What’s magical about magic custard cake?

The cake’s three layers, which are “self-made”.

The top of magic custard cake is a layer of fluffy cake. The bottom is a layer of starch which eats like kueh. What’s in the middle? Smooth, milky custard.

My last recipe, pandan kaya cake, is a combination of cake and kueh. Magic custard cake gives you not only cake and kueh but custard as well. And you don’t have to make the kueh and custard separately. Isn’t that nice? It’s how you have your cake, and eat kueh and custard too.

How to bake magic custard cake? Unfortunately, you can’t wave a magic wand and make a neat stack of kueh, custard and cake fall out of the sky. You have to roll up your sleeves and make magic custard cake using the separated egg method.

The batter for magic custard cake is quite unusual. It has a humongous amount of milk, so it’s extremely watery. If you put the watery batter in a pan with a loose bottom, it’ll leak. You have to use a one-piece pan.

The thin batter, when it’s baked at a low temperature, sets very slowly. That allows the ingredients to divide themselves into three layers:

1) The starch in the flour separates from the protein and, because it’s dense, sinks to the bottom of the pan. There, it forms a layer that eats like kueh.

2) What happens to the protein in the flour? No longer weighed down by starch, it rises to the top of the pan, along with the very light egg whites in the batter. That’s (kinda) how the cake layer is formed.

3) The egg yolks in the batter are sandwiched between the heaviest and lightest layer. The middle layer is my favourite. It’s custard that’s smooth, soft and milky.

As usual, follow my recipe if you want to bake the cake I bake. Don’t be alarmed when your whisked egg whites become a bit grainy. That’s the way it’s supposed to be.

If the meringue isn’t grainy at all, the cake layer will be too wet when the top is golden brown. Why? Because the water in creamy egg whites evaporates too slowly.

If the meringue is too grainy, the cake layer will be very thin because overly grainy egg whites are too inextensible to rise much. What’s wrong with a thin cake layer? It doesn’t absorb all of the fat in the batter, so there’s a layer of butter between the custard and cake layer.

Mind you, it’s not a good thing either if the cake layer rises a lot and becomes very thick. That’s a sign it’s going to be too wet.

When you hit the Goldilocks sweet spot, you’ll get a fluffy cake layer that’s neither too thick nor too thin, and neither too dry nor too wet. It goes very well with the custard and kueh, and the ratio of cake to custard and kueh is just right.

How do you make sure the meringue is grainy but not too grainy? By doing everything the recipe says, and not doing everything the recipe doesn’t say.

You don’t need a magic wand to bake magic custard cake. All you need is a good recipe.


(Recipe for one 18 x 18 cm cake)

75 g icing sugar
45 g egg yolks
85 g unsalted butter, melted and cool
12 g water
3/4 tsp vanilla extract 
85 g plain flour
1/16 tsp salt
360 g full-fat milk, slightly warm

105 g egg whites
20 g castor sugar

Fully line 18 x 18 x 5 cm 1-piece cake pan with parchment paper measuring 30 x 30 cm, without cutting corners of paper. Preheat oven to 160°C. Measure and prep ingredients as detailed above.

Sift icing sugar into mixing bowl. Add egg yolks. Whisk till mixture is ivory pale. Add melted butter, water and vanilla extract. Whisk till combined. Sift plain flour into mixture. Add salt. Whisk till just evenly mixed. Add milk. Whisk till evenly mixed.

Separately whisk egg whites on high speed till thick foam forms. Add castor sugar. Continue whisking at high speed till egg whites are at stiff peak stage – i.e. when whisk is lifted, egg whites form peak that’s straight, not hooked – and a bit grainy. Add to yolk mixture. Mix with whisk till fully combined. Scrape down with spatula and mix till even.

Pour batter into cake pan. Level top with spatula. Bake till golden brown and edges of cake don’t squish when pressed gently, about 50 minutes. Remove cake from oven. Unmould by lifting cake out of pan. Serve hot (cake may be cut hot from the oven if you use a serrated knife), warm, at room temperature or slightly chilled.

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