Occasionally, I'll have a complete stab in the dark with some ingredients, just to see what happens. Often this will go wrong. My first attempt at this recipe was with a meringue roulade, instead of the sponge I eventually settled on. Think of a giant macaron and you'll get an idea of how oversweet this confection turned out - there's a good reason why those guys are so tiny.
Undeterred, the next day I had another go, swapping in a fatless, pistachio-enriched cake for the base. Fortunately, since I was planning to serve this at a shared dinner with some Instagram-happy friends, it turned out much better.
Before we get into it, a quick introduction to the hero ingredient is in order. Don't be fooled when you scroll down and see his rather unassuming role, you'll see why he's the hero when you take a bite.
Kewra water is extracted from the flowers of the pandanus plant. Apparently, in English it's known as screwpine, which is why I'm going to continue to call it by its Hindustani language name. Kewra is an incredibly aromatic essence with floral and intensely herbal notes, used in South Asia to enrich both sweet and savoury dishes, as well as for perfumes. Added to special occasion dishes like biryani it dials up the complexity, scenting the steam that the rice cooks in. Whilst in sweets the medicinal, herbal notes of kewra make milk-based desserts taste more creamy, in a similar vein to nutmeg or cardamom, but with a floral dimension that you might get from something like rosewater. Over in Southeastern Asia the leaves of the same plant, pandan, are a big deal, used to wrap meat, rice, and fish during cooking. The green-tinged essence is also a popular flavouring for sweets and desserts.
This is a light pistachio and cardamom sponge roulade filled with kewra-spiked whipped cream and a sharply sour reduction of pomegranate juice, sweetened with honey. I served it as a dessert after a spicy pan-South Asian dinner, which was probably the best place for such a robustly flavoured pudding. From my test pictured below, it's also pretty good with a cup of masala chai.
Ingredients - roulade serves 8
For the sponge
60g finely chopped, nearly powdered pistachios, plus 3 tbsps extra hand chopped
40g plain flour (use spelt or khorasan if you like your grains ancient)
1/2 tsp bicarbonate of soda
8 egg whites (280ml if you have a carton...if you can, get a carton) at room temp
75g golden caster sugar
1/2 tsp ground cardamom
Pinch of salt
Butter for greasing
Icing sugar to dust
For the pomegranate filling
250 ml pure pomegranate juice
1 tbsp honey
The seeds from one small pomegranate
For the kewra cream
1/2tsp kewra essence (taste and add more if desired)
150ml whipping cream (whipped with the kewra)
1. Standard baking prep. Preheat the oven to 180 degrees. Grease and line a baking sheet with shallow sides.
2. Pour the honey and pomegranate juice into a saucepan and leave on the lowest heat to reduce, it will be done when becomes a glossy syrup-like texture, take off the heat when done.
2. Add the flour, bicarb, ground cardamom and pistachios to a large mixing bowl and whisk together.
3. Put the egg whites into a large, very clean bowl, add the pinch of salt and whisk until soft peaks form. Add the caster sugar to the egg whites in three batches, whisking in between until smooth and thick.
4. Fold the dry ingredients into the egg white mixture with a spatula until well blended. Pour onto the baking sheet, flatten and bake for 10 minutes. Check and see if a skewer comes out clean, if not continue to bake until cooked.
5. Take the warm cake out of the oven, turn out and peel the paper off. Dust the top with a little bit of icing sugar, and whilst still warm, roll the cake around a thin rolling pin or roll of foil which has also been dusted with icing sugar to prevent sticking. Leave to cool in this position.
6. Extract the seeds from the pomegranate, pour a handful into the pomegranate reduction, reserving some for decoration. Add the kewra water to the cream and whip until it just holds.
7. When cool, unravel the cake gently. Spread with the cream mixture and then drizzle with the pomegranate reduction and sprinkle with 2 tbsps of the hand chopped pistachios. Roll the cake back up with the crease on the bottom. Refrigerate until cold.
8. Cut the messy ends off the roulade if you want to be presentable (I didn't bother), eat secretly. Decorate with the chopped pistachios and pomegranate seeds. Serve now.