Apart from the regular pandan chiffon, I grew up eating more steamed cakes than baked ones, largely because baked cakes cost more than steamed ones and my parents could only afford to let us indulge in the occasional latter. Also, we didnt have an oven then but like every chinese household, our kitchen has a deep dark grey wok that fulfiled all our cooking needs. Thus from buying steamed cakes, my mother thought, why not make our own? So began her experimentation with an assortment of chinse kuehs and “apam”-likened steamed cakes from usual suspects, like 鸡蛋糕 guay neng gor or gai dan gou which became much of a dietary staple for us, to others like 发糕 huat kueh, specifically made as offerings to the gods. But then, her “cake steaming days” were short-lived because shrewd and calculative a working mother she was, she quickly realised how delicious these cakes were but at the same time not very cost efficient and yet time-consuming to make in small batches. So back to “drawing board” it was, from neighbourhood confectioneries and hawker centre food stalls where we got our fix. Not that I’m complaining of course. Give me a 马来糕 mah lai gou anytime and I am happy.
Years later, we discovered Bengawan Solo and their (then) fantastic array of delectable delights. Apart from Lapis Sagu, another of her favorites was Kuih Salat aka Seri Muka, another perfect marriage of “pandan dan santan”. Not only did she embraced the taste, but the “functionality” of the kuih as well, as the lower glutinous rice layer easily filled the stomach, curbing any hunger pangs. Being born into a poor household and fostered away when she was very young into another one as the eldest child meant that going hungry all the time was probably an all-too-familiar childhood memory for her.
Amongst other things, I inherited my mother’s liking for the “pandan dan santan” duo but on top of that, I loved the taste of cooked banana. It tastes so remarkably distinct from fresh ones and one cannot help but to marvel at how a brief few minutes over flame and fire could conjure such a drastic transformation in both taste and textures. My personal favorite was Nagasari, a simple yet delicious combination of mung bean flour aka hun kwee powder first cooked over coconut milk and then used to encase overriped, aromatic bananas. But Bengawan solo stopped making them for about 2-3 years already. But luckily there’ still Harum Manis.
Harum Manis, is an apam-like steamed sponge cake embellished with slices of bananas. Literally meaning “sweet smelling”, the steamed cakes are enriched by the warm caramel-like sweetness from gula melaka and wafts of aroma from the cooked bananas. Truth be told, I only started buying Harum Manis over the last 2-3 years, around the time when Bengawan solo stopped their production line for Nagasari. Its not quite the same but at least it eases the cravings for something bananaly sweet. But I’d never made them before so this month’s Aspiring Bakers’ theme provided the perfect excuse for me to hunt and try out some recipes!
The recipe I’d used was shared by Stay @ Home Mom who in turn got it from Rossya. It is a fairly easy recipe to follow and I have the perfect moulds for them, a humble batch of copper cannele moulds acquired just a couple of months back and boy o boy did they cost a small fortune! I’d held back on their “christening”, partially because of laziness and also the lack of confidence in producing perfect canneles. To think that their “maiden voyage” was to make Harum Manis and not those custardy teacakes they were intended; the French would probably cry murder.
Ingredients (makes about 22-24 2″ cannele moulds)
300g gula Melaka or gula jawa
350g plain flour
1 tsp baking powder
2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
200g granulated sugar
1 vanilla pod
riped bananas – sliced about 0.5cm thick
- Prepare the steamer. Grease the baking cups or in my case, cannele moulds
- In a heavy saucepan, combine palm sugar and water to dissolve the sugar completely. Sieve the syrup into a large heat-resistant bowl or pot.
- Add in scraped seeds from a vanilla pod and return to the stove for a quick boil, whisking periodically to ensure good mixing.
- While the sugar syrup is still hot, drop in the butter and stir until the butter completely melts. Let the syrup-butter mixture sit until completely cooled.
- In a separate bowl, sift the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt.
- In a large mixing bowl, whisk the eggs and granulated sugar until pale yellow and fluffy.
- Using a spatula, fold the flour a little at a time into the egg-sugar mixture until just combined. It will be a very thick, sticky dough-like mixture. Do not overwork the gluten as it would result in a very tough kueh.
- Pour some of the cooled syrup-butter mixture into the dry ingredients mixture and mix well. Then add the rest of the sugar mixture and stir until well combined.
- Pour the mixture into the greased moulds/cups about half full. Top with the sliced bananas.
- Steam for about 15-20 minutes or until a skewer inserted comes out clean. Leave it to cool before removing from the moulds.
Dissolving two cylindrical blocks of gula melaka. Rather fast process, given how dense and rock-solid they’d looked. Looks are indeed deceiving.
Melting butter over hot syrup, speckled by vanilla seeds.
New cannele moulds ready to go. Duncha just love the pinkish hue.
I got the smallest bananas I could find but they werent riped. Placing them in a bag with a mango did help significantly. Incidentally, I’d used Mangga Harum Manis which are in season!
Filling the moulds with batter until they are half filled.Topping with bananas caused the level to rise slightly.
The first batch ballooned and rose beautifully. And those light and fluffy textures were perfect!
And this is what happens if you forgot to turn the flame on back at high for a later batch. The kueh rose only to the brim and were a tad denser than those from the first batch. Well, I just tell myself that its a fluffy huat kueh! What an oxymoron, I know!
Not much of modifications this time round, except for swopping vanilla essence with vanilla pod. Not trying to be atas of course but I’d ran out of the former at home. Truth be told, the vanilla seeds did little, probably masked by the gula melaka. Would probably stick to vanilla extract or essence in future.
I am submitting this post to Aspiring Bakers #12: Traditional Kueh (October 2011)