Wednesday, April 25, 2012
As a school girl, when I was old enough to protest to my mother on how boring my daily lunch box of white bread sandwich was, she gave up on me and gave me money instead. So I had 5 ringgit to spend on during recess and after school at the canteen every day. I was lucky to have studied in schools with respectable canteen operators who provided not only a good variety of Chinese, Malay and Indian choices but rather excellent in quality too. Some afternoons I would be spending a dollar or two at the kuih stall, getting almost the same items every time - curry puffs (savory) and two slices of seri muka (sweet). On some days, the kuih makcik (makcik means auntie in Malay) would have pulut udang and those were the days I'd ditch the curry puffs.
Seri muka literally means beautiful face in Malay. A two-layered steamed concoction of glutinous rice on the bottom and silky smooth pandan custard on top, it's heady with the flavor of coconut milk and remains my all-time favorite sweet kuih. After moving to Singapore, where authentic Malay kuih stalls are not as common, and I haven't have a decent piece of seri muka for years, until my brief stint at a previous job that had a Malay staff cafe operated by a family from Malacca (!!!). Fellow Malaysians would understand my necessity to use (three) exclamation marks at the mention of that small, historical Straits Settlement state. This place produces the best cooks, kuih makers and its distinct Baba Nyonya culture.
After my daily tea time visits to the cafe's afternoon kuih spread, I managed to
Luckily for me, my first try on this other green thing turned out to be quite acceptable. More liquid for cooking the rice in my cooker next time but other than that, I was quite relieved to open my wok cover to reveal something smooth, handsomely dark green and close to Makcik Enon's perfect version. Close, not there yet, but almost.
Yield: an 8-inch square or round steamed pudding
Recipe from Makcik Enon
Note: Making the kuih using this method will not require additional green food coloring. However, if you don't have access to pandan leaves where you are, substitute with pandan paste/essence and coloring. Results are best with fresh coconut milk and eggs as well. Or at least all the makciks in my life would tell me so.
- 12-15 pieces pandan leaves, washed and snipped into 1/2-inch pieces
- 3-4 tablespoons water
- 1 cup castor sugar
- 1/2 cup water
- 4-5 pieces pandan leaves
- 1 cup glutinous rice, soaked overnight (or at least 6 hours) and drained
- 1 to 1 1/2 cups thin coconut milk
- a pinch of salt
- 3 tablespoons freshly grated coconut (optional)
- 1/4 cup plain flour
- 2 teaspoons corn starch
- 4 eggs
- 1 cup thick coconut milk
- a pinch of salt
Prepare the pandan extract and syrup: With a mortar and pestle or a blender, mash the leaves finely along with the water into a paste. Use as little water as possible. Press through a fine sieve or squeeze through cheesecloth to extract the green juice only. You should obtain at least 100 ml liquid. If you have the time, let it sit for a few hours. The green extract will settle at the bottom and you can remove the excess water before using. For the sugar syrup in the custard layer, place the sugar, water and knotted pandan leaves in a saucepan and cook over medium low heat till sugar has dissolved. Remove and set aside to cool.
Prepare the rice layer: In a rice cooker, over the stove or in a steamer, cook the glutinous rice till done with the coconut milk and salt. The amount of thin coconut milk used would depend on your cooking method. Meanwhile, bring the water in your steamer to the boil. Grease an 8-inch round or square baking tin (springform or removable base) with cooking oil and set aside. Mix the grated coconut with the cooked rice if using. Spoon the rice into the prepared tin. With a wet spatula or a piece of banana leaf, press the rice firmly onto the base of the tin to form an even and compact layer. Cover and steam, for about 15 minutes over medium heat. Once done, reduce heat to low but keep the tin inside the steamer.
Prepare the custard layer: Mix the coconut milk with the prepared pandan extract. Bring the water of a double boiler/bain-marie to a boil. In the top bowl of the double boiler, combine flour, corn starch, eggs, coconut milk-pandan extract mixture and salt. Whisk till smooth. Then drizzle over the sugar syrup while whisking. Transfer bowl into the bain-marie and gently cook the custard over medium low indirect heat. Stir continuously till custard thickens slightly, about 15 minutes. Pour the custard over a sieve onto the rice layer. Cover and steam over medium low heat (keep this on the low side to obtain a smooth custard layer) for another 15-20 minutes or till custard is set.
Remove tin from steamer and cool completely (about 1-2 hours) before cutting into diamond-shaped pieces. To get neatly cut pieces, use an oiled or heated knife. Serve with hot coffee or tea. Kuih keeps refrigerated up to 1 week. Bring chilled kuih to room temperature before serving.
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