Kueh Lapis (九层糕)

Wednesday, 14 December 2011

Kueh lapis, take one: So there I was, poking the first layer of my nine-layer kueh lapis with a pair of chopsticks.  

Yup, it's cooked!

At this point, other people would proceed with steaming the second layer, but not me.  
Snip, snip, went my scissors, then I popped a small piece of single-layer kueh lapis in my mouth.  

Ouch, ouch, it's hot . . . . Mmm, not bad!

The recipe was from Cooking for the President, my go-to cookbook when I need help with local recipes.

After making sure the kueh lapis wasn't too hard, too soft, too sweet, too lemak, or too bland, I steamed the second layer, then third, fourth . . . .  

Uh oh, problem!

Each layer took five minutes to cook. That left me idling and bored, so I kept lifting the lid on the steamer to have a peek, and poke the kueh a bit.

The kueh lapis was a flop. The layers didn't stick together and each one, except the bottommost, was hard at the bottom. I threw away the kueh, reread the recipe, and realized I made two mistakes.

First, the kueh cooled down a bit whilst I was peeking and prodding. When that happened, the top surface lost its stickiness, so it couldn't stick to the next layer. No peeking, in other words, or at least peek and then reheat the steamer thoroughly, before making the next layer.

Second, the layers I made were too thick. As a result, they took too long to cook, staying liquid long enough for the rice flour in the batter to sink and form a hard bottom for each layer, except the bottommost. Why was the first layer spared? Because it didn't have any cooked layers at the bottom, acting as a heat shield, so it thickened and cooked through more quickly.

Kueh lapis, take two: I followed the recipe exactly, and got myself something to read whilst each layer was being steamed. This time, I had a taste only after all nine layers were done.

Piping hot and soft, the kueh lapis seemed like a great success. Once it was cold, however, two problems were apparent. First, it didn't have the stretchy, elastic texture it had before it cooled down. Second, the layers weren't sticking together properly – again.  

Kueh lapis, take three: The recipe specified 80% tapioca flour, which stretches like Elastigirl after it's steamed, and 20% rice flour which doesn't. For the third attempt, I omitted the rice flour and used only tapioca flour. And when I topped up the steamer, I added boiling water from the kettle, after the previous layer of batter was cooked. I then let the steamer heat back to a rolling boil before making the next layer.

In take two, I added batter and topped up the steamer at the same time. Even though I used almost boiling water, the steamer stopped boiling for maybe 20 seconds. That was enough to make the layers separate.

Why didn't I put lots of water in the steamer so that no topping up was necessary? Because the pan for the kueh, before it had enough batter to weigh it down, would bob up and down if the bubbling water was too high. Lastly, I steamed each layer a little thicker than in take two – 3 mm instead of 2 mm – because the pesky rice flour was out of the way.

With the three amendments, my kueh lapis finally had nicely formed layers and the right texture. This time, I gave it several hours to cool down and set before having a piece.

I can finally make kueh lapis that I'm quite happy with. Gonna die in peace now . . . . Just kidding.

Kueh lapis usually comes in rainbow hues of bright red and green. The colours are usually man-made. Artificial green food colouring has tartrazine, whilst red has ponceau 4R. These chemicals are refined from coal, and they're dissolved in propylene which is refined from petroleum.

I make my kueh lapis with bunga telang (blue pea flowers). Can you make yours with petroleum and coal colouring instead? Yes, of course. It's a free world.

31 October 2012 Update
My step-by-step video:

Source: Adapted from Cooking for the President
(Recipe for 10 pieces)

4 pandan leaves, wash and cut 10 cm long
185 g sugar
⅓ tsp salt
400 ml freshly squeezed coconut milk, undiluted
200 g tapioca starch
50 fresh bunga telang (blue pea flowers)
rinse gently and remove ants if any; drain, then blot gently with paper towels
1 piece parchment paper, 15 x 15 cm

Pound flowers finely. Strain to yield 2-3 tsp juice. Set aside. Discard pulp.

In a small pot, make pandan water by gently simmering pandan leaves for 5 minutes, covered, in just enough water to cover. Discard leaves. Measure 160 ml from the pandan water and discard excess, or top up with water as necessary if you're short. Put pandan water back in the pot, along with sugar and salt. Stir till salt and sugar dissolve, over low heat if you like. Add coconut milk and stir till even. Add tapioca starch and mix thoroughly. Strain into a mixing bowl. Push undissolved starch through strainer.

Measure 270 ml from the batter. Add flower juice. Stir till colour is even.

Bring kettle to the boil and set aside.

Rinse 15-cm square cake tin to make it wet. Line bottom with parchment paper. Bring steamer to a rolling boil. Pour enough white batter into cake tin to form a layer 3 mm thick, about 100 ml. Place tin in steamer. Steam 5 minutes over rapidly boiling water. Steam another layer of white, then blue. Repeat the white-white-blue sequence twice, making 9 layers in total. Other than the first one, each layer needs about 90 ml batter. Stir batter to mix starch evenly before measuring each round of batter. Have measured batter ready before lifting lid on steamer. Once lid is removed, quickly pour batter into cake tin and cover steamer. Every layer is steamed 5 minutes except the topmost, which gets 10 minutes.

Make sure steamer doesn't boil dry. To top up steamer: 1) wait till previous layer of batter is cooked; 2) reboil water in kettle; 3) add boiling water to steamer as necessary; 4) bring steamer back to a rolling boil, covered. After step 4, proceed to steam more layers as described above.

When all 9 layers are done, remove kueh lapis to a wire rack to cool down completely and set, about 3 hours.

To unmould kueh, loosen edges with a knife. Cover top of kueh with parchment paper to keep it clean, then turn cake tin upside down and knock firmly against chopping board till kueh falls out. Discard top piece of parchment paper. Cut kueh by pressing knife downward, i.e. do not saw. Discard bottom piece of parchment paper.

Serve kueh lapis as a dessert, snack, or for tea. Leftovers should be refrigerated. Steam on a perforated tray till just heated through, then cool to room temperature before eating.

🌹 To best enjoy kueh lapis, you should peel off a layer, tilt your head back, say 'Aaah!', and then pop the layer in your mouth. If no one is looking, let the kueh lapis hang from your mouth for a few seconds so you look like you've got a very long tongue. Shake your head to make the tongue flop from side to side before enjoying the chewy texture and coconut fragrance.


Anonymous said...

hi KT, which brand of tapioca flour or sago flour will you recommend? thks

KT said...

Hi May

The one I usually use doesn't have a brand name but it's made by United Foodstuff. I buy it at Fairprice. Alternatively, Sun Lik sells sago flour that looks unbleached.


Anonymous said...

i checked mine n its also by United Foodstuff. thks alot KT, for confirming. Have a happy holiday :)

Genevieve Ngui said...

blessed Christmas and New Year KT....i thought i sent you greetings yesterday but i guess they were lost in space....hope you will come up with more easy and exciting dishes for us to try....may all that you pray for be yours:):)

KT said...

Thanks, Genevieve. Hope your 2012 will be happy, prosperous, healthy, romantic, exciting and, most importantly, delicious.

Anonymous said...

Hi KT,
It's interesting how this recipe (followed exactly) didn't quite work out.
I borrowed this same book after reading some of your reviews, and was eyeing the cashew nut cookies.
However, I've been reluctant to attempt it as I find the ratio of dry ingredients to butter too high. With 1 egg as a base and excluding sugar, the ratio of flour+custard powder+ground cashew nut+chopped walnut to butter works out to be about 3.5 compared to other bloggers' recipe whose ratio are only about 2.2-2.5.

Let me know your opinions and if you have any similar recipes! Thanks in advance..

KT said...

Hi hi

From what I've read online, it seems some people prefer kueh lapis that doesn't stretch. One blogger even says that's the traditional version. For those in the non-stretch camp, they'd like Cooking for the President's recipe.

The recipe for cashew nut cookies uses quite a lot of nuts (vs flour). Maybe that's why there's less butter, or the cookies would be too rich. Interestingly, there's no baking powder. I'm curious to see if the recipe is good. If you try it, please let me know how it turns out? Or you could use my recipe here.

Anonymous said...

Hi KT,
Thanks for info on kueh lapis - never knew there are different types!

Your cashew nut cookie looks good too... a break from the traditional crescent shape.
Due to the lack of time, I've gone and made this tried and tested cookie last weekend:
The amount of flour + ground cashew nut in this recipe is not as high as Mrs Wee's, but the cookie is fragrant and crispy.

But yes, I am still curious to try out Mrs Wee's recipe after CNY... after all the effort in lugging this heavy book back from the library. Will keep you posted on the outcome!

Lynn said...

Hi KT,
I would very much wan to try out your recipe (100% tapioca flour- is it same as tapioca starch?) as im searching for a soft ealstic nine layers kuih recipe. And for my kid i would like to use natural colorings. As such may I know where can I buy the blue pea flowers in Singapore?

KT said...

Hi Lynn

Yes, I meant tapioca starch. Technically, it is a starch rather than flour but I'm used to calling white floury things 'flour'.

I think Kitchen Capers (Kallang) and Sun Lik (Seah St) sell dried bunga telang but please call and confirm. Dried flowers should be soaked in a bit of hot water, just enough to moisten. Then grind and strain as for fresh flowers.

Are you sure there aren't blue pea flowers in your neighbourhood, sitting idly on a fence? I've just found some daun kadok, which I must have walked past a zillion times to and from the supermart but never noticed because I wasn't looking.

Lynn said...

Hi KT,
Thank you do much for replying. Just called Sun Lik at Seah St and was told they are not selling bunga telang anymore. Thankfully Kitchen Capers still carries it and I'm glad to do the extra leg work.
So far, I've not seen any blue color flowers growing around here. I have not even seen a real blue pea flower before, oops! *blush* Daun Kadok? Ermm.. *scratch head*
By the way, where do you buy freshly grated coconut ? I'm sad that the stall I had previously bought freshly grated coconut is closed forever. Nowadays the newly renovated wet market like Tiong Bahru no longer allowed to sell freshly grated coconut (as in grate on the spot) as i was told by the stall owners. Sigh.. I like to eat freshly grated coconut

KT said...

TB market was renovated in 2006, wasn't it? The market I go to finished renovations in late 2009 but there's one stall selling fresh coconut. Maybe no new licence is issued after the old licence holder dies? If that's the case, I'm glad to say the coconut seller in my neighbourhood is reasonably young and fit!

Where to find fresh coconut? I'd suggest scouting the markets convenient to you. Small markets in sparsely populated areas wouldn't have any but most big ones would have one stall selling coconut and coconut milk.

Lynn said...

Hi KT,
Well that's what I know from a stall owner from TB market last year when I asked him about fresh coconut. Well I was at Toa payoh area yesterday and found one stall selling freshly grated coconut but have to squeeze the milk out myself.
I made the lapis kueh as per your recipe yesterday. The outcome was so unlike yours in the picture. Although it is now really soft and elastic like elastic girl, but the outlook did not look like kueh lapis. The white layer looked like translucent color instead of white and it was sticking to the knife during cutting. I wonder where did I go wrong.

KT said...

Hi Lynn

Tapioca starch is translucent when it's cooked. The white colour comes from coconut milk or rice flour (if using). Did you add water to the coconut you squeezed for milk? If you didn't, the colourless layer should look half translucent. If you did, more. It's funny you think the colourless layer should be white. When I made it with rice flour and it was really white, I thought it didn't look right. Then, when I made it with only tapioca starch and it was half translucent, I thought, 'Aaah, now it looks right!' 'Right' meaning it looks at Bengawan Solo's. It does, doesn't it? Anyways, if you like it white, you can add a bit of rice flour but that would make the kueh less stretchy.

The cutting part is easy. Wait till the kueh is completely cold. Then, using a knife that's longer than the kueh, such as a cleaver, cut the kueh by pressing the knife downwards. Don't push it forward; don't pull it back; don't lift it back up. It's downward all the way in one stroke, pressing the back of the blade to make sure you cut through to the chopping board. You should now have a piece of kueh stuck to each side of the knife blade. Gently push the two pieces apart with the blade, then you should be able to remove the knife without damaging the kueh. If the knife is shorter than the kueh, make one cut from the centre to the edge, then another cut from the centre to the opposite edge. Some people oil their knife but I don't think that's necessary since kueh lapis is quite oily.

Hope this helps. :-)

Lynn said...

Hi KT,
No I did not add any water to the squeezed coconut milk.
My previous attempt uses much more rice flour and the white layer was really white hence I had thought it should be white this time round too. Didn't know about tapioca starch changing color once cooked. Thank you for telling that! Now I know. :D
I see so that's how I should cut the soft and elastic kueh lapis. In one cut each time. My previous kueh lapis was kind of hard as in not so elastic so I could cut it easily.
Hopefully it will be better in my next attempt.
Thank you once again for your advice, appreciate it lots!

Yellow Candy said...

The amount of water in the recipe says 240ml but your method says 160ml. I am presuming 240ml isn't correct as I have just tried the recipe and it is way too soft, can't slice it without dragging the knife. Texture isn't good but taste is fantastic. Pls confirm amount of water required.
Thank you.

Susan tan

KT said...

Hi Susan

The 240 ml boiling water is for simmering the pandan leaves for 5 minutes to make pandan water. Depending on how well the leaves are drained before they're discarded, and whether or not the leaves are big, old, dry, etc, the amount of pandan water made would vary from person to person. Hence, it's measured for 160 ml, so everyone using the recipe has the same quantity. Any excess is discarded, or you top it up if there isn't enough.

Sorry the recipe isn't clear. Hope you give it another go.

ezs said...

hi, i tried ur recipe...but failed.... the kueh become "watery starch" in the end of the steaming....mmmm.. not sure which step went wrong....sad~~~~~~ (but it smelt really good, but not in shape)

KT said...

You must have measured something wrongly. It happens.

ezs said...

i will try till i success..NEVER SAY DIED!!!!

Isabella said...

I living in Melbourne for 9 years hardly to find steam Kueh Lapis. I finally got this wedsite. And I try the recipe out... that was awesome and fantastic. I share with my Aussie mate. They ask me "What is that called" I told them "Rainbow steam cake". Thank You so so so much.

KT said...

You're welcome.

Valerie said...

Dear KT thank you for all your recipes.... one of my favourite past time is to watch your video. Today is my second attempt for kueh lapis. Sigh............. flopped again. I did not use the bunga telang cos I cannot find but I followed all the steps except I had remove the cake tin to fill the batter, Guess what!!!!!!!!! they don't stick together n not chewy but got to say that it taste superb. Thank you so very much for all the postings and videos.God bless you for the work of your hand KT.

KT said...

If you remove the cake tin from the steamer before adding batter, of course the layers wouldn't stick together.

As for the lack of chewiness, either you didn't measure the pandan water or tapioca starch correctly, or the tapioca starch wasn't 100% pure tapioca starch (you're not in China, are you?).

Isabella said...

KT, I am temptation "Ang Koo Kueh" can you help me on the recipes. thank you

KT said...

Riiight, you are temptation "Ang Koo Kueh".

And I am Indulgence "Orh Chor Ke Lerd".

Isabella said...

Ha ha I can courier to you dark chocolate. How many percent dark you want.
From Isabella

Subject: [food-stories] Re: kitchen tigress: How to Make Kueh Lapis (九层糕)

angie said...

Hi KT, this is my first time visiting your blog and i'm totally captivated!!
Im new to kueh making and i only have a 20x20 cake tin at home. Was wondering if you could help me with the measurements and cooking time?
im a gone case when it comes to numbers........... :(

KT said...

I actually bought an ang koo kueh mould recently. Don't watch this space though because I might never get round to it. My mooncake mould bought a few months back is still unused and the mooncake festival long gone.

KT said...

Increase all ingredients by 25%. Steam each layer 5 minutes but give the last one 15 minutes.

Isabella said...

Hi KT, Guess What... I make Kueh Lapis again... Not enough for the party (All the 大学生 & Aunties attack the kueh) within 5 second is gone. I did make the kueh salat but I..... pour in the custard. I FORGET TO REDUCE HEAT THE CUSTARD OVER FLOW. AND THE RICE & THE CUSTARD WON'T STICK ALSO.... So I didn't bring to party... So "pai seh" embarrassed. But never mind... I bring my "winning kueh"ther that is enough. I so happy until I unable to sleep in 2.30 am silly me... It's very nice to chat with you. By the way my family call me "kueh Kueh queen" Love you....Subject: [food-stories] Re: kitchen tigress: How to Make Kueh Lapis (九层糕)

angie said...

Hi KT! thanks for the receipe.. My kueh turned out ok i guess (self consoling) hehehehe.. taste ok, looks ok, chewy but just doesnt stretch without breaking in 3, 4 secs.. and i couldnt seperate the base layer from the paper :( sobs...

Mrs O said...

Hello, KT, just wonder, instead of bunga telang, can I replace it with black-face general? It is a woody plant whereby the leaves (claim that it cures cancer). In chinese, it is called hei lian jiang jun. And also, are you going to bake kueh batavi? (before this video, I thought it is spekkoek coming, hehehe)

KT said...

Sorry for the late response, Mrs O. I tried kueh batavi once and decided I have better things to do than bake a cake one f-ing layer by one f-ing layer.

Not sure about black-faced general since I've never had it. Maybe try steaming just one layer to see how it tastes with coconut milk and sugar?

Sarah-Jane said...

I'll try this with beet juice instead to make it red :)

Katie said...

Mine turned out a bit disastrous...I didn't wait long enough for the first layer to cook, so the first two layers merged together..I took them out and started again but I noticed it had a beautiful stretchy texture to it! So I tried again and I waited long enough, but not nesrly long enough. Bits of red showed up in the white layer...I continued anyway, and blah blah blah...wan't too good...I'll give it a second whirl tomoroow..

KT said...

If you look at mine (or those that you buy), you'll see that the white layers directly on top of coloured ones aren't really white. That's because the colour leaks upward with the rising heat. Naturally, cooked layers leak less than uncooked ones. The leak should be uniform though, not in "bits".

ika said...

Hi KT.. i have just found ur blog after my many failed attempts in making this kuih perfect looking. my problem is there are holes-alike/bubbles on the top of the cake. i want the cake to be smooth. do you have any idea what has caused this? thanks,

KT said...

Could be water dripping from the steamer's cover. Or you're whisking the batter too much.

Hb said...

Yay! I succeded making this kuih using ur recipe! Failed last night using another recipe so i m happy to have ths made successful! My kids will be so happy tomorrow at breakfast!

kt said...


SR said...

"If no one is looking, let the kueh lapis hang from your mouth for a few seconds so you look like you've got a very long tongue. Shake your head to make the tongue flop from side to side before enjoying the chewy texture and coconut fragrance."

LOL something that I shall do too. The activity is no-age restricted! :p

I shall try your recipe and stick as closely to your tips while attempting to make this kuih today. I want the elastic kind (aka. Bengawan Solo type) as I am not fond of the traditional Malay style Kuih Lapis which uses predominantly rice flour in the batter.

Instead of sweet pea flowers, I shall use homemade pandan juice for a natural green colour as well as intense natural flavouring to the kuih. Wish me luck!

kt said...

What's a bit? 10%?

vouellette said...

Hi, I've tried 2 other recipes before and both weren't successful as the layers couldn't be peeled off. I tried yours last night and the layers can be peeled off - yeah! But the kuih is very sticky... Would it help if I substitute 15% of the tapioca flour with rice flour?

Thank you so much for sharing your recipe.

kt said...

Yes. You'll have to make the layers no thicker than 2 mm.

Kiara said...

Hi, I have been craving for a stretchy Indonesian kue lapis - one of my childhood favourites, and that brought me to your blog again. I made the kueh today. It turned out really yummy, stretchy and chewy. I didn't use parchment paper but greased the pan instead and the kueh was easy to remove from the pan without the bottom layer sticking to the paper. Great recipe! Thanks KT!

joch said...

Does anyone know the tune being played on the kueh lapis youtube?

alysss said...

I'm looking for kuih lapis ages and gladly I found u. I made it yesterday and I'm fully follow ur recipe.. no peeking, tasting ... but because I can't get the bunga telanga so I replace it with pandan leave. The kuih turned out great n fragrance with pandan flavour but when I peel slice to another slice I can't find any white layer and I just wondering why all become green colour. Anyhow my son only 3 years old following me peeling slice to another slice eating ^^ yummy and he can't stop after all. Thanks for your great recipe and method is described for clearly understood. Thumbs up!!!

KT said...

I'm glad you like the recipe but I still have to ban you from posting comments, or I'd be abetting your crime against the English language.

Farand said...

Hi! I'm going to try and attempt this recipe soon. Was wondering if mixing a little gula Melaka into the white mixture would affect how it turns out? I love the taste of gula Melaka!

woonie said...

Hi hi Hi, I didn't know must off the fire when put in the starch. ... :(... My lapis gone case. ...

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