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Kuih Lapis or Kueh Lapis

in Diana's Recipe Book

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Kuih (alternatively Kueh or Kue) is the term given to various manners of bite-sized food items in the Malay Archipelago, much like Spain's tapas. They are usually - but not always - sweet and intricate creations, including cakes, cookies and puddings. It can also be described as Pastry, however it is to be noted that the Asian concept of "cakes" and "pastries" is different from that of the Western one. Kuih's, plurified kueh-mueh or kuih-muih in Malay are more often steamed than baked, and thus very different in texture, flavour and appearance from Western cakes or puff pastries.

In most Malaysia states, usually the Northern states of Perlis, Kedah, Perak and Kelantan, kuihs are sweet; but in the Southeast Peninsular states of Negeri Sembilan, Melaka and Selangor, savory kuihs can be found. This is largely due to the large population of ethnic Chinese and Indians which held much cultural influence in these states.

Kuihs are not confined to a certain meal but are eaten throughout the day. They are an integral part of Malaysian and Singaporean festivities such as Hari Raya and Chinese New Year, which is known as Tahun Baru Cina in Malay for Peranakans.


In almost all kuihs, the most common flavouring ingredients are coconut cream (thick or thin), grated coconut (plain or flavoured), pandan (screwpines) leaves and gula melaka or palm sugar (fresh or aged).

While those make the flavour of kuihs, their base and texture are built on a group of starches – rice flour, glutinous rice flour, glutinous rice and tapioca. Two other common ingredients are tapioca flour and green bean (mung bean) flour (sometimes called "green pea flour" in certain recipes). They play a most important part in giving kuihs their distinctive soft, almost pudding-like, yet firm texture. Wheat flour is rarely used in Southeast Asian cakes and pastries.

For most kuihs there is no single "original" or "authentic" recipe. Traditionally, making kuih was the domain of elderly grandmothers, aunts and other women-folk, for whom the only (and best) method for cooking was by "agak agak" (approximation). They would instinctively take handfuls of ingredients and mix them without any measurements or any need of weighing scales. All is judged by its look and feel, the consistency of the batter and how it feels to the touch. Each family holds its own traditional recipe as well as each region and state.

Nyonya and Malay Kuehs

The above refers to both Nyonya (Peranakan) and Malay kuihs. There are little (if any) differences between them; the line that distingushing the two are vague and indistinct.

Both Nonya and Malay kuihs come from the same family. The Peranakans, especially those in Malacca and Singapore, took heavy influences from Malaysia and its Malay culinary and cultural heritage. This means that, when it comes to kuih, there are many that are identical to both cultures, with maybe only a change of name.

With the passage of time, the lines of distinction between the two groups of kuihs have been fudged even more. Few Malaysians and Singaporeans will be able to tell you precisely which kuihs are exclusively Nonya and which are exclusively Malay or Indonesian. The term “Nonya kuih” is probably more commonly used in Singapore, and “Malay kuih” perhaps more common in Malaysia.

Types of Kuih

Kuihs come in different shapes, colours, texture and designs. Some examples are filled, coated, wrapped, sliced and layered kuihs. Also, as mentioned earlier, most kuihs are steamed, with some being boiled or baked. They can also be deep-fried, and sometimes even grilled.

Some of the more well known types of kuih include the following:

Bengka Ubi is a baked kuih of tapioca mixed in sweet pandan-flavoured custard. The kuih is yellow in colour but has a dark brown crust at the top caused by the baking process.

Kuih Dadar is a cylindrical shaped kuih with caramelised grated coconut flesh inside and a green pancake skin wrapping it. This is done first by rolling the pancakes around the coconut filling, then folding the sides and finally rolling it again to form cylindrical parcels.

Kuih Keria are sweet potato doughnuts. They resemble just like the regular ones except that they are made with sweet potato. Each doughnut is rolled in caster sugar.

Kuih Kosui are rice cakes made with palm sugar. The ingredients are mixed into a batter and poured into small cups (traditionally, it is done with Chinese tea cups). When served, the cup is removed and the rice cake is topped with grated coconut flesh.

Kuih Koci is a pyramid of glutinuous rice flour filled with a sweet peanut paste.

Kuih Lapis (layer cake) is a rich kuih consisting of thin alternating layers made of butter, eggs and sugar, piled on top of each other. Each layer is laid down and baked or steamed separately, making the creation of a kueh lapis an extremely laborious and time-consuming process.

Kuih Talam (tray cake) is a kueh consisting of two layers. The top white layer is made from rice flour and coconut milk, while the bottom green layer is made from green pea flour and extract of pandan leaf.

Kuih Serimuka is a two-layered dessert with steamed glutinous rice forming the bottom half and a green custard layer made with pandan juice (hence the green colour). Coconut milk is a key ingredient in making this kuih. It is used as a substitute for water when cooking the glutinous rice and making the custard layer.

Pulut Inti is glutinous rice topped with caramelised grated coconut flesh and wrapped in a cut banana leaf to resemble a square pyramid.

Pulut Tekan is just a plain glutinous rice cake. It is served with kaya(jam from pandan leaves) coconut jam. The glutinous rice cakes are coloured with bunga telang. Half-cooked glutinous rice is divided into two portions. Both are them added with coconut milk but one of them is added with the bunga telang juice. This gives the rice cake a very bright blueish-indigo colour which is appealing to children. The half-cooked glutinous rice is then scooped in alternating fashion into the original tray to give it a marble effect of blue and white. The rice is then cooked some more and when it is cooked and cooled, it is cut into tall rectangulars.

160g rice flour
20g green bean flour (lek tau hoon)
150ml water

For the Syrup:
190g castor sugar
300ml water
2–3 screwpine leaves (pandan leaves), knotted
250ml thick coconut milk (squeezed from 1 grated coconut)
1/4 tsp. salt
A few drops red colouring

Combine sugar, water and screwpine leaves in a saucepan. Bring to a boil to dissolve the sugar. Strain and set aside to cool.

Put rice flour and green bean flour into a large mixing bowl. Pour in water gradually and leave aside to soak for 40–45 minutes.

Add coconut milk and salt to the rice flour and mix well. Stir in syrup. Strain the batter to ensure it is free from lumps.

Divide batter into two. Leave half a portion white and add colouring to the other half.

Place a greased 20cm tray in the steamer and heat up for 4–5 minutes. Pour half cup of the white batter on the heated tray.

Cover and steam over medium heat for 5–6 minutes or until set.

Pour half cup of the pink batter over the white layer and steam covered for 5 minutes.

Repeat the procedure, alternating white and pink batter until all the batter is used up.

To the very last layer add a little more colour to make it a deeper shade of pink.

After the final layer is set, steam the kuih for a further 12–15 minutes. Halfway through open the lid to release the steam, then cover again until the end of the steaming process.

Cool the kuih thoroughly before cutting into small diamond-shaped pieces.

Source: The Star Online - CyberKuali
Date: April 25, 2006


Reviewer: sally
Reviewer: Roger
very informative and good presentation.

Reviewer: melayucanada
Wow!! That's complete info on some of the traditional kuih-muih Melayu!! Well done!!

Reviewer: Lunmaria

Reviewer: dayana
Hi, This is great! In my country, Indonesia, we call it Kue Lapis, and there is also another cake called Lapis Legit. It uses about 60 eggs, the yolks!!

Reviewer: Dewi Joris
It's amazing how you give the explanation about kue lapis (that's how we pronounce it bahasa Indonesia). In Indonesia we call kuih lapis in some other words. For Betawinese they call it "kue pepe", javanese call it "lapis", menadonese call it as "lalampa"

Reviewer:  Sofea Soederberg Stockholm
Wow! Yum yum since I did not get the chance to taste it though for many years. Now my husband is a Swedes and never take anything sweet or creamy. Lucky I found this recipe as just to complete my cravings. Finally alas! Good gracious.

Reviewer: fufu
is that any way to accelerate the soaking time if i want to produce it in bulk..

Reviewer: nat
I can't wait for the market to open tomorrow morning to get all the fresh ingredients, and your step by step is simple to understand.tks

Reviewer: CAS
I had some rainbow-colored kuih lapis at a fancy restaurant in Singapore a couple years ago, never knew what it was called but just remembered is as SO good... Wish there was someplace to order it from because it sounds pretty hard to make! Thanks for the info, though! Maybe someday I'll get brave enough to try it...


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