KitchenTigress: Ang Ku Kueh (Kuih Angkoo)

Ang Ku Kueh (Kuih Angkoo)

"Ang ku kueh" means red tortoise cakes. They're always shaped like a tortoise but they aren't always red. Red ones are for birthdays. Black ones are for funerals.

There're various types of filling for ang ku kueh. The most popular ones are mung bean paste and ground peanuts. The skin, made with glutinous rice flour, should be thin and softly chewy.

I've just made some ang ku kueh. It's my virgin attempt but the results are as good as the best store-bought ang ku kueh in town. The mung bean filling is uber smooth, has a very strong "beany" fragrance, and it's not too sweet. The skin is very chewy and yet very soft. I tell ya, this ang ku kueh is really to die for.

I'd like to think my kick-ass AKK is because of my brilliant culinary talent. But the truth is the success is due to the excellent recipe from none other than "Cooking for the President". I just followed the instructions.

C4P's dough recipe is quite unusual. The ingredients are roughly the same as other recipes but the method is very different. First, glutinous rice flour is combined with water and then refrigerated overnight. Second, coconut milk is cooked with rice flour, oil and sugar into a paste before it's mixed with mashed sweet potato and the wet glutinous rice flour. Other recipes don't have these two steps. Instead, the ingredients are just mixed together.

I think the extra work in C4P's method is the key to the chewy and soft "skin", which is so good I shan't bother to try other recipes. It doesn't get better than this, seriously.

What about the mung bean filling? That's less complicated compared to what it's wrapped in. It's not rocket science but a lot of people get it wrong. Why? Because of their obsession over cutting down as much fat as possible. Compared to other recipes, there's a lot of oil in C4P's filling. The amount is absolutely necessary to give the mung bean paste its velvety smoothness and strong fragrance, without making it overly rich.

I've made 紅龟粿 all of one time but, hey, I already have quite a few tips for conquering the traditional kueh. Here you go:

🐢 Don't soak split mung beans for too long. The longer the beans sit in water, the more flavour (and nutrition) they lose. An hour is ample, IMO. C4P says three hours, which might be ok. Some recipes go for an overnight soak. That's definitely too long.

🐢 A lot of recipes, including C4P's, have the soaked mung beans steamed. I think boiling is better because it's faster but you mustn't discard the cooking liquid which has heaps of flavour. Instead, let the beans boil dry. That allows the flavour released into the water to be absorbed back into the beans. The same argument applies to the sweet potato used for the dough.

🐢 How good the mung bean filling is depends on, besides the quality of the beans, how much sugar and fat there is. If there's too little, that means it has more water to get the right consistency. Water doesn't taste of anything and it dilutes the flavour of the beans. Sugar and fat, OTOH, enhance the flavour.

🐢 How long does it take to steam 紅龟粿? No time at all because the filling is cooked and the dough is very thin and partly cooked. The ones I make, which are pretty small, take about six minutes over low heat.

🐢 How do you know when the ang ku kueh is done? When it expands a little. If you continue steaming beyond that point, the dough becomes too soft, resulting in a flat, collapsed kueh without any distinct pattern. To lower the risk of overcooking, 紅龟粿 should be steamed over barely simmering water.

🐢 The shell of a real tortoise is hard but the make-believe tortoise's shell needs to be propped up. The "supporting role" is played by the filling which must be able to hold its shape when it's hot. If it's too soft, the "tortoise cake" would flatten into a pancake once it's heated.

🐢 The ideal filling to dough ratio is 1:1. The capacity of my mould is 40 g, so I wrap 20 g of filling in 20 g of dough. C4P actually uses 27 g of dough for 20 g of filling. That would make the "skin" a bit too thick, methinks.

🐢 How do you find the mould's capacity? Put it on your kitchen scale, tare, then fill it with water. The weight of the water multiplied by 1.33 is the mould's capacity.

🐢 To reheat chilled ang ku kueh, bring some water in a rice cooker to a boil. Put the kueh in the pot, on the steaming tray. Cover and switch the cooker to warm mode. Ten minutes would be just right.

I thoroughly enjoyed myself using my new wooden mould. I felt very authoritative whacking it against the chopping board – TWACK! – and out came a perfectly formed ang ku kueh. It was like magic. I'll definitely make AKK again but it won't be anytime soon 'cause it's a hell of a lot of work . . . . Oh hang on, what am I saying? It's a hell of a lot of FUN, not work! I'm making AKK again this weekend . . . I think . . .

How to make ang ku kueh (kuih angkoo)

Step-by-step guide

This Nyonya recipe is from "Cooking for the President". Nyonyas make ang ku kueh skin with coconut milk and pandan. You wouldn't find these tropical ingredients in original Chinese recipes. "Ang ku kueh" means red tortoise cakes but they come in various colours. Red ones are for birthdays. Funerals prefer black ones. This recipe makes green ang ku kueh.

ang ku kueh
(For 21 pieces)

  • 160 g skinless split mung beans
  • 115 g sugar
  • 80 ml peanut oil
  • 60 g young, light green pandan leaves – wash and chop roughly
  • 60 g undiluted fresh coconut milk
  • 2¼ tsp rice flour
  • 1 tbsp peanut oil
  • 2 tsp castor sugar
  • 1 medium-sized yellow sweet potato – wash, peel, slice 110 g ½ cm thick
  • 150 g glutinous rice flour – mix evenly with 125 ml water, refrigerate overnight, covered

  • banana leaf – scald in hot water, drain, blot dry, cut into 21 pieces each slightly bigger than AKK
  • rice flour, for dusting
  • peanut oil, for glazing
🐢 If you prefer red AKK, you should: (1) use orange instead of yellow sweet potato; (2) omit pandan leaves for the dough; (3) add red food colouring; (4) cook mung beans with a few pandan leaves.

  1. To make filling, soak mung beans in 480 ml water till expanded, about 1 hour. Drain, rinse and drain again. Cook in 180 ml water, uncovered, till soft and dry, about 20 minutes. Mash beans roughly with spatula. Add sugar. Mash till dissolved and evenly mixed. Add oil. Mix till combined. Blend mixture till silky smooth.

  2. Fry bean mixture in a wok over maximum heat possible, stirring constantly, till thick enough to hold its shape. Leave till cool. Divide and roll into balls weighing 20 g each (adjust to suit size of your mould if necessary; mine is 6 x 5 x 2 cm).

  3. To make dough, blend pandan leaves with coconut milk till finely minced. Squeeze to yield 60 g liquid. Place liquid in a small pot. Add rice flour, oil and sugar. Mix till smooth. Cook over low heat, stirring, to make a smooth green paste. Leave till cool.

  4. Cook 110 g sliced sweet potato in 120 ml water till soft and dry, about 15 minutes, to yield 100 g. Mash roughly. Add green paste made earlier. Continue mashing till paste is smooth. Add wet glutinous rice flour made earlier. Knead thoroughly till evenly mixed. Divide and roll into balls weighing 20 g each (adjust if necessary to equal weight of filling).
  5. To assemble, lightly dust AKK mould with rice flour. Flatten ball  of dough, to about 6 cm wide. Place 1 piece of filling in the middle. Cupping top of kueh with corner of right thumb and forefinger (for right-handers), nudge and press dough to seal filling. Roll gently between palms till round, dusting lightly with rice flour if too damp. Place in mould. Press to flatten and level top. Turn over mould and whack hard against worktop so that kueh falls out, onto shiny side of banana leaf.

  6. To steam, bring steamer to a rolling boil. Place kueh in steamer, on a perforated tray. Cover and reduce heat to very low so that water barely simmers. Steam till kueh expands slightly, about 6 minutes. Remove kueh to a plate. Brush lightly with oil. Leave till cool. Trim excess leaf around kueh. Serve.