Man's Vantage Point + [vegan]

The fair bit of Japanese cooking
lychee cake with pandan ice cream
Lychee cake with pandan ice cream

Experimenting with tia to, a Vietnamese herb that is related to shiso, which is used in a fair bit of Japanese cooking and is sometimes referred to as Japanese basil, I also thought would be a successful venture. Again, short story: it wasn't really. I'm not even as convinced about the possibility for delicious results on this one as I am with the laksa leaf ice cream.

There was a basil element to the flavor, as well as an edge of anise that had me thinking that tia to might be close to Thai basil's flavor profile. However, tia to also has a strong, almost medicinally intense pepper/menthol scent to it that, in truth, made me flinch. So, I'm taking this as a well earned, out and out failure. Sometimes when you gamble you win big and sometimes you've just got to shrug and biking over to the store for cookie dough ice cream.

Having kitchen failures is both scary and inspiring. It hurts to completely bomb out on something, but it can keep you reaching for the next thing, hoping that it will bring success, or at least validation. And so I was relieved to risk it all on pandan ice cream and come up aces. Many people call pandan (screwpine in English) "Asian vanilla," but that's not a particularly useful description because it doesn't in fact taste anything like vanilla. Pandan, a long flat, grassy looking leaf, is popular in Malaysia and is used in savory dishes as well as in sweets. It's usage in sweets throughout Southeast Asia partially accounts for its comparison to vanilla. It is an expected flavor and a necessary aromatic in many popular desserts. Like vanilla, it has an elusive quality that tastes like comfort, like something you'd want to swath yourself in. Pandan is nutty, toasted, floral, warm, grassy, intoxicating, delicately soft and yet demanding and captivating. It's sold in extract form in many Asian markets in the States, but usually has a great deal of green food coloring added. I prefer the frozen leaves anyway, also readily avaliable in Asian markets, which give just a tiny tint of palest green when used.

Pandan is also not for everyone. This was a hit or miss ice cream with tasters, but I adored it, especially on top of a slice of dense and fruity lychee cake, inspired by the lychee butter cake on Dessert First, which was incredibly delicious. I especially liked the idea of using lychee syrup as the liquid in this recipe and found that it worked very nicely to sweeten and so used much less sugar than the original recipe called for. The cake also turned out nicely with oil instead of butter and was plenty rich, especially à la mode.