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!
- 260g tapioca flour
- 4 screwpine (pandan) leaves, cut into thirds
- 1 egg yolk
- 85g icing sugar
- 70-80ml coconut milk (adjust accordingly)
- pinch of salt
- Red food colouring and toothpick to decorate
- 1. Stir fry tapioca flour with pandan leaves in a clean wok or large flat frypan for 75 mins over low flame, until the flour is very light (prepare yourself for a flour-covered kitchen!), slightly yellow tinged and the pandan leaves are crispy. The final weight I had was around 210g. (FYI, you might like to cook a little extra flour on the side and save it for dusting of molds/cookie cutters).
- 2. Cool flour over a couple of days. I left it to cool to room temperature, then stored it into an airtight jar and cooled it in the fridge.
- 3. Preheat oven to 160°C. Whisk egg yolk until creamy, add in icing sugar and add about 35-40ml of the coconut milk and whisk to combine.
- 4. In a mixing bowl, sift in the tapioca flour and add in the egg mixture.
- 5. Slowly and gradually add in the balance of the coconut milk into the mixture little by little, mixing by hand until mixture clings together to form a stiff dough that’s smooth, pliable and neither too wet nor dry.
- 6. Dust a Bangkit mould lightly with extra cooked flour, take a knub of dough and press into the mold but not too hard or it might stick. With a knife, trim excess dough and level. Angle the mould at 45° to the bench and knock the mold to remove dough. Repeat with remaining dough. Have some toothpicks on hand to scrape out any dough stuck to the crevices of the mold.
- Note: I found that my dough wasn’t that sticky so I didn’t really need to dust the mold after the 1st initial dusting.
- 7. Bake for for 25 mins or until biscuits are fully cooked through. Cool on wire racks. When cooled, use a toothpick to dot red food colouring onto the centre of the ‘flowers’ and the eyes of the ‘animal’ shapes. Store in an airtight container in a cool and dry place.
- 1. If you don’t have the molds, roll or pat out the dough to a 1 to 1.5 cm thickness and cut shapes out of it. Remember the thicker your shapes, the longer it’ll take to bake.
- 2. Set aside extra coconut milk to add in dough when dough turned dry and extra flour for dusting. Alternatively I covered the bowl with a damp (not wet) tea towel to stop the dough from drying out.
- 3. Do not try to shorten the cooking time of the flour. We want to get rid of the raw flour taste.
- 4. Different ovens behave differently, which’ll affect the baking time of your cookies. So you’ll might need to experiment by baking a couple of cookies first. Test a cookie by biting into it. If it’s not cooked, then return to the oven and then check again after a short period of time. Rotate the tray each time to ensure even cooking. The insides should be fully cooked without any soft, ‘doughy’ bits.