Tuesday, December 06, 2011

kueh keria (malay sweet potato doughnuts)

Before I share today's recipe for an old school sweet treat, I just want to let you know that this will be my only post for this week and the next, as I will be leaving for Barcelona in two days and will not be back until the week before Christmas. Yes, I'm expecting the time of my life and I hope I don't forget to take photos in the midst of the fun I wil be having. Now about those doughnuts....

My grandmother loved to regale me with stories of the war she witnessed and just barely survived. The one thing she missed, or so she told me, while evading bombs and eking out a living as a widow with three children, during World War Two, were these simple but oh so moreish doughnuts. She sure was right about that much - of the dozen that I made, six went on a treacherous journey, down my gullet, never to be seen again. 

Had hubby, second son and mum not put up a fight for the remaining six, I'm pretty sure I would have made short work of them all, myself. You would be surprised how delicious something so simple as mashed sweet potatoes, shaped and fried, then dipped into sticky syrup and left to set to a brittle glaze, can be. I suppose you have to like sweet potatoes, to begin with, but there is something irresistible and maddeningly addictive about the crackled glaze contrasting with the creamy, tender, pillow-soft and almost fudge-like consistency of the interior.

So, while my grandmother ate whatever scraps she could find to survive during the war, including banana peels (she actually cooked banana peel titek, a type of peppery soup quite often), the odd tapioca or yam (taro) tuber, whose stems, leaves and even peels, were back then deemed too precious to discard, she dreamed about these doughnuts for tea, and perfect, pearly white, whole grains of rice, without the added crunch of weevils, too numerous to separate from the grains of rice, for dinner.

Kind of puts the way we view and treat food today, in painful perspective, doesn't it? I know I feel like eating plain congee and soy sauce for lunch, right now and resolving never, ever to throw away any food, again. But enough with the guilt trip down memory lane, let's talk about what I plan to have for tea again, really soon - kueh keria! The best kind of sweet potato for this is the deep orange fleshed variety for its intense flavour and fragrance and moist, fudgy texture. As I couldn't find it though, I used the purple skinned, yellow fleshed variety from Japan, which will do in a pinch.

Keep the dough slightly dry for a fluffier doughnut and avoid overhandling the mixture for the same reason. Traditional recipes don't include any raising agent but I find traditional kueh keria a bit too heavy textured and the double acting baking powder really helps here. I hope you will give these a try. They are worthy subjects for foodie daydreams.....

Prep 30 mins          Cook 15 mins          Makes 12 small doughnuts


500 g yellow or orange fleshed sweet potatoes, peeled and boiled until tender then thoroughly drained
1 1/2 tsp sugar
1/2 tsp salt
50 ml  (1/4 cup) water - if potatoes seem dry when mashing
75 - 100 g (3/4 - 1 cup) plain or all purpose flour - stop adding flour when the mixture gels but is slightly dry
1 1/2 tsp double acting baking powder

Sugar Coating

100 g (2/3 cup) white sugar
50 ml (1/4 cup) water

Combine hot potatoes, sugar, salt and water (if using) in a large mixing bowl and mash as finely as you can, using your hand.

Sprinkle over the flour and baking powder and mix everything to a slightly dry but pliable dough. Divide into 12 portions and form each into a compact ball.

Flatten balls slightly and make a hole in the middle of each. Neaten doughnuts and set aside.

Heat enough oil for deep frying and when hot, lower heat to moderate and fry doughnuts in batches until puffed and golden. Turn doughnuts over a few times, to ensure even colouring.

Remove from oil and drain well on kitchen paper.

To make sugar coating, combine the sugar and water in a heavy based pot and heat over moderate heat until sugar dissolves. Do not stir.

Heat until syrup boils vigorously and thickens. When syrup is opaque and foamy, dip in both sides of each doughnut then gently shake off excess syrup.

Cool doughnuts on a rack with a tray beneath to catch any sticky drips. When syrup cools and sets to a crisp and crackly glaze, serve doughnuts.


  1. Ahh...those WWII stories and all things sweet potatoes, including sweet potato moey and sweet potato leaves. I didn't know these were called kuih keria or maybe I had just plain forgotten but I do remember the taste :) I think adding the baking powder is a great idea for a lighter doughnut. These bring back memories of other Malay sweets like kuih kodok and jemput ikan bilis. Used to buy these at the school canteen during break time :)

    Enjoy your trip to Barcelona and be sure to come back with lots of pictures. No more disappearing acts! ;)

  2. I agree, puts a different perspective on food today...what a story. And these doughnuts are wonderful...love sweet potatoes but never though of them this way, delightful!
    I hope you have an amazing trip, and yes remember the photos :)

  3. Biren - Is it possible, kueh keria is known by another name in Malaysia? Like what we call kueh dadar is known as kueh ketayap over there I think and what we call gendang kasturi is known as kueh rengas instead. Haha - my mum calls jemput pisang kueh kodok too! And I remember eating all sorts of kueh from my school canteen kueh aunty, just five or ten cents a piece back then :D

    Alisha - I normally shy away from deep fried foods but these are worth the oil spatters and the extra calories. Once you taste them, I'm pretty sure you will be hooked, if you love sweet potatoes. Fear not - my camera goes where I go! Just hope the battery doesn't die on me, like it did in New York last year *yikes*

  4. Denise!
    WOnders never cease! So, here you are! I cannot wait to browse around and catch up - but must say, you need to get back to your bread site, too - all there is EXCELLENT.

  5. Honestly, I haven't tried these. I'm sure these make popular tea snacks.

    Barcelona? U making me jealous! Hahaha! Take lots of pix & have a safe journey, sweetie!

  6. oughh... would love to have 2 of these... looks divinely thick and smooth!

  7. What a lovely kueh; and I know they are popular among Malaysians too :D
    Enjoy your trip to Barcelona, can't wait to read about it when you are back ;)

  8. Shirley - lol I'm sure you've seen most of the world by now, no need to be jealous ;) For me, it's only now that I can travel as my boys are now much less dependent on me.

    Jessica - thank you for the kind words. I love kueh keria, so I won't argue with you :D

    Christy - Yes, Singapore and Malaysia are like siblings; we have much in common where food and culture are concerned. Thanks for the well wishes. Look forward to posting about my Spanish experience when I get back :)

  9. Denise, that may be so. Even in Malaysia, the same kuih may be called by different names, adding to the confusion. Talking about canteen food...my favorite was the clear assam laksa with fish cakes. Only 10 cents a bowl. Those were the days!

    BTW, I hope you will install threaded comments in the near future. No pressure... :)

  10. Biren - right, no pressure lol I'll see what I can do about the comments... if only the technicalities of site administration were as natural to me as peeling an onion :D

  11. doughtnuts and coffee make a perfect tea time! love it


  12. Sweet potato doughnuts? wow I am SOLD! Great clicks too.

  13. Oh my god I'm like a little kid sitting here shouting "I've got sweet potatoes on the counter! I've got sweet potatoes on the counter!" Only question is can I hold off on trying these until my stepson arrives next week? Mmmm... no. How can I spin this? I know - I'll 'test' the recipe out, then make them AGAIN when he gets here. Oooh yeah...

  14. PS: Hope you have a muy fabulosa time in Spain! (Sorry, that whole part of the post was overshadowed by the donuts... Your fault really.)

  15. Angie - if you like sweet potatoes, you really must try these. They are simply da bomb ;)

    Buenos noches Ruby. Si, esta noche ahora en Singapore and boy I am knackered!! Got back yesterday and just snapped out of my sleep deprived stupor. Did have a muy fabuloso time en Espana and yes, all that whacked out Spanish is what I picked up after nine days in Barcelona. Also, I am now deeply devoted to bocadillos de tortilla, pulpa con patatas and Fanta Limon. Hope you did try the doughnuts out and loved, loved, loved them like I do. Making them again soon as I get my hands on some orange fleshed sweet potatoes. Thank God I'm still dazed or I would surely be freaking out about Christmas being just over 4 days away and my having done nothing remotely Christmassy yet. Oh, oh... too late. *eeeeeeeeeeeeek*

  16. Merry Christmas to you & your family, Denise. I bet you had a great time back then. Btw, it isn't a problem having these during X'mas as well. It always a wonderful snack and my kids love it.
    And not forgetting to wish a very Happy 2012. May all the good things coming your way. ((hugs))
    May god bless you all.
    Best wishes

  17. Denise- What a beautiful tribute to your grandma. Those doughnuts looks ahhhhmazing. Wishing a glorious vacation and a blessed and fun 2012!

  18. Denise!! Yay!! I'm happy you stopped by!! I am glad to see you posting agina, loving the new space. I need to wander and view the recipes i missed!

    does put our blessings into perspective.. Have a wondeful new year!

  19. Denise, these donuts look great, I totally like the idea of using sweet potatoes...
    Thank you so much for stopping by and hope you have a great time in Spain...and I look forward to hear all about it :-)

  20. Hi Denise! Thank you for visiting my blog and now I'm here HAPPILY! This is one of the most beautiful and delicious doughnuts post I've ever seen!!! So nice to have found your blog. :-) I love sweet potatoes and these look so delicious! Pinned!

  21. Hello Denise! I love this blog of yours with the focus on Singapore food. :) I'm happy to say that after a very long break, I've woken up the Kitchen Nerd. :) I'll have to try this recipe - I made doughnuts not too long ago, but they weren't very good. These look heavenly!


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