KitchenTigress: Kueh Lapis (II)

Kueh Lapis (II)

Kueh lapis is tapioca starch that's mixed with coconut milk and sugar, then steamed one thin layer at a time.

Coconut milk gives kueh lapis its taste and aroma. Tapioca starch makes its texture chewy and stretchy.

Traditionally, there're 9 layers in kueh lapis. That's why it's Chinese name means 9-layer cake (九层糕).

My kueh lapis also has 9 layers. Each white portion is made with 2 white layers, not just 1. Double stacking makes the contrast between white and blue more distinct.

Long before unicorn food became a fad, kueh lapis had multi-coloured layers. The most popular colour combination is red, green and white. The topmost layer is typically red, probably for good luck.

My kueh lapis is blue and white. The blue layers are coloured with blue pea flowers, so I don't use artificial food dyes.

Kueh lapis is best enjoyed layer by layer.

You peel off a layer, tilt your head back, say "Aaah!", 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 have a very long tongue.

Shake your head to make the tongue flop from side to side. Enjoy the chewy texture and coconut fragrance when you're done playing.

Kueh lapis is a food you should play with.

How to make kueh lapis

Step-by-step guide

Kueh lapis is steamed layer by layer. Follow the instructions carefully to make sure all the layers stick together.

kueh lapis
(For 10 pieces)
  • 50 fresh bunga telang (blue pea flowers), or any artificial food colour you like
  • 4 pandan leaves
  • 185 g sugar
  • ⅓ tsp salt
  • 400 ml freshly squeezed coconut milk, undiluted
  • 200 g tapioca starch
  1. If using bunga telang, rinse flowers gently. Drain. Blot gently with paper towels. Pound finely. Strain to yield 2-3 tsp juice. Set aside. Discard pulp.

  2. Rinse pandan leaves. Cut 10 cm long. Simmer gently for 5 minutes in 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.

  3. Put pandan water back in the pot. Add sugar and salt. Stir over low heat till salt and sugar dissolve. Turn off heat. Add coconut milk. Stir till evenly mixed. Add tapioca starch. Mix thoroughly. Strain into a mixing bowl. Push undissolved starch through strainer.

  4. Weigh 270 ml from the batter. Add flower juice or any food colour you like. Stir till evenly mixed. You now have 2 lots of batter, one blue and one white.

  5. Bring kettle to the boil and set aside.

  6. Rinse 15-cm square cake tin to make it wet. Line bottom with parchment paper.

  7. Bring steamer to a rolling boil. Pour enough white batter into cake pan to form a layer 3 mm thick, about 100 ml. Place pan 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.

  8. Each layer needs about 90 ml batter, other than the first one. 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.

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

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

  11. 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 parchment paper. Cut kueh by pressing knife downward, i.e. do not saw. Discard bottom parchment paper. Serve.

  12. Leftovers should be refrigerated. Steam on a perforated tray till just heated through, then cool to room temperature before eating.