As a child, I remember eating these pale and oddly-shaped cookies. Fragrant with pandan and coconut, these dry and crumbly treats end up melting on your tongue. It’s weird and delicious all at the same time. Goes well with a cup of tea – which sometimes becomes a necessity – to help wash it down. My mother tells me of how they used to collect Ovaltine tins throughout the year, in which they stored, and gifted, the kueh bangkit for Chinese New Year in Malaysia. Since the Lunar new year is coming up this weekend, I thought I’d try my hand at making these, despite the are-you-kidding-me from my mother and the eye-roll from my father.
While I knew most of the ingredient list would be readily available, finding fresh pandan leaves in previous years had proven difficult. Not so nowadays (I love living in a multicultural city!), as you can find both frozen and fresh (I used frozen – make sure to drain and pat dry the leaves) at the Asian markets. As a note, I found that the frozen ones (Rosan brand from Thailand) were quite aromatic, but it varies greatly.
Having secured all my ingredients, there was one more thing I had to obtain – a wooden mould. I checked downtown at Tap Phong and found only huge carved paddles to make moon cakes. Then I headed to Pacific Mall (cleaver shop, North entrance), and bought the closest approximation I could find, despite it still still being a bit too large. Of course, you don’t need a mould, but they’re really pretty and I always associate these cookies with the elaborate animal shapes they came in. We’re not talking animal crackers here, but intricately carved representations. Really beautiful. I had to settle for floral, however.
Now, this isn’t a complicated recipe, but it is laborious. And messy. Especially that roasting-the-tapioca part. Be prepared to have it everywhere around your stove. Ready?
- 400 g tapioca flour
- 6 pandan leaves (in 1″ segments)
- 250 ml coconut milk (and a bit more to spare)
- 100 g sugar
- 2 egg yolks
- red food colouring (optional)
- In a pan, roast the pandan leaves with the tapioca flour. It takes about 20 minutes on medium-low heat. You know you’re almost done when the leaves become dry and brittle. Be vigilant by the stove so that you don’t burn the flour – minutes 15-20 are sketchy. You’ll want to keep at it for pretty much a full 20 minutes or until you think it may be browning. Keep the flour as white as possible, but maximize your toasting. Set aside in a bowl and let cool. For best results, leave overnight with the pandan. Sieve the flour when cool. Note: I usually have only 75% of what I started with left at this point. That’s okay. But you’ll want some extra flour for your mould if you’re using one.
- Whip yolk and sugar until light.
- Mix in coconut milk.
- Add 350 g of tapioca flour until fully combined. By the end, you’ll be kneading this into a soft dough.
- If you see that the dough is dry, add more coconut milk, 1 tsp at a time.
- Form small bite-sized balls and place on to cookie sheet. Bite. Sized. Trust me. Think 0.5″ in diameter. If you have a mold, here’s the time to use it!
- Bake for 22 minutes at 350°F (for 8-9g dough balls). The bottoms should be brown, but the cookies should not! Let cool overnight.
- Take a toothpick and dip one end into the red food colouring (mixed with a bit of water so it’s less saturated). Usually, this dot would be for the animal’s eye, but if you’re making round cookies, one in the centre is just fine.
Having made a test-run before this weekend’s festivities, I was gratified to see my mother’s surprise and hear my father’s gruff “it’s okay” (high praise indeed!) on tasting the results. I really missed having a nice mold, both for aesthetics and for its portion size, so I will have to ask one of the Ah Po’s to bring back an appropriate mould the next time they visit Malaysia. Can’t wait to see the reactions from the aunties and uncles this weekend. Will do a photo update when I’ve got them baked up tomorrow. Silly me forgot to shoot the test cookies… >_<
Feb 16, 2010 update: The family liked it a lot! Made 150+ cookies and they all went. Guess this sparks a yearly tradition…!