I'm not Irish, though every year around this time, I can't help wishing I were. If you're a member of any foood site or community, you will very likely see a torrent of recipes and pictures of food of every guise and name, coloured green and shaped into shamrocks or doused in Guinness, ale, or, numberless permutations of corned beef and cabbage, all in the name of St Patrick, most beloved immortal of the Irish, in and out of Ireland.

The Irish, real and honorary, go all out to mark the day, dying rivers green (in Chicago), parading the streets, often in varying stages of intoxication (all in good fun) covered in green themselves. New Yorkers, seem to especially relish the day; their festivities and shenanigans easily rival the revelry of Mardi Gras in New Orleans or Rio's Carnival and even the celebrations of the Irish in Ireland, who have in the past, seen the day as more of a religious observance, honouring it in a far more reserved manner, and now see it as a day of both religious as well as cultural significance. In Singapore, we are a staid, reticent lot and most aren't even aware of the significance of the day, which usually falls on March 17, though the date is sometimes changed to accomodate Lenten observances.

In the past, I never joined in the melee-I was content to watch  from the sidelines. This year, the fever has finally seized me and I thought I'd make my own humble contribution and offer my simple but no less lovely Pandan and Red Bean Scones. We have many times been called a cultural melting pot, and here's the proof; where else but in Singapore would you find a Scottish quick bread, given a tropical twist by an Eurasian cook, to honour an Irish saint?

Pandan is a hardy aquatic weed native to South East Asia. It's long, stiff, blade-like leaves, which resemble those of the lily plant's, give off a heavenly scent that is a heady and beguiling mix of vanilla, lemongrass, orange blossom and tea rose. Different people will describe it slightly differently but all would agree that the scent is exquisite and unforgettable. A few leaves thrown into a pot of simmering sweet potato chunks or black glutinuos rice will permeate your entire home with it's intoxicating scent and alert your neighbours to your kitchen activites. It lends itself equally well to sweet and savoury dishes and bundles of it are even placed in vehicles and homes to prevent pest infestations, as they apparently dislike the scent, though why, I can't imagine.

I've used flavouring paste to flavour and colour the scones as the leaves themselves though extremely fragrant, won't give much colour unless used in impractically large quantities, which need to be pulverised with water and squeezed much like grated coconut is processed for its milk. If you cannot get pandan flavour extracts or pandan leaves, use vanilla extract and green food colour or, about 2 teaspoons matcha (fine green tea powder)added to the flour instead, as it also compliments red beans very well. I got my red bean paste in a 1kg pack from a local baking supplier, Phoon Huat. You should be able to get it at Asian or Chinese grocers or Japanese supermarkets. I did toy with the idea of making these in the shape of shamrocks but then, how tropical would that be? ;)

Prep 15 mins  Cook 15 mins  Makes 16 scones


300g (3 teacups) plain or all-purpose flour
2 tsp cream of tartar
1 tsp baking soda
4 - 5 tsp fine sugar
1/2 tsp fine salt
75 g (1/2 cup) cold, firm butter, cut into chunks
250 g (slightly under 1/2 lb) cold, firm red bean (adzuki) paste, cut into pea-sized dice and refrigerated until required
1/2 tsp pandan flavouring paste (thick and green)
1 tsp pandan flavouring extract/essence (thin and clear)
180 ml (slightly over a teacup) water


Preheat oven at 200 C (400 F) and lightly grease a baking tray or line with baking parchment.

Combine the flour, cream of tartar, baking soda, sugar and salt in a large mixing bowl and stir with a whisk. Work the butter into the flour quickly and lightly, until you have a bowl of coarse textured, buttery crumbs.

Add the red bean dice to the flour and stir through the flour with fingers, loosening any clumped together bits of paste. Add the pandan paste and extract to the water in the cup and stir well. Pour liquid onto flour and red bean mixture and very quickly, stir mixture until you have a slightly sticky dough.

Form dough into a ball without kneading, and flatten into an even square about 2 1/2 cm (1 in) thick. Cut into 16 squares or triangles or cut out shapes (shamrocks?) with a cookie cutter. Dough will be very moist, so handle carefully! Lift scones onto baking tray, placing them close together.

Brush with milk, cream or egg if you wish and bake for 15 minutes, by which time, they should be lightly golden and crusty on top but still moist and tender inside.

Remove from oven and cool immediately on a rack. Serve with black coffee, black or green tea or black coffee with a slug of whiskey  - I'm sure St Patrick would approve... just this once.