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Kueh

Kuih (alternatively Kueh or Kue) is the term given to various manners of bite-sized food item in the Malaysian peninsula, 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 (Malay plural kueh-mueh or kuih-muih) 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(Tahun Baru Cina in Malay for Peranakans.

Makeup

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. The 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 topi of each other. Each layer is laid down and baked 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.
 

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