Friday, 22 February 2013

kuih kapit

Kuih kapit, or loveletters, are my favourite Chinese New Year cookie. They are super thin and delicate wafer-like sheets that are either rolled into a cigar or folded into quarters like pancakes. I rather the pancake version for then I can take a stack from the jar, taking care to seal the jar back carefully after to prevent the kuih kapit from softening, cosy down in a chair and snap the biscuit into quarters by carefully unfolding it. Awesome! Suddenly I have quadrupled my biscuit stash XD. This means I won't get the multiple crunch as I bite down, but happiness is extended four-fold nonetheless.

Sitting in the UK, CNY time can be mildly frustrating as Chinatown does churn out cookies for the occasion but they are a paltry substitute to what is had in Malaysia. I want to share the wonderful food from home but can't bring myself to gift these as they just aren't to the standard. Kuih kapit, for example, is available here but much thicker than would be acceptable at home, nor is it 'heong.' I'm not sure how to describe it but it lacks the coconutty aroma and feels a little stale. For sure, if transported to Malaysia, it 'wouldn't survive.' Market forces are very responsive with regards to local food products thanks to the rapid information transfer.

So naturally when I went home over summer this was one of the recipes I pestered my aunt to show me to make, it being one of the kuihs my grandma used to make. My grandma would dig out a trough and fill it with charcoal. Then, perched on a stool with a bowl of batter and some 8 kuih kapit moulds, she would bake the biscuits. It was a laborious process, not to mention fiddly. The biscuits would need to be poured on, flipped, and peeled off, as well as the charcoal occasionally prodded, and worst of all was the heat. The cooked biscuits would then be frisbee-ed to the children crouching close at hand, ready to fold them. My dad and aunt seemed to have a long standing joke over the shock of having a fresh-from-mould kuih kapit plap upon their thighs.

Initially my parents weren't too impressed by quest to make these. The heat and general mess created cropped up a few times. However, my aunt quickly pacified them, having learnt a more kitchen friendly method. Instead of using charcoal, oil would be used as a heat source. Thus, the kuih kapit moulds would be dipped into vats of boiling oil rather than held over charcoal. The oil would ensure a greater and more even heat flux through the mould, so no more speckled or partially burn kuih kapits, they would all be uniformly browned and everything would be speeded up.

Using this new method, the kuih kapit aren't crazily oily. The oil is just the heating medium and the majority of the biscuit is protected in the mould. The edges do fry up nicely, but that gets scraped off (chefs perks!!!) before the biscuit is peeled from the mould. However, having said that, I did find the kuih kapit made this way had a slight oily sheen to them and were marginally crisper but could only remain so for no more than 3 days even if stored in an air tight container. After that they started to soften. It must be to do with the shorter cooking times meaning that there is still some moisture within the core of the biscuit (to anyone making this, I would recommend using a lower fire!). Made the original way over a flame or charcoal, the kuih kapit remain pristine for weeks.

Nothing beats the texture of the traditionally made kuih kapit from Malaysia. However, for me, this at least makes an acceptable substitute and is far better than store bought versions in the UK.

150g rice flour        150g castor sugar
250g coconut milk625g water
350g eggs20g flour
  • Dilute the coconut milk with the water and add a pinch of salt.
  • Beat the eggs and add to the coconut milk along with the sugar, making sure it is a homogenous mix.
  • Sift the flour and rice flour together.
  • Make a well in the flour, pour in a third of the liquid mix and whisk to a smooth batter before whisking the remainder until you get a thin batter. Hold some coconut milk back.
  • Fill a deep pot half full with oil (any cheap kind will do as long as it has a high smoking point)
  • Immerse the closed (!!!) kuih kapit mould in the oil to heat it up.
  • Once the mould is very hot, hold it open over your bowl of batter and pour a ladle across its surface. 
  • Clamp the mould shut as tightly as possible and put it into the hot oil. Be careful with the clamping as it will pressurize the steam from the batter (which is significant), and similarly be careful when placing in the oil.
  • When the batter has calmed down to a fizz, lift mould from the oil and scrape the extruding edges of the kuih kapit off as quickly as possible.
  • Again, working as fast as you can, open the mould, peel off the kuih kapit and fold it.
  • Ladle the batter over the mould and repeat a gadzillion times. The batter will get progressively thicker, and you will need to top up with more coconut milk to maintain the same consistency.

This is not something for the faint hearted to attempt. Instead of getting sooty with charcoal, this method spits oil everywhere. I would definitely recommend cloaking everything with newspaper before beginning. Also, the manic steaming and hot furious oil is a rather lethal combination in itself, not to mention having to play with the long kuih kapit moulds so please be careful.You need to work frantically quick to peel and fold the kuih kapit before it hardens. There is no time to faff with knife and fork, you really need to use your fingers so a little immunity to heat is necessary. I lined my 'folding area' with greaseproof paper so I could just scratch it out to fold as fast as possible. Lastly, it is all 'aga aga'. The quantity of coconut milk and water  given is the total amount used in the making of the kuih kapits. So you need to look at the texture of the batter, taste the kuih kapit and adjust accordingly. If it is too thick, thin it out with more coconut milk; if you want it harder with a more substantial crunch, add more plain flour, and if you want more 'aroma,' add more undiluted coconut milk.The cooking times will vary with the batter and the temperature of the oil, so play around until you get the coloration  you want.

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Updates soon to come!

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