Tag Archives: gula melaka

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?


Road Trip: Malacca

16 Oct


The charming streets of Malacca


I just realized it’s been two weeks since my last post. My parents came to visit, so I’ve been busy playing tour guide. The good news is that I’ve now accrued a lot of material for the blog. (Although I didn’t get to feed them quite as much as I would have liked, as they could only manage three meals a day, rather than the four or five it would take to cover all the culinary hits.)

I wanted to show my parents that Malaysia isn’t all shiny high-rises and inane traffic engineering, so we took a road trip to Melaka/Malacca. Much like Penang, Malacca is an old trading city that has retained its colonial architecture and charm (and is a UNESCO World Heritage city). Also like Penang, Malacca is known for Nyonya cooking, as well as a distinctive Portuguese fusion cuisine. But we didn’t try any of those, because the restaurants were closed.

Instead, we opted for another Malaccan specialty: chicken rice balls. It’s just like regular chicken rice, except the rice part comes in little ping-pong-sized balls. Anyone who’s had musubi (a.k.a. onigiri) knows that when rice is compacted, it becomes a dense nugget of chewy goodness, and that’s exactly what these are.


Chicken rice balls


We went to Hoe Kee, a restaurant that has lines during peak hours. It must be because of the rice balls, because the chicken wasn’t anything to write home about (or blog about, for that matter). The balls are a brilliant idea, though. I don’t know why we don’t consume more of our starches in a spherical format. Chicken rice is especially suited to this, because the rice is cooked with chicken fat and broth, and the savoriness is concentrated by getting packed into ball form.

Malacca is also known for ais cendol, the Malaysian take on shave ice. (That’s not a typo. “Shaved ice” has got nothing on shave ice. And don’t get me started on Sno-Cones.) The Malaccan version is made with a particularly potent form of palm sugar syrup called gula melaka; it’s a bit like molasses, but with a deeper, caramel-like flavor.


Shave ice, Malacca style


There’s also the obligatory topping of green noodle-y things (cendol), sweetened kidney beans, and condensed milk. I’ve had it with corn, too. The gula melaka really set apart this ais cendol. Very refreshing on an incredibly hot day.

Next: introducing the parents to another Malaysian tradition, the banana leaf.