Standing majestically at 3 feet in the far right corner of my grandma’s backyard is her favorite plant: the pandan plant. The various shades of bright and forest greens speckle through the slender, pointy leaves that split at the roots, creating a pattern resembling the top of a pineapple. Pandan leaves have a flowery yet subtle aroma of coconut and are commonly used in Malaysian cuisine.
The leaves are also an integral component of my own grandma’s cooking. From savory rice dishes to confectionary cakes, the pandan plant in my grandma’s backyard has been transformed into many of her most loved dishes.
In a typical year, my winter breaks consisted of taking a 22-hour plane ride to Malaysia, where stepping outside without sweat instantaneously sliding down one’s forehead was near impossible. These trips have cultivated priceless memories despite the weather, including countless hours of UNO games with my cousins and accompanying my grandma in the kitchen. Although my grandma’s kitchen lacks a proper air conditioning system, it seems as if it is her favorite place in the house, and throughout the years, I have understood why.
When my grandma places a freshly baked pandan chiffon cake onto the infamous wooden table of the Chia household, it is analogous to a magnetic force. All 20 of us stop our endeavors at that moment and excitedly gather around to devour a slice of cake. When biting into the cake, the prominent pandan flavor is encapsulated in the form of a cloud-like texture and melts in one’s mouth within two seconds. Five minutes later, the 9-inch cake dissipates.
Until recently, I never truly understood the power and importance of passing family recipes down. I never truly understood how memories could correlate with the recipes or the way they brought individuals together.
Unable to visit for the past two years, I have been longing for the UNO games with my cousins, family gatherings and the taste of my grandma’s cooking a bit more than usual. Recently, I recreated my grandma’s pandan cake recipe in my own kitchen, 8,394 miles away from the normal venue, in hopes of relieving the nostalgia. When preparing the pandan extract, I am instantly brought back to my grandma’s backyard, where coconut and mango trees surround me. When re-creating my grandma’s recipe in my kitchen, memories of her teaching me how to properly fold the egg whites into the cake batter and sharing her childhood stories are evoked. When taking a bite into the cloud-like piece of cake, it rapidly brings me back to all 20 of my relatives and me gathering around the wooden table.
I now understand why my grandma’s favorite place was the kitchen, as well as why she was determined to pass the recipes along to the next generation. Next time I visit, I hope to continue expanding the cookbook filled with my grandma’s recipes.
Below is a recipe of the grandma’s pandan chiffon cake recipe:
Pandan Chiffon Cake Recipe
(Enough for one 9-inch angel food cake pan)
7 green pandan leaves
2 tbsp water
60 g egg yolks
25 g castor sugar
150 g egg whites
60 g castor sugar
50 g oil
75 g coconut milk
1/8 tsp salt
80 g cake flour
1/4 tsp baking powder
For the pandan extract:
Blend the pandan leaves with the water. Then, place the mixture into the fridge and let it separate for at least 48 hours. Once separated, strain the pandan and measure out 65 g of the liquid mixture. You can find pandan leaves at many Asian markets.
For the cake:
Preheat the oven to 350 Fahrenheit.
In a large bowl, whisk together the egg yolks and the 25 grams of castor sugar until thick and pale. Whisk in the flavorless oil, coconut milk, pandan mixture, and salt until evenly mixed. Then, sift the cake flour and baking powder into the mixture, mix well and set aside.
Using an electric mixer, beat the egg whites while gradually adding the 60 g of castor sugar in 3 separate batches. Keep whisking until egg whites reach stiff peaks when raising your whisk (this means the egg whites should like white and glossy).
Fold egg whites into the egg yolk mixture in 3 batches until evenly mixed. Bang the mixing bowl against the worktop 3-4 times to get rid of the air bubbles.
Fill a 9-inch angel food cake pan with the batter. Bake until the cake is golden brown and slightly springy, about 35 minutes. When inserting a wooden skewer, it should come back clean. Wait an hour to cool before you serve.
Amber Chia is a senior at Carlmont High School in Belmont. Student News appears in the weekend edition. You can email Student News at firstname.lastname@example.org.