I love Chinese New Year! Being a lover and student of ancient history and religious studies, it remains one of my favourite holidays along with Christmas and Easter. Year after year, I revel in the ritual, the colour and the red packets of money (heh). The heart of CNY isn’t just the strange superstitions (no housework and no washing hair – woohoo!) but it’s in the food… of course!
I admit that my family isn’t as intensely celebratory or ritualistic in their Chinese New Year fare. We are actually rather casual about it all with a simple dinner here and there. Heck, I’m still a little clueless about Chinese New Year dishes but I do remember the biscuits!
I’m not sure whether it’s just a Malaysian/Singaporean thing, but we really love eating sweet biscuits at this time of year. And living in Australia is a huge barrier for those who are homesick for the exquisiteness of pineapple tarts, peanut cookies and one of my favourites, coconut tapioca biscuits or kuih bangkit (aka kueh bangkit).
I’ve never made any of these before but I promised myself I’ll learn this year so I give you my inaugural Chinese New Year effort! Kuih Bangkit are heavenly little morsels of coconut cookies that have the most unusual texture. The perfect kuih bangkit has to be dry and crispy but light as a feather and almost ‘hollow’ sounding when you tap it. And with every bite, the kuih bangkit cookie has to crumble and melt on your tongue into a delectable pile of squeaky coconuttiness. Bliss! But this perfection doesn’t come without trials. Though they’re easy to make, they are a bitch to perfect.
Kuih Bangkit can be shaped from cookie cutters, however I’m lucky enough to be in possession of the traditional wooden molds that house the most beautiful and intricate carvings. Nowadays passing through such wooden items through Australian customs would be next to impossible so I couldn’t be more thankful to The Mother, who brought it over from Malaysia back in 1991. But for those without it, you can try and source some plastic versions from Asian grocery stores that also stock mooncake molds (Sydneysiders, your best bet is Cabramatta) or Ebay. If not, cookie cutters will still work.
Since this is my first time making it, I went in blind and plucked a random recipe from the air of the interwebs and in this case, Nasi Lemak Lover. And it wasn’t too bad but the texture wasn’t quite right as they were a little hard, crunchy, not melty enough and they cracked a little after they were baked. But at least it didn’t turn out to be toothbreaking bricks.
As for the taste…it was rather authentic for pre-packaged coconut milk. Kuih Bangkit will never be as good without the milk from freshly grated coconut flesh but it’s my burden to bear living in a country where fresh coconuts and a coconut grater are rare finds indeed.
If you have to use pre-made coconut milk or cream, I highly recommend Kara branded tetrapaks for everything. Other brands just don’t stack up for flavour and don’t even think about using coconut powder mixed with water! If you have the time, maybe you could source some frozen packs of grated coconut flesh from Asian grocers and and squeeze out some fresh coconut milk for yourself? I guarantee you the kuih bangkit will be taken up a whole new delicious stratosphere!
In any case, this recipe isn’t perfect especially without using fresh coconut but it’ll soothe the cravings nicely for Chinese New Year and I don’t think I did too badly for my first go. I definitely can’t complain since I’ve been deprived of these beautiful things for too long and to eat something that was close to it was pure unadulterated pleasure. My search for the perfect kuih bangkit recipe continues so feel free to leave me your recipes, criticism, tips and recommendations!