Traditional Malay Kuih

Asian Desserts Defined

1. September 2007 | Category: Uncategorized | No Comments »

Firstly allow me to clear the misconception of Asian definition when it comes to food. If there is such a thing as American cheesecake or British bread pudding, or Australian Carrot Cake, there is indeed no such thing as Asian Dessert anything. There are however a multitude of desserts across different ethnic groups in Asia.

So you can imagine how rich the Asian food culture is, if you collectively identify them as Chinese, Malay, Japanese, Indian, Korean, Thai, Vietnamese, Burmese, Indonesian, Arabic, Philippines etc. Each culture carries with it a totally different tradition and heritage and this is reflected in their desserts as well.

One particular “Asian” dessert that is little known amongst Westerners are the traditional Malay kuihs. These are delightful chewy and rich desserts that are made from natural ingredients like tapioca flour, sweet potato flour, bananas, palm sugar, coconut milk, glutinous rice etc. There are more than 100 different types of Malay kuihs and these recipes emerged and came from the Indonesian and Malay villages. I grew up with these kuihs and used to watch my grandmother lovingly prepared her goodies over the stove and delighted in feeding us those delectables. She too learned the skill from her homeland in Sumatera Indonesia before she migrated to Singapore.

In those days, the womenfolk discovered resourceful ways to make their desserts and snacks from natural ingredients or whatever they grew in their garden and grew on trees. These kuihs were steamed mostly, sometimes grilled - baking was nonexistent because they not only did not have any oven, electricity was scarce. Besides sweets, there are also savoury version which is often eaten or served during tea time.

Today kuihs are such popular desserts in Southeast Asia mainly in Singapore, Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand. Yet very few people know the secrets of making kuihs as many recipe books are written in English. Some recipes are available on the internet. I know of many Western friends or those living in the west, who would regularly request for translated version from me. In this part of the world, it is quite easy to find these desserts from the wet market to hotels and restaurants. Many of the recipes have been simplified and subsitutes are introduced for eg fullcream milk is used instead of coconut milk.

Many locals make their living from selling these kuihs as there are more people willing to eat than to learn the art of making these traditional and delicious desserts. The Malays knew the secrets to make these kuihs differently from other desserts through the use of banana and pandan leaves for fragrance and colour, through use of combined flour to give contrasting tastes and use of palm sugar melted like cheese to heighten the eating sensation.

If you love baking and cooking, you will enjoy learning the art of making this “Asian” dessert which belongs to the Malay or Indonesian ethnic group. While Asians are familiar with western desserts, and enjoying a wonderful choice of desserts, the westerners are yet to discover a whole new world of desserts which can be quickly learned and easily made. Not to mention, to impress the entire neighbourhood!

Click the link to get your free Malay kuih recipes and view the pictures and video.

Missing Food Back Home - Malay Kuih

21. August 2007 | Category: Uncategorized | No Comments »

My Singaporean friend who now lives in California constantly talks about food back home, and home is Singapore. She loves her foods, and having lived there for more than five years, she discovers there are few precious foods which cannot be found anywhere in California or elsewhere in US.

One of the things she misses and hopes many Americans will discover is this exotic traditional sweet and savoury dessert group called Malay Kuih. Originating from Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore, Malay kuih recipes were exported from the deep villages and brought to life and popularized now in big cities and hotels and restaurants.

Yet the art of making these kuihs is still elusive to many people, that goes for Asians as well. These gooey and delicious desserts are still not known to people in the US or Europe and it is such a pity such glorious foods are hidden from a population who loves desserts.

Most of us in Southeast Asia are familiar with western cakes, puddings and brownies and we often have a wide selection of desserts of east/west to choose from to satisfy our sweet tooth. If only our desserts are known in the west, more people will learn to make them and impress their family and friends. This also makes for a great and new potluck idea.

It is totally different from the western desserts and yet achieves similar gratification. The creative use of colours and fragrance from banana or pandan leaves make these kuihs distinctive and will stand out in a buffet crowd.

Unlike western desserts which use basic ingredients like butter, eggs, plain flour and castor sugar, the Malay kuihs use basic ingredients like flour made from tapioca, green beans, yam, sago and palm sugar and coconut milk. These are mostly steamed, sometimes wrapped in banana leaf. Steaming is not the only way to do it these days, as these kuihs emerge from the deep villages, new recipes have been created and baked instead of steamed.

Furthermore, western desserts are mostly sweet whilst these kuih recipes include savouries as well. This can be created from using tapioca flour and coconut milk and then topped with minced meat which has been sauted with spices and garnished with fried onions. These savouries are still called kuihs and yet many Asian eat them for breakfast or light lunch or for high teas. Basically there are no rules when it comes to eating traditional Malay kuihs.

These ingredients and method of baking were a result of circumstances where modern amenities were not available to them. So they resourcefully used materials like yam, tapioca or beans and made into flour. Steaming was done on stove using charcoals. Coconut milk was used to achieve rich and gooey results, just like westerners use butter or cheese. It is quite amazing what palm sugar can achieve in terms of taste and colour. And yet the result is equally comforting if not more.

There are more than 100 kuih recipes that are basically made from all these basic ingredients. Through creative use of colours and different combination of flours and use of coconut, these traditional Malay kuihs have certainly left some hearts broken when they leave home.

Click this link to get your free Malay kuih recipes and view the pictures and video.

Discover Traditional Asian Desserts

19. August 2007 | Category: Uncategorized | No Comments »

One of my favourite hobbies is baking western and making Asian desserts and that is why I get frequent requests to make sweet or savoury goodies for a gathering or a function.

When I was learning about baking and making desserts, I dedicated a day in the week, when I was not working, to learn and to try different recipes. At the end of the year, I would have done 52 different new recipes, and usually at weekends I would drop in on some friends or relatives with these goodies.

It made me really happy to see their gratified faces when they tasted the goodies. The ones that usually get the top votes, are the Asian traditional Malay desserts which are probably still less known amongst foodies in US, Europe or Australia.

If you are a foodie and you can go weak with chocolates and cheesecake, you will want to know about these desserts which we call Malay kuihs. They originate from the deep villages of Indonesia and Malaysia and have now emerged in big cities and served at hotels and restaurants.

While many people enjoy eating them, very few know how to make them and what ingredients go into these delicious and delicate desserts. If you think that chocolate cakes, cheesecakes, moist puddings and fudgy brownies are the ultimate sinful foods, you have been deprived!

Malay kuihs use basic ingredients from flour made from yam or tapioca or beans, and a good measure of palm sugar and coconut - either as grated coconut or milk. These days coconut milk is substituted with cream or fresh milk for dietary reason. The kicker is in combining different flours and create layers of different tastes and colours.

In those days, the old womenfolks were resourceful in creating desserts for the family as afternoon snack and these kuihs also made use of fruits such as bananas, sweet potatoes or jackfruit.

Allow me to share one favourite recipe of mine called Kuih Ondeh-Ondeh Keledek. Made largely from sweet potato, the ball is stuffed with melted palm sugar and rolled into grated coconut. Deliciously moist when you bite into the goeey filling.


625g white sweet potatoes (steamed till tender)
3 tbsp thick pandan juice (squeezed from pandan leaf or screwpine leaf)
2 tbsp tapioca flour
2 tbsp wheat flour
125g palm sugar or gula melaka, crushed
2 tsp granulated sugar
Pinch of salt
ΒΌ of a large coconut (to grate without skin)

Method: Bring a large pan of water to the boil. Peel the sweet potatoes and mash well. Then mix the pandan juice and sifted flours. Knead into a smooth dough. Roll dessert spoonfuls of dough and flatten.
Mix together both the granulated sugar and the palm sugar. Place a piece of sugar mixture in the center of the dough ball. Join opposite ends together, press slightly and roll into a ball. Drop into boiling water and cook till they float. Drain. Mix together the grated coconut and salt on a tray or flat plate. Roll in the cooked kuih altogether and pack in the grated coconut till the external is covered.

Serve when it is cooler otherwise the melted hot palm sugar will burn your tongue.

Click here to get more free Kuih Recipes and watch a cool video.

Little Known Exotic Asian Desserts

14. August 2007 | Category: Uncategorized | No Comments »

An American friend on a visit to Singapore some time back stumbled upon colourful and delicious gooey desserts which he had never tasted or heard before. I said to him those were called Kuih or sometimes spelt as kueh, and these kuihs originated from the Malays, a race of people from Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore.

My friend thought it remarkable that these kuihs were little known to the western world, especially in the USA and Europe, where people love cheesecakes and puddings and fudge, they too would love to not only eat these kuihs, but make them as well. And so of course I packed for him a nice box of kuih as a gift when he left which I am sure he must have eaten them all at the airport.

If you must know, these kuihs were created in the deep Malay villages by resourceful grandmothers who created recipes made from whatever ingredients that were available then like tapioca flour, palm sugar, coconut milk, glutinuous rice, green beans, banana leaves, pandan leaves etc. And of course they had plain flour and sugar as well. They did not have ovens back then, so these kuihs were mostly steamed or grilled.

The end results are moist, rich, chewy desserts and for those that have palm sugar in them, would guarantee the equivalent of chocolate melt. And the colours will make any chef pleased and happy.

The kuih recipes had since then travelled from the deep villages of Indonesia and Malaysia when our forefathers migrated to the cities and other countries.

Today Malay kuih recipes have expanded into many versions but essentially using the base ingredients like coconut milk, sugar (white or brown),eggs, flour (several types), just like western desserts must have their butter, sugar, eggs and cake flour.

But that is not all. Variety is indeed the spice of life, no pun intended - these kuihs also come in savoury version where spices are sometimes added and eaten as snacks or in between meals. In fact, Asians eat sweet or savour desserts for breakfast, as snacks, at teatime or just in between meals. Or served to guests whenever they drop in.

I especially love Kuih Pulut Panggang where grated coconut cooked with spice is wrapped around steamed glutinuous rice and then wrapped in banana leaf and grilled. Imagine the smell and taste contrast of the plain glutinuous rice and the spicy coconut, heightened by the smell of banana leaf.

Many people have made a living from making and selling these kuihs, some at the back streets, at the market and little dessert stores. These days hotel chefs have started to serve them at functions and catering businesses have thrived as well.

Another friend recently arrived in Singapore and I got him about 8 different pieces of kuih. He said he couldn’t possibly finish them all and would share with his room mates. But he ended eating them all because they all tasted deliciously and interestingly different.

After hearing about these kuih, I’m sure you want to try out these delicious kuih for yourself. Check them out here: