Last Sunday was a baking day as well, although I was still feeling tired from lack of sleep two nights in a row now. However, I did promise Alex that we would bake together that day. Alex just loves to bake. He has yet to try his hands on cooking (maybe when he’s a little older) but he loves to watch cooking shows. Actually, let me rephrase that…he loves to watch Martha Stewart cooking shows. We borrow a variety of Martha’s cooking/baking DVDs from our local library and without fail, he would watch them at least a couple of hours each day. I have tried introducing other cooking/baking DVDs such as Rachael Ray but for some reason, he only prefers Martha. :) One time, hubby had to put Alex on a time-out because he wasn’t listening and it just so happened that he was watching one of Martha’s DVD at the time…so, we had to turn it off. Alex was so upset that he threw himself on the TV and shouted, “Martha, where’s my Martha?” :) I knew I shouldn’t have laughed but it was just so funny at the time. Daily, Alex would quote Martha or one of her guests…literally as he goes about his day. :) I commented to hubby recently that other kids would watch cartoons but our child watches Martha (okay, he watches Clifford and Blue’s Clues too but not as much as Martha). I don’t think he knows any other cartoon characters other than the ones in the above shows but he knows Bobby Flay, Diana Kennedy, Mario Batali and more as well as terms like foie gras, tamale, and gazpacho. :) The weirdest thing of it all is that as much as he loves to make food, he totally refuses to try anything we make…he’s truly the ultimate picky eater. We hope that will change with time…sigh…
Alright, sorry for getting side-tracked…back to our baking day. We decided to make Whole Grain Pandan Butter Cupcakes (adapted from the Classic Butter Cake recipe in the King Arthur Flour Whole Grain Baking book – I LOVE this book) as well as pizzas (which I will post separately). I find that over the years, my preference has changed from my love of lighter, airier baked goods to slightly denser, more substantial ones. That is why I love to bake with whole grain flours, especially since I discovered the Whole Grain Baking book; the resulting baked goods are typically more substantial than their white-flour counterpart and equally flavorful (if not more), yet still moist and tender. A while back, I made carrot cupcakes using just all-purpose flour, and hubby commented that he had to eat five or six of them before he actually felt like he ate something. :) Needless to say, he prefers whole grain as well.
This time, I decided to pair white whole wheat flour with pandan paste. Pandan flavoring is as widely used in Southeast Asian cooking/baking as vanilla extract is used over here. Back home where pandan plants (scientific name is pandanus amaryllifolius – click here to see what it looks like) can be found easily, we use the leaves to infuse a fragrant flavor (similar to jasmine rice) in savory and sweet dishes and often as an actual flavoring in desserts. In the former, typically, pandan leaves are raked with the tines of a fork to “release” the flavor, tied into a bundle, and dropped into the dish as it cooks. For the latter, the long, narrow, blade-like leaves would be pounded (usually) with a mortar and pestle and mixed with a little water and then squeezed to extract the juice. Over here in the States, actual pandan leaves are usually found in the frozen form in Asian stores. Although I find the frozen ones to be a little less flavorful than the fresh leaves, they are still a comparable substitute. Other possible substitutes include canned pandan extract, bottled pandan essence or paste. If fresh or frozen leaves are not available though, they are usually omitted from savory dishes. I find pandan paste to be the most acceptable substitute for baking, not to mention the fact that it is sooooooo convenient. I have tried canned pandan extract and found the flavor to be too diluted, and bottled pandan essence (a Thai brand) to leave a weird metallic aftertaste…yuck. For the longest time I couldn’t find pandan paste (can’t find a lot of things where I live) and from reading other Malaysian food blogs, it would appear that the most preferred and recommended brand is Koepoe-Koepoe (an Indonesian brand) pandan paste. Finally, lo and behold, I found it in an Asian store that I seldom frequent about 6 months ago and can now enjoy pandan cake again after years and years of deprivation. :) The store had only three tiny 30 ml bottles and I purchased all of them. :) Fast forward, I found out yesterday that my regular Asian store has just started carrying these pandan paste too. We’ll see how long that lasts but YIPPEE!! for now. If only they start carrying Maggi Mee as well, and Twisties, and Cheezels, and …you get the idea. :) Note: I notice that you can buy the Koepoe-Koepoe Pandan Paste online on AsianSupermarket365.com. I have yet to purchase anything from this website myself but it looks really decent. I am going to try to order from it soon (just waiting for all the things I want to be available so that I don’t have to pay twice the shipping cost). :)
7⅝ ounces white whole wheat flour
4¼ ounces unbleached all-purpose flour
1½ teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoon baking soda
8 ounces (2 sticks) unsalted butter
10½ ounces sugar
1 teaspoon salt
4 large eggs
1 generous teaspoon pandan paste
8 ounces unsweetened coconut milk
- Preheat the oven to 350ºF. Line 2 muffin tins with paper baking cups.
- In a bowl, combine the flours, baking powder, and baking soda. Set aside.
- In a cup, whisk together the pandan paste and coconut milk. Set aside.
- Cream together the butter, sugar, and salt in a mixer until light and fluffy. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Add the flour mixture in thirds, alternating with the pandan-coconut milk mixture, ending with the flour mixture (i.e. dry-wet-dry-wet-dry), mixing well after each addition. Throughout the process, scrape the mixer bowl often.
- Pour the batter into the prepared pans. Bake the cupcakes for 25 to 27 minutes, until a cake tester inserted into the center comes out clean. Remove the cupcakes from pans after a minute or two and place on rack to cool.