Kuih Lapis (Steamed Layer Cake)

Kuih Lapis (Steamed Layer Cake)

Here’s another type of kuih (traditional Malaysian snacks/desserts) that I’ve been wanting to make for a very long time! Kuih Lapis, which literally means “layered cake” in Malay, is a popular kuih in Malaysia, Singapore and Indonesia.  It is a soft, slightly sticky, subtly sweet snack made mainly of rice flour (sometimes combined with tapioca flour), sugar and coconut milk. It’s prepared by steaming different-coloured layers of batter, one on top of another, until you get a “cake”, which is then cut up, usually into diamond-shaped pieces. 

Kuih lapis brings back fond childhood memories. As kids, we all liked this snack because it was fun peeling off and eating each layer separately. Truth be told, I still enjoy eating kuih lapis layer by layer!🤭

Kuih Lapis (Steamed Layer Cake)
Kuih Lapis (Steamed Layer Cake)

Traditionally, there are 9 layers (the name in Chinese, 九层糕 (pronouned jiu ceng gao in Mandarin, means “nine layer cake”) consisting 2 or 3 different colours – usually orange-red, white and pink. These days however, much like angku kuih, you’ll find kuih lapis in non-traditional colours, and even ones with all the colours of the rainbow!

Kuih Lapis (Steamed Layer Cake)
Kuih Lapis (Steamed Layer Cake)

Although this is probably one of the simpler kuih to make, it does require patience since you have to steam each layer separately. You also need to be pretty precise in measuring out the same amount of batter for each layer. Also, keep in mind the order of the colours. As you can see, I actually slipped up on the 4th layer, which should’ve been green instead of white, and as a result, I had to change the order of the rest of the colours.

Kuih Lapis (Steamed Layer Cake)

Fortunately, it still turned out looking and tasting great! It’s not even that obvious that I made a mistake, is it? Hehe… The taste of this kuih lapis is spot on! Texture-wise, it’s on the softer side and a bit stickier/more elastic than it’s supposed to be. I was still able to peel off each layer separately though – that’s the real test! To be honest, I actually like the softer texture. However, if you want to get it firmer, I’d suggest experimenting with different proportions of the rice and tapioca flours.  I’ve seen some recipes use mostly (or only) rice flour, so next time I may try increasing the amount of rice flour and using less tapioca flour.

Kuih Lapis (Steamed Layer Cake)

Seriously though, aren’t these kuih just the prettiest?! I especially love that the colours are so Christmassy, even though I hadn’t intended for that! Now we’ve got kuih lapis to celebrate the holiday season!

Wishing all of you a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

Kuih Lapis (Steamed Layer Cake)

Did you make this recipe?

Share your comments below.  Don’t forget to take a photo, tag it @divinelydelish on Instagram and hashtag it #divinelydelish 😊 I’d love to see your creations!

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(Adapted from MyKitchen101 and The Way of Kueh by Christopher Tan)

KUIH LAPIS (STEAMED LAYER CAKE)

Yield: Makes 1 – 8″x 8″ (20×20 cm) cake

Ingredients:

Base:
285g tapioca flour
90g rice flour
45g sago flour*
80g thick coconut milk
240 ml water

Syrup:
330g sugar
250g coconut milk
1 teaspoon salt
3 pandan leaves, cut into 1 cm segments

Red colour:
80 ml water
1 teaspoon red yeast powder

Green colour:
80 ml pandan juice**
2 drops alkaline water

White colour:
40 ml water
40 ml coconut milk

*If you don’t have sago flour, you can substitute with cornstarch (which is what I did) or mung bean flour
**To make pandan juice, cut 15-20 pandan leaves into 1″ segments and blend with about 150 ml water until the leaves are ground up. Using a fine mesh sieve or cheesecloth, strain and squeeze all the water from the pulp and store overnight in the fridge, in a tightly covered container or jar. When you are ready to use the pandan juice, do not shake it. Carefully discard the liquid on top and use 80ml of the concentrated juice at the bottom).

Directions:

1) Lightly grease a 8″ x 8″ (20 x 20 cm) square cake pan and set aside.

2) Prepare the 3 colours. In a small bowl, dissolve red yeast powder into water; in a second small bowl, combine pandan juice and alkaline water; in another bowl, combine water with coconut milk.

3) Prepare the base. Sift the tapioca, rice and sago flours into a large mixing bowl. Add 80g thick coconut milk and 240 ml water and whisk or mix until smooth (mixture will be very thick). Cover tightly and refrigerate for 60 to 90 minutes.

4) In a medium pot over low heat, combine all syrup ingredients. Let it come to a simmer, stirring occasionally until sugar dissolves. Immediately strain into the bowl with the base mixture and discard pandan leaves. Use a whisk or wooden spoon to thoroughly mix.

5) Weigh and divide mixture into 3 bowls of equal portions. Add in one coloured liquid into each bowl and mix well.

6) For each coloured batter, further divide into 3 bowls of equal portions (each portion should be a minimum of about 150g; I used 160-170g; you won’t want to use much more than this, otherwise each layer will be too thick). You will have a total of 9 bowls of batter (3 bowls of each colour).

7) Place large steamer rack on top of a pot of water and bring to a boil over high heat. Then place prepared greased cake pan in steamer rack, cover and preheat for 2 minutes. Do not turn down the heat.

8) Choose the colour for your first layer, give the batter a good stir, then pour into the pan. Cover with lid cracked open slightly. Steam for 3.5 minutes. Carefully open the lid so water doesn’t drip into the pan (I like to wipe away the condensation from the lid after steaming each layer).

9) Give the next coloured batter a good stir, then pour it into the pan, and follow the same procedure as in Step 8 for all the layers, alternating the colours. After you pour in the batter for the 9th and final layer, steam for 4 minutes. Then reduce heat to medium and steam for 10 more minutes.

10) Turn off the heat and carefully remove the whole pan onto a cooling rack. Let it cool to room temperature before slicing (the kuih will be sticky, so make sure to use a greased knife or plastic cutter in order to get a clean cut).

Note: Kuih Lapis should be eaten at room temperature, and is best eaten on the day it’s made. Otherwise, store in an airtight container in the fridge and consume within 5 days. Once refrigerated, the kuih hardens and will need to be reheated before eating. Steam for a few minutes, until softened, or microwave in 10 second intervals until soft.

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