Thursday, April 16, 2009


Two important words in making Asian cakes are evaporation and condensation. It makes all the difference between jadi and tak jadi (To become or not to become.......To be or not to be) :)

Making a steamed kuih lapis successfully has always eluded me. I have never been successful at it. Either because the layers took forever to solidify in the steamer or they came out in a one colour block or the top looked like it had been spat on or all of the above.

Whenever I asked friends for a recipe or why the recipe didn't work I never could get a satisfactory answer. And it was often that I went home, hanging my head low, with my tail between my legs and swearing (genteely) under my breath. So that was how I lived for 800 years.

Then one day the heavens spoke to me.They roared "Evaporation'!! and 'Condensation'!! I wrote the words hurriedly down in my book of life. And ever since that divine intervention I have lived the following 600 years streaming tears of joy.

But it is only in 2009 that I have been brave enough to (decide) to attempt the steamed kuih lapis again, with the guidance that I have been accorded.

But another secret that I was not told was the fact that that *bamboo steamers are not just pretty, rustic little things. They are crucial and central and are the core of successful steaming in the Asian kitchen. I was not told that evaporation, condensation and bamboo steamers put together are a classic example of synergy.

For bamboo steamers, like punching bags, like women, like mothers are one of the parts of the whole that provide that vehicle for absorption that is crucial in the maintenance of harmony and sanity in this mad huffing, puffing, steaming, evaporating and condescending world. It absorbs all nonsense and all excessive drops from condensation and it is a receptacle for tears of anger, of frustrations and of steam. In an Asian kitchen a bamboo steamer is indispensable, that is, if you want a taste of an unrippled, unblotched, perfect and sweet dessert in a little corner of your life.

But, like all things good and sublime, its contribution to the whole is often overlooked, underrated and more often than not it goes by unnoticed. Except by the chosen ones.

Now let's discuss the recipe........this is a recipe from Amy Beh. It uses a large portion of tapioca starch or tapioca flour (they are one and the same) and a small portion of rice flour. But instead of the rice flour I had used glutinous rice flour by mistake but all in all it turned out wonderful and strangely enough it reminded me of gummy bears. This is a firm cake, slightly sticky and it cuts well. It is here that you can play around, that is, with the ratio of tapioca vs rice flour to get the texture that you like best. Half and half would be good to try.

There are softer versions that use a larger amount of rice flour as opposed to tapioca flour but which does not give that translucent effect. But which is just as delicious if not more. I will be posting the recipe soon.

Doing away with the traditional red and white of a steamed kuih lapis I used the juice of pandan leaves and made them green and white instead. Green is my favourite colour. The gentle yellow-green and the creamy white that eventually formed the thin layers of this sweet were just exquisite....... in my humble opinion.

Also, because it cut extremely well, I used a cookie cutter, stamped them out into pretty flower shapes and at the end of the project I was practically jumping for joy. I thought they were perfectly pretty, tasted very good and would make delightfully elegant after-dinner desserts or cocktail sweets or a treat for a childrens' birthday party.

This is steamed kuih lapis reinvented. I proudly and perpetually patted myself on the back.

The flavour was lovely and it is a recipe and presentation that I highly recommend if you want something old, something new, something sweet, something adorable and something really really good.

It's perfect for peeling too for those of you who have spent half your childhood irresistibly peeling off the layers of steamed kuih lapis before popping them into your mouth, like some adults I know. ;)

The recipe.........I halved Amy Beh's with some added adjudsments.....

The syrup :

350 ml thin coconut milk (from 1/2 grated coconut)
225 gm granulated sugar
2 pandan leaves, knotted
pinch of salt

Combine and sift :

225 gm tapioca flour/starch
60 gm rice flour or glutinous rice flour ( I used glutinous )
1 tbsp mung bean/green bean flour ( Or hoen kwe flour)(they all one and the same)

250 ml thin coconut milk (from 1/2 grated coconut)

Pulsed in a blender, strained and juice extracted :

4 pandan leaves, cut up coarsely
50 ml water

To make...........

Boil ingredients for the syrup until sugar dissolves. Strain and let cool.

Sift the flours, add the 250 ml of coconut milk and stir until smooth. Pour in the boiled and cooled syrup gradually and stir well to blend.

Divide the batter into 2 portions and to one of the portions add the green pandan juice and stir well to mix the colour in evenly.

Lightly grease with a light cooking oil (sunflower or canola) an 8 inch preferably non-stick shallow pan. Set up the bamboo steamer and get the water to a rolling boil and I really hope that your stove is level.

Pour in about 100 ml of white batter into the pan and steam for 6 to 7 minutes covered. Do the next layer green and so on until the batter is all used up and the green layer is the top most layer. Whent he final layer is poured in steam the kuih for 20 to 30 minutes to ensure that the whole kuih is completely cooked. team the last 5 minutes uncovered to dry the surface.

Let the kuih cool for 2 to 3 hours, brush the top with very lightly with cooking oil then cut. The knife of cookie cutter may be lightly greased for easier cutting.

This is not a tall kuih because I doubt that you will be able to find a cookie cutter tall enough to cut through if the kuih was any taller than this.

PS : If you would like to make it the traditional way and not stamp out cutesy flower patterns :( just double the recipe and use a 9 inch round pan instead.

* Bamboo steamers, unlike stainless steel steamers, absorb the drops of water from condensation extremely well thus preventing the food/cake from getting soggy. Although most stainless steel steamers have domed lids that allow droplets of water to flow and drip to the sides of the pan and not into the food it does not work as well as a bamboo steamer (and I suppose never will). The bamboo wood soaks in the moisture immediately and completely. This is evidenced in the dampness of the bamboo steamer after being used.


Marija said...

Again something I have never tried :) Looks ethereal!

Zurin said...

Marija, Thank u. its rather pretty but unfortunately it wld only be possible to make this if u have a steamer, esp a bamboo one. :)

Denise ^ ChickyEGG said...

I enjoy reading your articles, never fail to make me laugh! :D
I am those type that peel off every layer when I eat kuih lapis! so syoK!

Zurin said...

Denise, "Rip the skin and chop the toenails!" I cant beat that! LOLOLOLOL u make me laugh! I wld really like to quote u in one of my future posts and dont worry I'll credit and link you!LOLOLOL

Denise ^ ChickyEGG said...

LOls ! Good for Halloween Theme


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