Nyonya kueh lapis is one of my favourite snacks when I was growing up and I remember as a kid I used to enjoy peeling off one layer at a time when eating it. Traditionally made with just pink and white layers, this kueh has evolved into one with multiple colours, including some with all seven colours of the rainbow.
I remember that one time when my mom made this so many years ago, she had used just natural colours to dye each layer instead of using artificial colouring. Using natural colouring has become one of the challenges that I often impose on myself when creating food that requires colouring.
Whereas blue and green are quite easy to achieve with butterfly pea flowers and pandan leaves, other colours such as red and yellow are a bit more difficult because foods that contain these colours naturally also have flavours that may not lend very well to the dish that I’m making.
Following the theme of our National Day and Malaysia Day, I had intended to make a kueh lapis that evokes the colours of our national flag in red, white, blue and yellow.
So for this dish, beetroot is off the list because of its flavour, and so I was contemplating using dragonfruit for the red batter. When I saw pomegranates in the market, I made my decision to use that instead.
The result was not as vibrant as I had anticipated but it was sufficient for my needs. Perhaps dragonfruit might have worked better but I’ll experiment with that at another time.
For the yellow layer, the usual colourants would be saffron, which may not be accessible to everyone, and turmeric, which will introduce a flavour that may not be pleasant in a sweet treat.
My mother-in-law suggested pumpkin that is steamed, mashed and then added to the batter. I finally opted to use pumpkin shreds instead to evoke the shapes of the crescent moon and star of the Jalur Gemilang. I do like the speckled effect of the final result.
Most recipes consist of batters that are composed of a mixture of rice and tapioca flours, which results in a softer texture. If you want a more springy kueh lapis, you may adjust the proportions of rice to tapioca flour or even all rice flour for an exceptionally springy kuih. Some baking supply shops carry bags of pure rice flour in addition to blended bags from Thailand.
Since Nyonya kuehs can only be kept for 24 hours, this recipe makes quite a small kueh lapis that I think it’s easier to share out to be consumed before it goes bad. If you need to store it in the refrigerator, make sure your container is airtight to keep it from drying out.
- 70g rice flour
- 85g tapioca flour
- 80g castor sugar
- ⅛ tsp or a pinch of salt
- 200ml coconut milk
- 200ml water
- 2 tbsp pomegranate juice
- 10g dried butterfly pea flower + 1 cup hot water
- 100g shredded pumpkin
- Line a 15-centimetre square baking tray with cling film in case it leaks. Brush with oil and set aside.
- Mix all the batter ingredients together in a bowl, making sure there’s enough batter for nine ladlefuls of about 70 millilitres each in volume.
- Separate batter into three bowls, one to be left white, one to be dyed red with 2 tablespoons of pomegranate juice, and another to be dyed blue with 2 tablespoons of butterfly pea flower tea.
- Bring the steamer water to a boil, place the baking tray into the steamer and ladle in the first layer, which is the white batter. Cover with a lid and steam for 5 minutes.
- Open the steamer, let the vapours dissipate and ensure that the layer has hardened. Top up with additional boiling water when needed to ensure constant steam.
- Score the top surface with a fork and ladle in the second layer, which is the red batter. Cover with the lid and steam for 5 minutes.
- Repeat until you have six alternating layers of white and red, then add a layer of blue batter and continue steaming covered for 5 minutes.
- When the blue layer has hardened, spread a layer of shredded pumpkin on top. Cover with a lid and steam for 5 minutes.
- When the pumpkin is cooked, press down the shreds with a spoon and pour in the remaining blue batter. Cover with a lid and steam the final layer for 7 minutes.
- Remove from the steamer and allow to cool completely for at least 2 hours.
- Cut kueh into slices with an oiled knife to serve and consume within 24 hours.