When I think back to my childhood breakfasts, they were, for the most part, monotonous and very quick. I lived in a children's cereal-free zone, plus my parents didn’t really believe in bacon & egg sandwiches. Having grown up in Singapore, they fed me what felt familiar to them - a traditional local breakfast of runny eggs and kaya jam (a staple condiment in Southeast Asia, essentially a coconut jam) toast. For as far back as I can think of, my everyday morning routine was centered around wolfing down a glass of warm (microwaved) milk and a piece of bread scraped with butter and kaya and heading off to primary school.
Pandan is a flavor that is very common and essential to many Southeast Asian cuisines and dishes, including the kaya jam I mentioned.
Pandan flavor comes from a green leafy plant of the same name, it is incredibly fragrant and in some languages, it can be literally translated as “fragrant plant”. If I were to describe it to you it’s probably something like grassy vanilla with a hint of coconut.
The leaves are either used fresh or in the form of an extract (very similar to how a vanilla bean would be used) to add fragrance to both sweet and savory dishes. Both my grandmothers used pandan leaves to cook various staple dishes for the family. Three absolutely essential ones that come to mind would be Hainanese Chicken Rice, steamed kueh(desserts made with rice/rice flour), and Pandan Chiffon Cake.
Pandan Chiffon cake is delicious, and it always takes me back to my home, making me feel very nostalgic. This recipe I created as a play on the Pandan-forward and the coconut-focused flavor profile was so familiar to me growing up.
I prefer a crumblier cake, so instead of going the traditional chiffon route, I kept these refreshing, tropical flavors and took some inspiration from my Mum’s original raspberry coconut blondies recipe. Using fresh (or defrosted) pandan leaves is always ideal. But good quality extracts are available in most Asian grocers, and they will still give your cake a heavy pandan fragrance, as well as a bright, green color.
This recipe tastes like home to me because I find it to be the perfect balance between a familiar baked treat, elevated with a flavor profile that is so nostalgic and essential to my heritage. Try it and travel back to Singapore with me!