen dishes with the word “pandan” in the name, but I thought that just meant the dish was from a region known as Pandan, in the Philippines.
Aside from a place, Pandan is also a tropical plant in South Asia and Southeast Asia that is used in many dishes, including many desserts. It is not to be eaten raw, but rather the leaves are cooked with (or steamed, or baked, or roasted with) something because the scent and flavor are imparted into the other ingredients that you are using, then discarded. I read somewhere that eating it would cause your tongue to blister, and also other unpleasant gastrointestinal side effects, which I won’t go into detail here, because this is a food blog. 😉
I recently found out that my local Asian grocery store actually sells fresh pandan leaves, and since I already had a small bottle of pandan extract (with coloring) from my recent trip to the Philippines, this cake was destined to happen sooner rather than later!
I decided the best way to incorporate the flavor was to steep it like tea leaves into the milk. Trust me, it really works! To make sure the pandan flavor was imparted to the milk, I let it steep for about 45 minutes, which seems like a lot of time, but it worked. At the end, I had ready to use pandan-flavored milk!
Even though the flavor is fairly distinct than that of coconut, many newbies to pandan (including myself), upon first tasting it, will say it tastes just like coconut. That’s exactly what I said upon tasting it; I did a few taste tests afterwards and can now tell them apart. Pandan is more floral and nutty. There’s something almond-y to it. I almost want to say something in it reminds me of the flavor of popcorn. Online it is popularly described as Southeast Asia’s vanilla. Like many flavors, it is sometimes difficult to describe in words, but it quickly grew on me.
I decided to pair it with lime, and to not add a ton of lime, because I didn’t want it to overpower the pandan. I was going to pair it with passionfruit, too, but I couldn’t find it in many stores in Seattle, and the ones that I did find looked dry and shriveled up, and slightly on the spendy side. But now that I think about it, maybe passionfruit would’ve distracted from the pandan. So maybe it was a good thing to leave it out.
If you can’t find any fresh pandan, don’t fret. You can just add more pandan extract. Just realize there is almost always food coloring added to the pandan extract, so your finished product might look a little greener than these!
Lastly, I must say, this frosting recipe that I only changed slightly, is surprisingly simple, but oh so good! It isn’t exaggerating about being fluffy and cloud-like! I think it has to do with using a paddle attachment of a mixer instead of a whisk, which seems counterintuitive, but, oh well. I usually use my hand-held electric mixer for whipping up frostings, aspecially small batches, but from now on, I may consider using my stand mixer with the paddle attachment, because I created clouds for my cake; it is downright cumulotastic!
Pandan Lime Snack Cake
1 and 2/3 cups all-purpose flour, sifted
1 and 3/4 teaspoons baking powder
3/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup + 2 Tablespoons whole milk
2 ounces (4 Tablespoons) unsalted butter
3 Tablespoons canola oil
4-5 fresh pandan leaves, washed, dried, and chopped into small pieces (look in the produce aisle of Asian grocery stores)
3 large eggs
1 and 1/3 cups granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon pandan extract (often includes color)
zest and juice of one small lime (1 teaspoon zest, 1 teaspoon lime)
4 ounces unsalted butter, cut into tablespoon-size slices
2 cups confectioners sugar, sifted
2 Tablespoons milk, room temperature
zest and juice of one small lime (1 teaspoon zest, 1 teaspoon lime)
Heat oven to 350 degrees F.
Prepare a 8″ x 8″ pan by greasing the bottom, adding a baking parchment paper that overhangs on two opposite sides a few inches(for easy removal of cake from pan), followed by greasing and flouring parchment paper with baking (butter/flour) spray. Set aside.
Sift together the flour, baking powder and salt into a bowl and stir with a whisk to ensure ingredients are evenly dispersed with the flour. Set aside.
Add the milk, butter, and oil in a small saucepan and heat on medium-high until butter is melted and milk is just shy of boiling. Immerse the chopped pandan leaves completely in the milk mixture, stir slightly, cover saucepan, and leave undisturbed to steep for 45 minutes. Squeeze as much milk out of the pandan leaves back into the saucepan. Discard leaves, set the milk aside.
In another bowl, with a hand-held electric mixer, beat the eggs on medium high speed with beaters for 5 minutes. Eggs will be thickened and paler; gradually add sugar while continuing to beat on high, until fluffy and light. The goal is to get the batter to fall like a ribbon over itself when you lift a beater from the bowl. If you lift the beater and the batter isn’t streaming and folding like a ribbon over itself, mix a little longer. Be careful not to overmix, though.
Add the pandan extract and mix again for about 30 seconds.
Alternate adding the flour mixture and the milk mixture to the egg/sugar mixture.
Start by adding a third of the flour mixture, then mixing with the beaters on low until all flour is wet, about 20 seconds.
Add about half the milk mixture, and once again blend using the beaters on low, until incorporated.
Scrape sides and bottom of bowl and once again add about half of the remaining flour mixture. Mix once again until no longer any dry flour, scraping sides and bottom, as needed.
Add the rest of the milk mixture and blend until incorporated. Finish adding the rest of the flour mixture and blend again until batter is sufficiently mixed, about 30 seconds.
Pour batter into pan and bake for about 40-45 minutes, until toothpick comes out clean when a toothpick poked in the center of cake and pulled out comes out clean. It should be a golden brown on top. There may be a slight dome, which will come down after it come out of the oven. Cool cake in pan on wire rack.
While cake is cooling, make the frosting:
Sift the confectioners sugar unto a sheet of parchment or wax paper. Set aside.
In a stand electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, mix the slices of butter on low for one minute. Beat on medium-high for two minutes more.
Scrape down sides and paddle and beat of medium for two more minutes until softer.
Add the confectioners sugar and mix on low for a minute.
Add 3 Tablespoons of milk, lime zest, and lime juice, and mix on low again for about 10-15 seconds.
Increase speed to medium-high and beat for 2 minutes.
Beat further another 2 minutes on medium-high until frosting is fluffy.
Carefully remove cake from pan when cooled completely and frost cake.
Slice into even squares, or however you want to slice it. I like 9 even squares of cake for this, but it’s really up to you how big you want each serving of cake to be. Consider cutting it into 12, as it’s fairly rich.