Who doesn’t like cendol, that cold and creamy coconut dessert that we long for on any hot afternoon? It’s also one of the first things that those who observe Ramadan break their fast on, for its shaved ice to quench the thirst and the sweet gula melaka to recharge the energy.
Another hot favourite during Ramadan is kuih talam, with that double layer of springy kuih of pandan and coconut.
What about merging of the two iconic desserts into one: the kuih talam cendol. If you’ve never had this before, you’re in for a real treat. Instead of a green pandan layer at the bottom and a white santan layer on top, the kuih talam cendol has a gula melaka bottom layer and a white santan layer speckled with strands of cendol.
Starting with the bottom layer, you need to get the best quality gula melaka that you can buy. We got really good ones from Jonker Street, and the results were amazing. The fragrance of the gula melaka really came through, and although there was no additional sugar in this recipe, it was sweet enough.
You would notice that there is an addition of a quarter teaspoon of lye solution, or alkali water for the bottom layer. This is air abu soda or kansui, which gives the kuih a bit of springiness. But do be cautious about adding too much because an overdose of lye can give the kuih a soapy flavour.
The top layer, however, does not contain lye solution because traditionally the coconut layer tends to be a bit softer, which gives this layer a more lemak mouth feel.
More experienced cooks would sometimes cook each batter directly in the pot, stirring continuously to avoid any lumps. However, I’ve been taught to cook it in a double boiler or bain-marie while whisking vigorously. I find it easier to control the heat in a double boiler and whisking as it thickens creates a very smooth texture.
The recommended size of the square or round pan is 25 centimetres or 8 inches. Although the round pan will give you a slightly higher kuih, I prefer to use a square pan because it’s easier to line it with baking paper. Lining the pan means I don’t have to oil the pan and I can just lift up the paper to remove the kuih when it’s done.
After spreading out the bottom layer of the kuih talam into an even layer, use a spatula to create some ripples on the surface of the batter before steaming it. This will give the top layer a bit of grip when poured in later. If the surface of the bottom layer has smoothed out too much during the steaming, you can scrape it a bit with a fork so that the top layer can grip on to the bottom layer.
I’ve previously made a mistake of not steaming the bottom layer before adding the top layer and the result was an uncooked kuih that remained gooey in the centre and overcooked on top and at the sides.
Kuih talam is a dessert where each step has a defined purpose, so we cannot take shortcuts if we want to achieve the artistry of a Nyonya kuih that the Peranakans have taken centuries to refine.
- For bottom layer:
- 150g palm sugar
- 350ml water
- 3 pandan leaves
- 100ml coconut milk
- ¼ tsp lye solution
- 60g rice flour
- 25g green pea flour
- 20g cornstarch
- For top layer:
- 40g granulated sugar
- 200ml water
- 150ml coconut milk
- ½ tsp salt
- 30g rice flour
- 15g green pea flour
- 20g cornstarch
- 200g cendol
- Boil palm sugar in water with pandan leaves until the sugar has dissolved.
- Stir coconut milk and lye solution into the syrup, then strain into a mixing bowl.
- Sift together rice flour, green pea flour and cornstarch. Make a well in the centre and pour in coconut milk and palm sugar mixture and combine into a smooth batter.
- Cook batter in a double boiler, whisking vigorously until thickened, about 5 minutes.
- Line a 20-centimetre round or square pan with baking parchment. Pour into pan and spread into an even layer, but ripple the top to create an uneven surface. Then steam over boiling water for 15 minutes.
- Sift together salt, rice flour, green pea flour and cornstarch. Make a well in the centre and pour in coconut milk, water and sugar, then combine into a smooth batter.
- Cook batter in a double boiler, whisking vigorously until thickened, about 5 minutes. Then stir in the cendol, gently to make sure the strands do not break.
- If the steamed bottom layer has become too smooth, scratch its surface with a fork before pouring over the top layer. Then steam over boiling water for another 15 minutes.
- Remove from steamer and allow to cool in the refrigerator for at least 4 hours before cutting to serve.