Monday, April 23, 2012

kueh bakar or kueh kemboja (baked pandan cake)


Dessert is not negotiable in our house. Hubs daily craves something sweet after dinner, and glares balefully at my proffered plate of fresh fruit, when guilt drives me to seek healthier alternatives. It's only minutes before he'll be opening and closing the fridge and pantry cupboard doors in search of something for his throbbing sweet tooth. Determined resistance on my part only sends him down to the McDonald's outlet five minutes away on foot, for his cinnamon melts fix. I now know better than to even start peeling an onion for the main dish, if dessert isn't ready and waiting.


This  delicious Malay kueh (cake in Malay) is one of his favourites as it's wobbly, creamy with coconut milk and amazingly fragrant because of the ridiculous amount of pandan leaves I use to flavour it. That gorgeous jade-like green did not come out of any bottle, let me tell you.

Bakar literally means to burn or burnt in Malay, though in this case, it refers to the fact that this is baked, rather unusual for Malay cakes as most of them are either steamed or grilled over direct heat. The name kueh kemboja is either a reference to Cambodia or to a flower called bunga kemboja (frangipani) as this is traditionally baked in a flower shaped mould. Sadly the beautiful metal mould is increasingly hard to find in shops so I made mine in a roasting tin.


My boys love how much this tastes like kaya (coconut milk, pandan and egg custard). I love how almost ridiculously easy it is, with one proviso; you really have to blitz the pandan leaves with water and squeeze the very life out of them to get that beautiful colour and aroma no extract or essence can give, no matter how "nature identical" the label insists it is.


I have the greatest admiration for the good folk in their labcoats who toil to give us all manner of flavourings and aromas in handy little bottles, but I have to say that the humble pandan leaf has bested them all. To this day I have not found a pandan flavouring or essence that comes close enough to the real thing.


If you have sensitive skin, please get a pair of gloves on before you start squeezing. I have pretty hardy skin, but squeezing out pandan juice always turns my hands red and maddeningly itchy, especially at the webs of skin between the fingers. Extremely uncomfortable and completely avoidable, so please, not without protection ;)


Mum too loves these gooey green slabs of coconutty goodness, but she can't bite into one without remarking about the sesame seeds I love to sprinkle on top with abandon. She insists that in her youth (I don't even want to tell you how long ago that was!) the kueh bakar she ate never, ever had sesame seeds on them so she finds them an odd and intrusive addition.


I can't remember ever eating a slice without a layer of pearly white seeds crusting it. So, leave them out if you're in mum's camp, or sprinkle them over, if like me, you love playing with your food, and testing the laws of physics. They do add a scrumptious nuttiness and seem to prevent cracking on top too. But what I appreciate most about them is their visual appeal and how they stop the slices looking like green pencil erasers. Don't tell me you don't see it too ;)



Prep 20 mins   Cook 45 mins   Makes 24 slices as pictured



12 pandan leaves, washed, and cut into short lengths
200 ml (1 cup) water
5 eggs
200 g (1 1/3 cups) sugar
1/2 tsp salt
500 ml (2 1/2 cups) coconut milk
175 g (1 3/4 cups) plain or all purpose flour
2 tbsp sesame seeds



Preheat oven at 165 C . Generously grease a square or rectangular baking tin with butter.

Put pandan leaves and water into a blender and blitz until smooth. Pour mixture into a fine strainer and squeeze out the juice. You should have 1 cup of juice (200 ml). Discard the pulp.

Combine eggs, sugar and salt in a large mixing bowl and stir with a whisk until well combined and sugar has dissolved. Don't overbeat or the batter will rise dramatically in the oven then sink and form a depression in the middle. Doesn't affect the taste, but not very pretty.

Stir in the coconut milk and pandan juice. Gently whisk in the flour in two or three lots. Again, don't overbeat.


Strain batter to get rid of lumps, into the greased tray. Sprinkle over the sesame seeds in a more or less even layer.


Bake for 45 minutes or until set and sesame seeds are a pale gold. 


Remove from oven and cool before slicing into rectangles, squares or diamonds. If you're feeling artsy, cut out shapes with cookie cutters.

23 comments:

  1. Denise, I'm admit I haven't tried this nor have I heard of this sweet. Shame on me. Hahaha! I use a lot of pandan leaves in my cooking too but mostly throw them into the pot. Squeezing out the juice must be tough. I can smell the aroma from here, dear!

    Biren told me about our mtg. Can't wait to meet u :)

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    1. Hi Shirley, this cake is more commonly made at home then sold outside. Sometimes during Ramadan, I will see it being sold by Malay kueh sellers for the evening "buka puasa". I don't think Bengawan Solo sells this either. Squeezing the pandan is easier than squeezing coconut milk, something I don't like to do as the coconut milk feels quite greasy :P

      I'm looking forward to meeting you too! :)

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  2. This sounds tantalizingly good! I may have eaten something similar though I am not sure what it is called. I can imagine how fragrant your kitchen must have been while this kuih was in the oven. Love the color and also the sesame seeds on the top. Gives it a nice contrast. Very disappointed that the grocery store was out of pandan leaves yesterday. So "leceh" that I have to make another trip soon.

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    1. That's exactly what I told my mum! Without the sesame seeds, this looks 'naked' to me or eraser-like LOL But it still tastes good because it's so pandan-y and lemak, really like slabs of kaya. I guess the old schoolers will think the seeds are an adulteration but I like it, and I'm sticking with it ;) Wah, I can't imagine not having easy acess to pandan leaves - it's my favourite flavouring and so cheap and plentiful over here, I take it for granted...

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  3. Sigh. Do you know I still have never tried pandan? I'm desperate to. I guess it's like rhubarb for you. Your green sweet is so pretty and I like the sesame seeds on top - they look delicate and very pretty. What about shaved (or dried) coconut on top? Would that work too? My hubby, like yours, needs to have sweets after dinner. In fact, he's giving me the hairy eyeball right now, so I'm off to scrounge something up...

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    1. No surprise Ruby that you've never tried it - it only thrives in the tropics and most outside of south and south east asia have never heard of it, so there is little demand and incentive to import it over there, I guess. I'm wondering, would a bottle of the flavouring make it past British Customs, so you could at least have a fair approximation of its wonderful flavour and aroma?

      I did see rhubarb, just once, when I was 13, I think. I pointed out to my mum a pile of pinky red stalks in the chiller section of an upmarket supermarket along Orchard Rd, teemimg with Americans and Brits. I thought they were some kind of mutant celery. She told me they were celery stalks a snake had slithered over :D *sigh* Mothers!!

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  4. Oh, yes, the coconut would be a nice sub for the sesame, but I think only fresh grated, shaved or flaked coconut. Dessicated or dried coconut only as an absolutely desperate last resort. I've tried dessicated coconut and um, no, no, no, no. And no.

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  5. This is so lovely, the pics are stunning Denise. i must try this soon, so uplifting.

    new cookbook, exciting!

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  6. Wow Denise, that is just gorgeous! The color is amazing, and I just love the contrast with the sesame seeds...beautiful!

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  7. Oh wow - this looks simply divine! Beautiful in the photos as well. I've never tried pandan, but now I want to seek it out. :)

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  8. Totally in love with your space! I am glad to have found you through Tasteologie. I am bookmarking this to try very soon!

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  9. Hi there, this is a nice post. It would be great if you linked to it in my Food on Friday series. Food on Friday – Asian Food

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    1. You are such a star for putting up the link. Thank you very much. We will end up with a nice collection.

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  10. I have never seen anything like that! Unfortunately I don't have access to Pandan leaves, but I will write down the name for when I visit Singapore :-)

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  11. Oh, I am so tempted! Thanks for the recipe, I might try it soon.

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  12. I really want to try this recipe. Can I use pandan paste for this? That's all I have and can find...

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    1. Hi Jess, yes, of course you can use pandan paste. Pandan paste is better than pandan essence and has the double benefit of colour as well as flavour. I find that for the closest possible simulation of natural pandan flavour and colour, about 1 tsp clear pandan essence combined with 1/2 to 1 tsp of green pandan paste gives the best result. Hope you do try this simple but delicious recipe and that you will be happy with the result :)

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  13. I made this cake - it's amazing! It's like a Malaysian clafoutis, so soft and gooey, and fragrant. I used the essence and the paste, and canned coconut milk, and I can only imagine what it would taste like with all the fresh ingredients. But even as it is, it's delicious! And a large portion of it is already gone :-(.
    Thank you so much, Denise, for the wonderful recipe and for all the pandan tips. And I learned a very important and useful Malay word: kueh ;-)

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  14. I miss this kuih! When I was in university, I used to eat it. Now back at home, no Malay food around since I live in Chinese area. Your blog make me craving for it... hopefully I'll be able to make one.

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    1. Hi Sea, thanks for the kind words :) I hope you try to make this kueh - it's really very easy and the pandan smell and flavour is wonderful!!! It's so easy actually, that I wonder why it's not as commonly sold as kueh lapis, ondeh ondeh etc, which are much more diffcult to make!

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  15. hello! I just made the kueh with your recipe and am extremely pleased with the result :) i just wanted to ask you what you think of making a big batch of pandan juice the way u described above and then deep freezing them in smaller batches. Would it affect the taste/ aroma of the kueh in anyway? thanks :)

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    1. Hello Lynette :) Many thanks for your feedback. I'm very happy to know that you were pleased with the results of the recipe. I have never thought of freezing cubes of natural pandan extract, as pandan is so cheap and plentiful here. I must say though it's quitea brilliant idea! I see no reason why the cake would be negatively affected, as long as the pandan juice is kept in a tightly covered container in the freezer, so that the cubes don't absorb any odours from the other foods around it. I think you should definitely test it out! If you do, please let me know of the outcome.

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  16. Hello Denise, I made this Pandan Cake last week and very impressed with the 1st round result. I made it into 2 different styles, it went down a storm both with my man and little ones. As for desserts so cut down the sugar level. Please feel free to have a look at the photo on my Facebook #Thecungnegara, I could link it back to you if you want, just ask. Thank you for the lovely recipe. Its appreciated xx

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