…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
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 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…