The humble pandan chiffon cake has been named by CNN as Singapore’s national cake. We round up the best offerings around. By Eunice Quek
The Sunday Times did a taste test on 14 pandan cakes. Photos: Marcus Tan for The Straits Times
You might have had it with a cup of Milo this morning. Or wrestled with certain Asian tourists for plane cabin space because they are lugging so many boxes of it home.
Yes, we are talking about the humble pandan chiffon cake – the ring of green and fluffy goodness ubiquitous across Singapore.
Broadcaster CNN recently crowned it Singapore and Malaysia’s national cake and described it as having a “natural, woodsy flavour”.
Now, most Singaporeans probably do not need further convincing of the pandan cake’s inherent awesomeness.
It is suitable for any occasion, as good for a teatime snack as for a birthday celebration. Soft and light, it is popular with young and old. (Seriously, you do not need teeth for this.)
Tourists know how good it is too – especially those from Hong Kong, Taiwan and China. Just look at the lines at the Bengawan Solo outlets at Changi Airport.
Whether you think pandan cake should be promoted to the status of national ambassador, finding the best version is an issue worth considering.
The Sunday Times conducted a blind tasting of 14 cakes to pick the best. The judging panel scored the cakes based on taste and texture.
The judges are Mr Wong Ah Yoke, 55, Life deputy editor and food critic; Mr Daniel Tan, 41, managing director of Food Playground; Mr Daniel Tay, 47, of cheesecake shop Cat & The Fiddle; Mr Christopher Tan, 44, food writer and cooking instructor; and chef de partie Lynnette Tay, 25, of Curate restaurant at Resorts World Sentosa.
Bengawan Solo was the clear winner, followed by PrimaDeli, Swee Heng and The Pine Garden – all home-grown bakery chains. Bengawan Solo and The Pine Garden were both recommended in the CNN article.
Other brands in the tasting include HarriAnns, Yummi Chiffon and Tiong Bahru Galicier Pastry.
In 2010, The Sunday Times also did a blind taste test for seven pandan cakes – with a separate panel of judges – and Bengawan Solo also came up tops.
This time, many of the cakes left the judges underwhelmed. “Where is the pandan?” was a line that came up with increasing frustration.
For many cakes, the fragrance of the pandan proved elusive. Some were bland. Others had an overwhelming aroma of coconut which overpowered any other flavour.
Some were too wet, some underbaked and others too dry.
And when the blindfolds were removed, the judges were shocked that the colour of some cakes bordered on “luminous”, while another was rainbow-coloured.
Bengawan Solo’s version won for its fluffiness and balanced flavours, which go a long way in explaining why it is a flagship product.
The bakery chain sells at least 1,800 whole cakes across its 40 outlets daily. The three outlets at Changi Airport account for more than half of the sales.
Pandan cakes alone make up 18 per cent of total daily revenue, says Mrs Anastasia Liew, 70, Bengawan Solo’s managing director.
Which goes to show that we can quarrel over whether the pandan cake is The Singapore Cake. But what is harder to dispute is the fact that Bengawan Solo makes The Pandan Cake.
TOP FOUR PANDAN CHIFFON CAKES IN SINGAPORE
1. BENGAWAN SOLO
Bengawan Solo’s pandan chiffon cake.
Where: All outlets including Tampines Mall, Tiong Bahru Plaza and Bugis Junction
Price: $1.50 (a slice), $15 (whole cake)
Verdict: The unanimous winner among the 14 cakes tasted. The judges lauded the cake for its fluffy texture and balanced flavour. Mr Christopher Tan said: “It has a good balance of sweet and salty flavours.” Mr Daniel Tay noted that the cake is “well-baked”.
Primadeli’s pandan chiffon cake.
Where: All outlets including Ang Mo Kio Hub, City Square Mall and Jurong Point
Price: $6.90 or $12.90
Verdict: This chiffon cake also has balanced flavours and Mr Christopher Tan felt that the cake’s texture is closest to one that is homemade. Mr Wong Ah Yoke said: “I like the fluffy texture and light pandan flavour of this cake.”
3. SWEE HENG
Swee Heng’s pandan chiffon cake.
Where: All outlets including Boon Lay Shopping Centre, Fajar Shopping Centre and Rivervale Plaza
Price: $3 or $6
Verdict: For Swee Heng’s pandan chiffon cake, the judges picked up on the stronger coconut flavour. Mr Christopher Tan immediately noted the fragrant coconut aroma, while Mr Tay and Mr Wong both liked the texture of this cake. Mr Daniel Tan said: “Although this cake has a stronger coconut flavour, I like that it is not too sweet.”
4. THE PINE GARDEN
The Pine Garden’s pandan chiffon cake.
Where: Block 529 Ang Mo Kio Avenue 10, 01-2329/2369, Ang Mo Kio Hub, Compass One and Northpoint Shopping Centre
Price: $4 or $9
Verdict: The judges all agreed that the cake has a denser texture than the others. Mr Tay noted that it has a “nice sweetness”. Mr Wong added that after eating the cake, the pandan flavour “develops at the end”.
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on April 30, 2017, with the headline ‘A cake for everyone’.