It documents the History of the Baba Nyonya Peranakans and details the important Cultural Traditions, as I share my family stories growing up in such household. Each chapter showcases a Nyonya recipe (Poh Piah, Chap Chai, Tauhu Sumpat, Sambal Nenas Timun, Kobis Masak Lemak Puteh, Pongteh, Ayam Temprah, Asam Fish, Ikan Sambal, Udang Lemak Masak Nenas, Top Hats, Buah Keluak, Achar Chili, Itek Tim, Laksa, Mee Siam, Sri Kaya, Kueh Chang Nyonya, Kueh Ee, Pineapple Tarts, Bi Tai Bak, Kueh Angku, Kueh Bakul Goreng, Bubur Pulut Hitam, Tapeh Pulut, Bubur Cha Cha, and many more!) that my Grandmothers were known for.
This beautiful book will make a great coffee table display and read, as well as serve as a document of our precious culture for many future generations.
Throughout my years of researching and writing Nyonya recipes, this cookie has been extremely elusive and the most difficult for many reasons. My grandmothers never made these cookies when I was young, contrary to what many think of the superwoman Nyonya cook – I only recall them coming home with plastic containers filled with these bright white morsels and tasking the grandchildren to place red dots with toothpicks dipped in red dye. However, my father recalls seeing his mother make it during his youth with a covered kuali/wok over woodfire. Furthermore, I came across recipes that either were not successful or required sago flour that is impossible to find outside of Malaysia. So, in a way, I was either afraid of trying again or I had just thrown in the towel, literally!
However, my love for these sweet treats did not diminish with time, and my recollections of them were always the fondest and warmest memories of my grandmothers whipping up a culinary storm in the weeks of preparation for the Lunar New Year. Recently, I came across some recipes in Nyonya food groups on Facebook, and I noticed that the cookies were made with only tapioca flour which is easily available – this stirred up my curiosity and interest in it again. Besides, the beautiful wooden cookie moulds given by my sister years ago were gathering dust and beckoning me to give it another try. So I printed out a few versions and I studied them before I made a couple of batches. Below is my version of it.
Making Kueh Bangkit is deceptively simple. The baking or frying of the flour with pandan leaves is to infuse it with the leaves’ aroma as well as to dry the flour out to produce a mouth-melting product. The use of the egg yolk with hardly any egg white attached is to avoid the stiffening protein from the white, and it is beaten with the sugar to lighten its yellow color – get store-bought and not farm eggs so that the dough will stay quite white. The dough has to be formed with just the right amount of coconut cream, not the milk, so that it is not only rich in flavor, but the cookie is flaky and soft due to the lack of excess water. The baking has to be at the right temperature and timing so that it is cooked but without the slightest browning. And finally, it has to be cooled down for a day so that the inside moisture distributes evenly throughout the cookie before it is consumed. In other words, lots of attention and precision must be given to the whole process, just like any wonderful complicated pastry.
When I showed the results of my cooking online in a group for expats in the USA, a lady remarked that there were so many good cooks and bakers in the group. I replied that necessity is the mother of invention, and so is nostalgia. I hope you are able to produce a successful bunch with my recipe and envelope yourself with fond memories of this cookie and growing up eating it.
I have provided an alternative it you do not possess a Kueh Bangkit mould.
Note: I tried another batch today using the baked flour straight out of the oven and once cooled down, and the end product had no noticeable difference compared to those made with 2-day old baked flour, as recommended by many Nyonya and recipes. I also made cookies with a 1¼-inch/3-cm cutter, and the recommended cooking time was fine.
60 grams confectioners/icing sugar or caster sugar (very fine)
1 egg yolk, making sure as little egg white is attached
2 cans (400 ml each) coconut milk, the creamiest kind, or 800 ml fresh coconut milk
⅛ teaspoon regular salt
Red food coloring
Baking or Parchment paper, not wax paper (optional)
Baking tray, large
Pastry brush, small (optional)
Kueh Bangkit mould or 1¼-inch/3-cm cookie cutters
Step 1 (can be made in advance): Turn the oven on to 300F/ 150C with the rack in the middle shelf. Pour the flour into a baking container or aluminium foil shaped like a bowl on a tray (for easy cooling later). Cut the pandan leaves into 2-inch/ 5-cm pieces and hide them in the flour with equal spacing. Place flour into the oven and bake for 1 hour 30 minutes.
Alternative: fry this in a dry wok on medium-low heat for at least 45 minutes, stirring very gently (or the flour will fly everywhere) until the pandan leaves are dry and slightly brown.
Meanwhile, place the coconut milk into the coldest part of the fridge.
Step 2: Once baked, remove the flour from the oven. If it is to be used immediately, remove the foil onto a plate or pour the flour onto a cooler pan. Remove the pandan leaves carefully trying not to break the dried leaves. Allow to cool for around 30 minutes or more to room temperature. If reserving for another time, cover it with some plastic film once cooled. Sift the flour to measure 200 grams in a bowl, and the rest into a smaller bowl (around 2 tablespoons worth) – be careful not to pass pieces of dried pandan leaf through it.
Step 3: Remove the fresh coconut milk or 1 can from the fridge – the cream should have solidified slightly on the surface. Gently scoop the cream, while avoiding the separated water, to measure 110 grams worth – open the other can if more is needed. Add the salt and stir well. Set aside. Return the rest to the fridge to be chilled if more is needed.
Step 4: In a mixing bowl, add the sugar, and make a well in the middle. In the middle, add 3 tablespoons coconut cream and the egg yolk. Using a large whisk or hand mixer, gently beat this mixture for around 3 minutes until the yolk is pale in color and the mixture is completely smooth and it does not feel granular to touch (to make sure that the sugar is completely dissolved especially if using caster sugar).
Step 5: (will take around 30 minutes): Add the flour in 3-tablespoons increments to the sugar-egg mixture and mix well using a spatula. Add more flour until the mixture is quite stiff. At this point, add 1 tablespoon coconut cream and mix with the spatula, breaking up the dough. Add more flour and mix with your hands as you rub the dough pieces with your fingers. Continue adding the cream until 80% of it is used and all the flour has been added. You should have a dry crumbly mixture.
Continue to add the coconut cream by ½-tablespoon increments by dripping it evenly over the dough. Use your fingers to break the larger dough pieces when mixing it. Continue to add the cream until the dough can just come together into a mass in the bowl but not form a ball – it should still crumble when pressure is applied. Cover with plastic film or moist kitchen towel.
Step 6: Turn the oven on to 300F/ 150C with the rack in the middle shelf. Place a baking/parchment paper big enough on a large baking tray – optional.
Step 7: Using a small pastry brush, dip it in the reserved excess flour and dust the mold indentations well. Shake off any excess but do not tap it on the countertop. Grab a small palmful of dough and squeeze hard to make it come together. Push the dough into the mold pattern making sure that it covers the whole indentation by pushing the dough quite firmly and evenly, with excess over the sides and mould top level (the dough should be a bit crumbly and fall apart easily – don’t panic).
When all the patterns in the mould are filled this way, use a butter knife to slide down the mould to shave off any excess. Turn the mould over and tap out the cookies on one end of the tray – you may have to turn the mould on the other end to tap out some stubborn ones. Repeat the process by dusting the moulds first. Arrange the cookies on the tray and use the brush to brush aside any fine bits of dough in between the cookies to a corner – remove with a spoon. If the dough is sticking to the mould, use a skewer or toothpick to clean the indentations before making the next batch of cookies.
Alternative: Roll or press down with hand on dough in small batches into ½-inch/ 1-cm thickness – if it is too crumbly, add a bit more coconut cream until it holds together more. Use the cookie cutters to cut the dough and transfer to the tray. Or you can push the original recipe dough into the cutter sitting on the tray to the above thickness.
Step 8: When the oven is hot enough, place the cookies in the middle rack with equal spacing from the oven walls. Set the timer to 20 minutes. At the 10 minute mark, rotate the pan so that the back of the tray is now in the front. At the 15 minute mark, check to see if the cookies are getting slightly brown at the bottom – if they are, remove them immediately. If not, continue to cook until the 20 minute mark. The cookies should be colorless and as white as possible.
Step 10: Remove the tray and let the cookies cool on the tray for around an hour – this is to allow the inside moisture to distribute throughout the whole cookie. Using the red food dye, dip the broader end of the toothpick into the dye and place a dot on the cookie, preferably the eye or the center.
Once cooled, you can place them in a storage container but do not close the lid tight for a day. They are best eaten the following day and after.
Recipe from my upcoming cookbook: Edible Memories.
Usually, the word “asam” denotes the use of tamarind in Nyonya cooking as found in many of its dishes. Here, however, we have a dish that defies the use of that local ingredient. But the dish’s sour element comes from the different sauces of tomato ketchup, sweet chili sauce, and white vinegar, seasonings borrowed from English colonial times.
In addition the above sauce ingredients, this relatively easy dish packs a lot of flavor from the ginger root, garlic, oyster sauce, white pepper, and dark soy sauce, all contributing to a complex sauce that will make you want to savor every drop coating the shrimp shell before peeling it. In addition, the young celery leaves and spring onions bring in more herbal aromatics and texture to the dish. To avoid overcooking the shrimp, mix all the sauce ingredients in a bowl, and pour it into the pan once the shrimp is no more pink on the outside. If you cannot find young celery, you can substitute it with celery leaves or cilantro that are chopped fine.
After cooking this, don’t be surprised to find yourself licking every drop of this fantastic sauce.
400 gm medium to large shrimp, heads off, with shells on
4 cloves garlic, peeled & cut into thin long wide slivers
2 Finger Hot red chili pepper, stems and seeds removed & sliced fine
2 tablespoons tomato ketchup
2 tablespoons sweet chili sauce
2 tablespoons oyster sauce
¼ teaspoon white pepper
½ teaspoon dark soy sauce
½ teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon sugar
1 tablespoon rice or white vinegar
1-2 stalk young celery leaves (Cantonese: kahn choy), sliced 1-inch (2 ½ cm) long
1-2 stalk spring onion, cut 1-inch (2½ cm) long
If shrimps are not deveined, follow these steps:
Holding the shrimp in one hand, hold a small serrated knife in the other hand, and start at the top of the first shell after the head. Cut into the shell and into the flesh all the way until before the last segment before the tail, deep enough to expose the vein – do not go deeper than the vein. Remove the vein and dip it with the fingers in a bowl of water to release it.
In a wok or pan on medium-high heat, add 4 tablespoons oil, and fry garlic, ginger and chili for 1 minute or less until aromatic and slightly golden brown. Add the shrimp, and stir them for 1 minute or until they appear just cooked on the exterior. When cooked, lower flame to medium-low.
In a bowl, mix the ketchup, chili sauce, oyster sauce, white pepper, dark soy sauce, ½ teaspoon salt, 1 teaspoon sugar, and 1 tablespoon vinegar. Add sauce to pan. Bring sauce to a simmer and let it reduce until thick. Taste and adjust seasoning. Stir in green onion and celery leaves for 1 minute. Serve immediately.
Basically this is a pancake that is enriched with the use of creamy coconut milk, molasses-like palm sugar, and pieces of the durian fruit or banana that gives it a strong and rich flavor that is distinct and hard to describe – pancake a la Nyonya.
When the durian fruit is in season in Malaysia, you can smell it everywhere you go, especially in the markets or near stalls where they are sold. This thorny fruit exudes a flavor and smell that are so pungent that you either have a love or hate relationship with this exotic fruit. The Peranakans have incorporated the custard-like flesh of this Southeast Asian fruit in this dessert in which the fruit’s assertiveness is lessened by its cooking.
I distinctly recall watching my paternal grandmother making this on a specific occasion. It was raining but she was determined that her grandchildren were going to enjoy this snack. Under an overhead ledge by the kitchen, she made a small charcoal fire in a portable burner as she poured the batter and cooked the pancakes with such attention and care. I stood next to her as I observed the whole process with anticipation, and she would give me the first few pancakes for me to eat while they were still piping hot. It was the perfect snack for a cool wet afternoon; there were indeed some benefits that came along with being the cook’s assistant!
If you do not have an Apom mould pan, one with round deep indentations, you may use a non-stick pan or silver-dollar pancake pan, but make sure that the pancakes are not too big, or too thick, about 3 inches (5 cm) in diameter. If you cannot find fresh durians, you can find frozen ones in Asian markets (or you may make this with just ripe bananas which is equally delightful), although the strong sulfur oxide-like smell will not be present, which may be a relief for some sensitive noses!
Makes around 25 pancakes
150 grams palm sugar (gula melaka) or light brown sugar
1 stalk pandan leaf, folded and tied into a knot
5 tablespoons water
½ head/ 1 cup coconut shavings, fresh
(or ¾ cup canned coconut cream or 1¼ cups canned undiluted coconut milk)
250 gm bleached wheat flour, all-purpose, not self-raising
½ teaspoon baking powder
¼ cup water
1 piece durian fruit or 1 large ripe banana, flesh only and cut into small pieces
Apom mould, silver dollar pancake or regular nonstick pan
In a saucepan, add gula melaka or brown sugar, pandan leaf, and 5 tablespoons water. Bring to a simmer for 3 minutes until it is a thick syrup consistency. Pour into a bowl and let cool.
Squeeze milk from coconut shavings into a bowl. Add enough water to squeezed shavings, and resqueeze to make a total of 1¼ cups of squeezed coconut milk. If using canned coconut cream, mix it with water until you have 1¼ cup liquid. If using canned coconut milk, do not dilute this mixture.
In a large bowl, mix the flour and baking powder. Add the sugar syrup into the batter and mix well. Slowly pour the coconut milk into the batter and mix well. Add some water bit by bit (around ¼ cup) and stop once the batter has reached a condensed milk thick consistency that pours into a constant stream. Add the pieces of durian or banana. Stir well to avoid lumps.
Heat the round Apom mould or a skillet on medium-low flame, oil it with a few drops of oil, and wipe off the excess with paper towel. Add just enough batter to cover the bottom (3 inches/5 cm diameter on a skillet), even batter out with a spoon, and cook until the top is quite set but still barely wet on the top. Fold pancake towards the middle and let the two halves stick by pressing down firmly – if the middle is still too runny, cook on both the folded sides until it is set. Remove and set aside. Take pan off heat.
Repeat process by first stirring the batter well, lightly oiling the pan, and wiping off the excess oil with the used paper towel.