I’m somewhat embarrassed to say that I only discovered pandan a little earlier this year. I think I had tried it as a cake flavor somewhere along the way, but I didn’t really look into what the flavor actually was until a Thai friend of mine brought back a pandan extract from Thailand. I would later try pandan jelly made from fresh pandan leaves and the flavor was transformational.

I say transformational because as a cook or culinary person, you don’t really get to taste a truly unique flavor all that often (unless I guess you travel a ton). First off, pandan is leaves of a tropical plant. It is often described as South East Asia’s equivalent to vanilla, so pandan is often used as a base flavor in cakes, puddings and various other desserts just like vanilla is in the west.

If I were to describe pandan’s flavor, I would say it is a sweet and milky flavor with undertones of a nutty, slightly smoky and herbally flavor. I would say to try and get your hands on pandan extract and if possible, pandan leaves immediately because it will definitely add to your arsenal of ingredients, especially if you work with desserts. Pandan leaves are desirable just because the flavor is more well-rounded. You will taste all the flavors and notes I mentioned more clearly as compared to just the extract.

Tips: If you’ve ever worked with agar, you know it can be difficult to melt. Sometimes after you bring the mixture to a boil, you need to put a lid on the pot and simmer it for a couple minutes before everything gets melted. I would maybe even strain the mixture if you have problems with it melting.

There are a lot of forms of agar - the powder, the flakes and agar sticks. I listed a standard agar powder in the recipe, but I actually used the flakes in the video. They are the same, but the amounts you use change. For example, 1 tablespoon of agar flakes is about 1 teaspoon of agar powder.

I haven’t had this problem happen, but if the pandan liquid starts to solidify before you pour it onto the coconut layer, just gently heat the mixture again and cool it a tad before pouring it onto the coconut layer.

Pandan Coconut Jelly

(Makes 8 squares)

  • 3 1/4 cups water
  • 5 teaspoons agar powder
  • 1/3 cup sugar, more to taste
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons pandan essence
  • 2 tablespoons coconut milk
  • 1-2 drops green food coloring, optional

Directions

  1. Bring water, agar powder and sugar to a boil. Lower to a simmer until all the agar powder dissolves. Turn off heat and add in pandan essence.
  2. In a separate bowl, take out 1 cup of pandan liquid and mix in coconut milk. Pour into a 14x10-inch rectangular glass dish. Put into refrigerator for 15-30 minutes until the layer is set.
  3. Meanwhile, add 1-2 drops of green food coloring to the cooling pandan liquid.
  4. Once the coconut layer is set, gently pour the pandan liquid onto the coconut layer. Place into refrigerator for 4-6 hours until both layers are set.
  5. Cut and serve.