Also known as “screwpine,” Pandan is most often used to flavor rice dishes and puddings, but it is also used as a delicate flavoring for pastries.
By Marissa Sertich
I wanted to stick my entire face into the pot to breathe in the pandan’s sweet steam. Subtly floral and slightly grassy, it is considered the vanilla bean of Southeast Asia, yet in the United States the name is tragically unknown. Although, I’d seen the pale, green pastries in all of the bakeries during my travels throughout Singapore, this was the first experimentation of my own – I was infusing coconut milk with pandan for steamed cakes.
Also known as “screwpine,” Pandan is most often used to flavor rice dishes and puddings, but it is also used as a delicate flavoring for pastries. Pandan chiffon cakes can be found in most all Singaporean bakeries. While the majority of the cakes come in familiar angel food cake-like rings, varieties in more cosmopolitan areas of town surprise diners with elegant and imaginative presentations. Even the world class, Raffles Hotel, known for creating the signature “Singapore Sling,” cocktail, carries several versions of the pandan cake.
My fascination with pandan does not just stem with its exquisite flavor. In Singapore, practically every grocery store carries fresh pandan leaves, as well as several varieties of extract. While so many Asian dishes and ingredients have managed to migrate west, many remain domestically bound and wait to be re-discovered my the hungry palettes of travelers.
The newness of the pandan’s gentle flavor has sparked my imagination as a pastry cook. I already have pandan-coconut milk steeping the refrigerator, pandan vodka in the works, and pandan ice cream is on the back burner.
In the U.S., many Asian supermarkets carry pandan extract, but beware of its concentrated potency. The flavor of the fresh leaves is more desirable, but they are incredibly difficult to find.
Originally Published: January 24, 2012