When we were young…Lapis Sagu
When we were young, my family lived in a “two-room” rented flat at Jalan Tentaram just off the PIE along Jalan Toa Payoh. It was a very small apartment, and ironic it might sound, there was only one bedroom and that meant my sister and I had to sleep on a very thin foam mattress on the living room floor every night. My parents were blue-collared workers and despite being poor, we were happy. My mother doted on us and although she wasn’t earning much, she regularly bought toys for us, even if it meant cutting back on her own expenses. One thing I particularly looked forward to when we were young, was to visit Toa Payoh Central to borrow books at the community library and a dinner out, usually at the now defunct hawker centre located in between the cinema and HDB office, where I would invariably request for the same thing from the same stall on every visit, char kway teow. On our way back home, we would stop by a confectionery for some bread for supper later into the night or breakfast next morning. As an occasional treat, my mother would indulge in kuih muih, as she had a weakness for anything made with “santan” and pandan. Lapis sagu was clearly one of her favorites.
Like many bloggers who’d shared similar experiences, my mother had the habit of peeling off the lapis sagu layer after layer, not for herself, but for my sister and I. That was almost the only means of ensuring fair share between the both of us, preventing me from gobbling everything up in an utmost boisterous manner. She would have for herself the occasional layer, but most of the time watching us eat, or play with our food rather, challenging each other to stretch these elastic strips to their limits. A mindless and if I might say, childish game, which in the years to come helped to conjure the most powerful of all childhood memories. And it is these memories that fueled us and kept us going, as we reiterated and reminisced in laughter and tears, now that my mother is no longer with us.
Patricia Lee’s recipe called for a concoction of 4 different types of flours, an entourage that took a few days to get together.
When I read Shirley’s blog entry on the lapis sagu she learnt at a class almost three months back, I was captivated by the simple elegance her kueh lapis exuded in alternating shades of emerald, ruby and ivory. It reminded a lot of the ones from Bengawan Solo, characterised by those tender and soft textures, very markedly different from those in psychedelic colours we had when we were young. I had the recipe she recommended bookmarked but “shelved”, like many others in my harddrive. Recently, after a month of deliberation as we scramble to pick up our lives again in my mother’s absence, I’d decidedly”restarted” the baking and cooking hobby again, and this time round, to make my mother’s favorite lapis sagu.
Preparing the syrup with pandan leaves from plants in our little corridor “nursery”. Not looking very good after almost a whole month of neglect, but these would have to do for now.
Recipe from Patricia Lee’s 娘惹风味糕点, reproduced from Shirley’s blog entry
Ingredients ( for a 9 x 9 ” square tin)*
480g Tapioca flour
150g Sago flour
35g Mung Bean flour
50g Rice flour
720ml Thick coconut milk*
3-4 Pandan Leaves, knotted*
Food colouring (red and green)*
A very thick batter formed from coconut milk-cream mixture with the dry ingredients, very viscous and definitely requiring some elbow grease to get everything amalgamated. Worry not and forge on as the batter would thin significantly when the syrup is incorporated.
1. Boil sugar with pandan leaves in 1 liter of water until sugar melts. Strain the syrup and dilute with water to make to 1.5 liters
2. Mix all the flour and salt together. Pour coconut milk a little at a time and mix till smooth. Set aside.
3. Pour the syrup from (1) into the flour mixture. Stir constantly till well blended.
4. Divide mixture into 3 portions. Leave one portion uncoloured. Mix each of the other 2 portions with red and green colouring.
5. Grease a 9″ square baking tin with a little oil. Place the in in a steamer and steam until hot. Pour in the uncoloured mixture (90g) * and steam for about 6-8 mins. Repeat another layer with the uncoloured mixture.
6. Repeat step (5) with other coloured batter until all batter is used up. Top layer must be red. Leave the cake to cool at room temeprature for 7-8 hours before cutting.
Reflections and Modifications
1. Despite how much we enjoy lapis sagu, a 9″ square tin was definitely gonna be an overkill. Instead, I’d used a 7″ square tin, the smallest I have. At the same time, the recipe was scaled down by 0.6, e.g. 600g of water instead of 1 litre.
2. I’d used a mixture of fresh coconut milk (Santan Kelapa Asli) and Kara coconut cream (Santan Kelapa Murni) for the “thick coconut milk” component. A good blend that worked for me in both aroma and texture.
3. Instead of knotting whole blades of pandan leaves, they were snipped up into 2 cm wide pieces to hasten the “perfuming” process for the syrup
4. I’d used traditional red food colouring, often used for colouring egg shells and Koepoe-Koepoe Pandan Paste for the green.
5. Instead of measuring out 90g of batter everytime, a ladle was used to ensure even thickness of each layer. Just be sure to rinse the ladle everytime you change to a batter of a different colour.
6. Ensure that the steaming rack/steamer is levelled horizontally after pouring in the first batter. Last thing you want is a colourful leaning block of lapis.
7. It comes in handy to have a kettle of very hot/recently boiled water on standby to refill the steamer/wok as it steams away for more than 2 hours. That helps to keep the temperature fairly consistent. The set up was maintained at medium high heat after the water was brought to a strong boil at high heat. Be very careful when lifting the wok lid for each refill, taking care not to allow condensation on the insides of the lid to drip onto the kueh.
8. Each layer was steamed for 7 min and I’d managed 18 layers with the prepared batter. So including time for preparing in the syrup and mixing the batter, be sure to give yourself at least 3 hours for the whole process and another 6-8 hours for the kueh to cool down sufficiently.
9. Take heed to stir the batter each time before adding a ladleful for steaming. The powder mixture, essentially a suspension, would settle at the bottom between the 7-min intervals and would require some whisking to get it homogenised again. Use the back of the ladle to ease any bubbles that formed from the whisking.
10. Grease the knife before cutting. Even with that I still need to work on my knife skills.
The final product turned out rather well, very close to the textures I’d expect from IMHO, a good lapis sagu. So this recipe is definitely a keeper and kudos to Shirley for introducing it on her blog, in place of Valerie Kong’s “two-flour-only” recipe, which shall remain a “commercial secret” for now. Elated with the results I might be, I doubt I’ll be making it any time soon, given how time consuming it is. But whenever I need a therapy session in the kitchen, I now know I have one more recipe to look into.
I am submitting this post to Aspiring Bakers #12: Traditional Kueh (October 2011)