When the durians fall down the sarongs go up…

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Virgil Evetts

…Or so says a rather pervy old Malay saying about the apparent aphrodisiac properties of the world’s most polarising fruit.  Well, the durian are down right now (meaning it’s Durian season in South East Asia) and my sarong is wholly undisturbed, because the only thing the durian stirs in me is a desire to eat more durian – even if I don’t really understand why.  The weird blend of onion, sewage, and various tropical fruit which makes up the flavour profile of a good durian should repel – and indeed initially did so in my case – but repeat exposure  has engendered  love and something nearing addiction. That fragrance, which I literally used to cross the road to avoid in Singapore, Thailand and Malaysia, now draws me in like a moth to a spiky and odiferous flame.

Fresh durian are currently available from Asian fruiters around the country, along with their traditional partner, the truly exquisite mangosteen.  While the latter are widely regarded as the finest of all tropical fruit, and are bound to please and delight even the most conservative palate, I don’t advise the durian virgins amongst you to rush out and purchase an entire fresh fruit;  they are about the size of a large melon, staggeringly pungent and lavishly expensive ($25+ each).  It’s a sizeable waste if you don’t like it. Frozen durian – either whole or in segments – are a far more affordable option, and can be found at any good Asian supermarket.  The frozen fruit retains most of its creamy, custard-like texture, and all of its strange, complex and quite compelling flavour.

This season I finally got around to making a traditional Malaysian durian cake, based on a recipe I picked up in Kuala Lumpur a few years ago. Why, oh why did I wait so long? Apart from being a beautifully moist sponge in its own right, the sugar, butter and eggs  miraculously obscure the rougher aspects of the fruit and accentuates its finer points- which are legion.  The result is a tender, golden sponge with a brittle, buttery crust, an exotic fragrance, and a complex, indefinable flavour.  

Now, I don’t honestly expect you all to rush to your kitchen and make this cake – too alien and scary to most I know; but consider it a novelty read if you like, or  if you dare, something to whip up when you really want to make a mark at your next tea party.

I’ve tweaked the quantities and method a bit from the traditional Nonya original to make it behave in a standard oven, and have added a rather cheeky little pandanus cream filling. If I do say so myself. Pandanus leaf is commonly used to flavour desserts (and occasionally savoury food) throughout South East Asia. It has a lovely, heady fragrance reminiscent of vanilla, coconut and jasmine rice.  Even if you don’t make the cake (and I bet you won’t) , try the filling with pancakes or crepes.  If I was going to nominate any ingredient as the next big thing it would be pandanus. Quite exquisite stuff and deserving of far more attention than it gets around these parts.  Frozen pandanus leaves are available from most Asian supermarkets.

Durian cake with pandanus cream filling


3 eggs

170 grams durian flesh or pulp (frozen or fresh)

170 grams plain flour

170 grams butter

170 grams sugar

2 teaspoons baking powder

2 tablespoons coconut cream


Pandanus cream filling:

½ cup sugar

2 tablespoons cornflour

6 pandanus leaves

1 egg-beaten

1 cup hot water

2 tablespoons butter

¼ cup cream

Pinch of salt

To make the cake

Cream the butter and sugar until smooth and pale, slowly add the eggs and then the durian, mixing all the time. Now carefully fold in the flour and baking powder with the coconut cream. The mixture should look slightly curdled and lumpy.

Pour the batter into a well buttered cake tin and bake for about 45 minutes at 180C or until a wooden skewer comes way clean when poked into the centre of the cake

Cool on a wire cake rack.

To make the filling

In a food processor or blender pulse together the pandanus leaves in the water until finely chopped. Strain the mixture into a small bowl through cheese cloth or a clean tea towel. Squeeze firmly to extract as much juice from the pandanus as possible. Discard pulp.

In a small pot mix together the strained pandanus water with the sugar and corn flour. Bring to the boil, stirring constantly. Slowly pour in the egg, and continue to stir. Add the butter, cream and salt. Stir until thick and silky. Remove from heat and allow to cool.

To serve the cake, either slice horizontally and spread the filling thickly on the bottom layer before replacing the top, or leave the cake intact and serve the filling on the side.

I’ll think very highly of you indeed if you try this out. Go on…

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14 thoughts on “When the durians fall down the sarongs go up…

  1. greetings fellow durians lovers and non-lovers alike! pray tell me where could I buy Malaysian durians in Auckland… I drool and drool for the creamy taste …..

    • Hello Edwin
      Unfortunatly Malaysian Durians arent availabe in New Zealand, but fresh Thai Durians are in the shops right now.
      You can find these at most large Asian fruit shops, like the one in Northcote and the one under the Rialto car park in Newmarket.

      • cheers for that information; there was once when I managed to buy “Musang King” from Taiping Supermarket about a year ago but they are no longer selling them.

        I don’t like the Thai durians, they aren’t fragrant like the Malaysian variety.

  2. if any of you have a chance to visit malaysia, should try other “sewage” fruits :)
    Nangka (jackfruit) and cempedak

  3. Nothing beat fresh durian :) Although only Thailand durian is available fresh atm :(

    Try to make durian souffle, superb !

  4. It’s been 30 plus years since I lived in Singapore and just reading your blog brings that stench right back to me. I heartily congratulate anyone who can eat it. As you say those who’ve managed to get it past their nose think it sublime. Can’t make me, don’t want to – never!!!!!!!!!!

  5. Durian gelato (home made) is just wonderful. The smell makes me swoon. I’m a fan of frozen durian too- it’s really suprisingly good. I’ve found that the whole frozen fruit are much better value than the portions though. Just scoop out the flesh and refreeze for later use. The whole fresh fruit (in the shops now) is great too but very pricey. aside of truffles Durian has the most complex, sophisticated flavour of any food I know.

    • Virgil – what durian gelato recipe do you use? I’m a huge huge fan of the fruit, too, and was planning to make durian ice cream soon, but cream is sort of a rarity here so gelato might be easier.

  6. Thank you! I adore adore ADORE durian, so much so that when I offered to make a friend ice cream she made a point of saying “yes please, anything BUT durian”. Her sad loss… wonder if I can sneak this cake past her… my Singaporean in-laws with definitely enjoy it. I bought durian in NZ for the first time recently – pieces, frozen, from Malaysia. It was excellent and I can really recommend this.

  7. The oniony quality is probably the only really off-putting part of the flavour, but there’s no escaping it. Durian is traditionally eaten with mangosteen or other juicy, acidic fruit. The Chinese believe this counters the ‘heaty’ qualities of Durian. It certainly helps mitigate the lingering onion breath.
    The onion flavour does not carry over into the cake.

  8. THANK YOU for mentioning the onion component! I did a market tour in Singapore a couple of years ago and they gave us durian. The guy who was buying it for us didn’t realise I could speak Mandarin and he was trying to drive the price down by saying “They won’t eat it anyway” – we surprised them by finishing it. It was delish at the time, but the strong onion aftertaste lasted for hours and put me off eating any more. I’ve never seen anyone else mention the onion taste – good to know I wasn’t going mad.

  9. I still have not tasted durian, can’t pluck up the courage. My nose won’t let me eat strong smelling food, short of a peg, it may be one fruit that I have to bypass.

  10. The challenge has been laid! But what is durian pulp? Is it fresh durian that has been put through the food processor?