Thursday, September 05, 2013

#Eatsomethingnice article 6 - Kuih Muih

proudly a part of #saysomethingnice
image credit: Veronica Ng

Kuih is a fairly broad and generic Malay term which can include items like cakes, cookies, dumplings, pudding, biscuit and pastries. Kuih are more often steamed than baked, with some being boiled, grilled or fried.

They are thus very different in texture, flavor and appearance from western pastries. Mostly kuih are sweet, but some are also savory. Kuih come in different shapes, colors, texture and designs. Some are filled, coated, wrapped, sliced and even intricately layered.

As in all Malaysian food, cross-cultural influences are very evident in kuih, which is
not confined to a certain meal but can be eaten throughout the day. They are an integral part of Malaysian festivities.

In the Northern states of Perlis, Kedah, Perak and Kelantan, kueh-mueh (or kuih-muih in Malay) are usually sweet. In the Southeast Peninsular states of Negeri Sembilan, Melaka and Selangor, savory kuih can be found. This is largely due to the large population of ethnic Chinese and Indians and their cultural influence in these states.

In almost all Malay and Peranakan kuih, the most common flavoring ingredients are grated coconut (plain or flavored), coconut cream (thick or thin), pandan (screwpine) leaves and gula melaka (palm sugar, fresh or aged).

The base and texture are built on a group of starches – rice flour, glutinous rice, glutinous rice flour, and tapioca. Two other common ingredients are tapioca flour and green bean (mung bean) flour. These play an important part in giving kuih their distinctive soft, yet firm almost pudding-like texture.

For most kuih 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 method of cooking was by "agak-agak" hand feel (approximation).

They would instinctively take handfuls of ingredients and mix them without any measurements or any need for weighing scales. All is judged by its look and feel, the consistency of the batter and how it feels to the touch. Each family would have its own traditional recipe.

While this does not claim to be an exhaustive or complete list, some of the more well-known types of kuih are:

Bengka ubi - a baked kuih of tapioca mixed in sweet pandan-flavored custard. The kuih is yellow in color but has a dark brown crust as a result of the baking process.

Kuih dadar - a cylindrical shaped kuih with caramelized grated coconut filling in a green pancake wrapper.

Kuih keria (Kuih gelang) - small sweet potato doughnuts rolled in caster sugar.

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

Kuih koci -pyramid shaped glutinous rice flour filled with sweet peanut paste.

Kuih lapis (layer cake) - a rich kuih consisting of thin alternating layers made of butter, eggs and sugar. Each layer is laid and baked separately, making the creation of kuih lapis a laborious and time-consuming process.

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

Kuih serimuka - a two-layered dessert with steamed glutinous rice forming the bottom half and a green custard layer made with pandan juice. 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 - glutinous rice topped with caramelized grated coconut wrapped in banana leaf.

This article would not be complete without an acknowledgement of gratitude and thanks to Kak Ena (of pisang goreng fame) for her kind introduction to Pakcik Bakar (just call me Burn, lah) and his friendly family who opened up their cottage industry kuih making kitchen and shared so much knowledge (and freshly made kuih!) with us in the true spirit of 1Malaysia. Ribuan terima kasih.   

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