So a lot of Asians grew up on pandan, but truthfully, I never did. I always hear people saying that it’s the “vanilla of Asia”, which I might call blatant B.S. to, because I did not grow up on anything with pandan at all. And before the pandemic, I never even had anything with pandan in it before! I had heard of it by that point, but it was not really a flavor or ingredient I was particularly familiar with. It was not until I had made a pandan and ube cake for a friend that I realized what I was working with here. Pandan, for those like me who were not super in-the-know about it, is a type of leaf that is used in desserts throughout South East Asia. So typically Malaysia, the Philippines, Indonesia, and Singapore would probably be the best countries to look for pandan desserts. I actually got pandan extract from a Filipino grocery store in my area, which is what we are using to flavor this recipe!
So my weird bit on pandan aside, I’m going to cram your noggins with knowledge, facts, and trivia on more South East Asian desserts that I did not grow up eating(but wish I did)! Dadar gulung(also called kuih or kueh dadar) is a pandan flavored crepe, also popular in Malaysia, that is bright green from either the pandan or food coloring, and filled with coconut gula melaka. Coconut gula melaka is either fresh or dried coconut that is caramelized in gula melaka, also called palm sugar. It is kind of like a coconut delight Girls Scout cookie meets the filling of an Almond Joy candy bar, but flavored with pandan instead. That and the palm sugar gives an earthiness to the coconut that granulated sugar lacks. I’m making a mille crepe inspired by those little pandan crepes with the coconut filling for this post. However, overtly sweet coconut does a filling not made. Doth? I’m not Shakespearean, so don’t judge me.
Anyways, I had to cut through the super sweet coconut mixture with something, and I figured, let’s pair that with kaya. Last food dictionary definition, I swear. Kaya is a Malaysian coconut jam made with coconut milk and eggs, flavored with pandan. It could be savory or sweet. In my case, I made mine more savory but omitting a good amount of sugar and upping the salt content, since salted coconut milk is popular in Asian desserts, and that unsweetened kaya becomes a great partner for the overtly sweet gula melaka to “season” with its sugar content. Balance is key when it comes to making desserts, and this mille crepe is no exception! I love making and layering mille crepes, just because it’s super fun to see all of the layers come together to form a gorgeous cake!
For the gula melaka(caramelized coconut):
1/4 cup water
4oz cup palm sugar(only do 3 if using sweetened coconut flakes)
2 drops pandan extract
a pinch of salt
7oz dried coconut flakes
Start by placing your water, sugar, pandan, and salt into a nonstick pot. Heat up on low heat until the sugar melts and forms a really dry caramel. Toss and stir in the coconut flakes, stirring constantly on low heat until the sugar begins to crystalize and dry around the coconut. You want it to be like caramel-braised coconut, in a way. Once the syrup is completely soaked into the coconut and most of the moisture has been cooked out, transfer the coconut into an airtight container and allow it to cool down before using.
For the kaya cream:
14oz coconut milk
2 egg yolks
3 tablespoons cornstarch
1 tablespoon granulated sugar(only use 1/2 tablespoon if using sweetened coconut flakes in the gulu melaka mixture!)
3 drops pandan extract
1 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons coconut oil*
1/2 cup heavy cream
In a pot, heat up the coconut milk. In a bowl, combine the egg yolks, cornstarch, sugar, pandan, and salt. Once the coconut milk begins to release stem, pour half of the heated milk into the egg yolk mixture while whisking. Then return that mixture back into the pot with the rest of the milk. Whisk on medium heat until the liquid begins to click to the sides of your whisk. At that point, take it off heat. Optionally, and untraditionally, you can whisk coconut oil into the mixture. This is not usually done in kaya, but it does add in more coconut flavor, and it gives the final product a richer mouthfeel. Allow this mixture to cool down completely. In another bowl, whip heavy cream to stiff peaks. Then fold that cream into the coconut mixture. Keep this all cold until it is time to assemble.
For the pandan crepes:
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/3 cup granulated sugar
a pinch of salt
2 cups coconut milk
3/4 cups water
6 drops pandan extract
1/4 teaspoon green spirulina powder
8 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and browned
Combine ingredients together in a blender and pass through a sieve. Allow the batter to sit for an hour before using. Use about 3 tablespoons of batter per crepe on a lightly lined nonstick pan. Cook the crepe on one side on medium heat until the edges begin to separate from the pan and flip, allowing the crepe to cook on the other side for a further 30 seconds. Repeat this until you have about 20 layers. Allow your layers to cool down before using in the assembly.
Spread a thin layer of the kaya mixture down first, then sprinkle on the coconut gula melaka. Repeat this with all of your layers. Optionally for the topmost layer, you can sprinkle on some toasted coconut flakes and edible flowers.
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I just learned about pandan a few weeks ago from reading Sara Lee’s cookbook “Coconut and Sambal” which is about Indonesia cuisine and includes a coconut and pandan cake that looks delicious, as well as klepon, which are pandan-flavoured green glutinous rice ball dusted in grated coconut and filled with melted palm sugar that she describes as bursting in the mouth with a single bite. Her recipes call for blending fresh pandan and straining to make your own juice, but I have not been able to find any leaves – I will look for pandan extract now after seeing your recipe! Thanks for sharing!
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