SOK Bake Sale, Part 2: Pandan Cupcakes with Gula Melaka Frosting

12 Sep

Whoopie pies weren’t enough for me, I guess. I decided to bake cupcakes the very next day, for a friend who’s moving back to the US. I wanted to make her something Malaysia-inspired, and, I admit, I was looking for an excuse to make this cake from Life is Great, which I found when I was making pandan-flavored madelines (which will have to be a later post, since I forgot to take a photo). Take a look at the link. It’s a gorgeous cake that practically screams “bake me!”.

My poor denuded pandan plant

Pandan, called screwpine in English, is an herb used widely across Southeast Asia in both sweet and savory dishes. (It’s also an effective deodorant and insect repellent; apparently one of the common ways to rid your car of durian smell is to line the seats with pandan leaves.) Rohani at Bayan Indah described it as “the vanilla of the tropics,” not so much because of its aroma—nothing like vanilla—but because of its ubiquity. And, much like vanilla, trying to describe pandan flavor is difficult. It’s sort of an herb-y, almost musty flavoring; think of freshly steamed basmati or jasmine rice. To make pandan “extract,” you take 10 to 15 leaves and grind them in a mortar and pestle, or if you’re lazy like me, you blend it to a pulp.

The creepily green pandan extract. Apologies for the dark photo.

The resulting liquid is a vibrant emerald green, almost unnatural. (The only other edible thing I can think of that’s this green is spirulina.) The color holds during cooking; anything flavored with pandan extract is usually bright green. Unfortunately, I had too much batter for the green to come through; while there was a barely perceptible hint of color in the cupcake, for the most part it looked like plain butter cake. At least it tasted like pandan, even if I didn’t get the visual hit.

The tasty but disappointingly not-green final product

I topped the cupcakes with gula melaka Swiss meringue buttercream, putting the previous day’s lessons into action. When my frosting started curdling, I walked away and Skyped my husband and his family; by the time I came back, the butter was sufficiently warm, and the frosting came together without incident. And it tasted divine. SMBC, as I mentioned before, is like warm ice cream, and gula melaka tastes like a cross between maple syrup and brown sugar. The frosting was definitely what the British call “moreish,” as in, “I’m going to eat more of this straight from the tub.” Together, the caramel of the frosting and the pandan cake were a classic pair. I’m going to have to work on my cake-decorating skills, though; the coconut garnish that you see in the photo is to cover up the fact that I can’t seem to frost a cupcake without bursting the ziplock bag I’m using in lieu of a proper pastry bag. Maybe the lesson here is that I need to invest in pastry bags?

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2 Responses to “SOK Bake Sale, Part 2: Pandan Cupcakes with Gula Melaka Frosting”

  1. mydearbakes September 14, 2012 at 7:28 pm #

    The cupcake looks good =)

  2. Nate @ House of Annie October 1, 2012 at 1:34 pm #

    I love pandan – we used some to make pandan water for our pandan snowskin mooncakes this year. I tried blending it to make the extract but it tasted too “green” for me. I wonder if the “green” flavor cooks out when you bake with it.

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