Ondeh Ondeh is a traditional “kueh” which many of us grew up snacking. I remember first having it in primary school during recess time at the school canteen which we called “tuckshop” then. The “makan melayu” food stall, operated by an old Malay couple sold mainly local Malay delights like nasi lemak and lotong. But my eyes are always glued to the assortment of homemade”kuih muih” in psychedelic colours, almost a dozen of varieties that rotated down the week, with 2-3 types available daily. Most of my classmates and friends love to buy their kueh lapis beras, and for obvious reasons. They would peel and eat them by the layer, just like what we would do at home with my mum and sister. While I love to eat their kuehs, it was more of an indulgence rather than a necessity, given the limited amount of pocket money we had. But I’d always looked forward to the day when mee rebus was on the “Special of the Day” menu, because I know that one of my favorite kuehs would also be available, and that is of course, ondeh ondeh.
We loved to eat ondeh ondeh when we were young for almost solely one reason, the gula melaka (palm sugar) filling which had melted and became all runny. The experience of popping one of these bite-size morsels into our mouths and gently pressing it between the tongue and the hard palate to make it burst open and release its juices encapsulated within was most memorable! It still remains very “sensational” till today, quite literally!
Gula melaka has a slightly subdued level of sweetness compared to regular granulated sugar. Instead, its jaggery-like flavours are much more multi-faceted, with an added dimension of darkness and depth. Extracted from nipa palm, the palate profile of gula melaka is rather unique and unmistakable. That said, buying good quality gula melaka is rather important for this dessert since it takes centrestage here.
Mee rebus and ondeh ondeh share a common ingredient, sweet potato, which imparts a lovely earthy sweetness characteristic of the root vegetable to the food, not to mention the exuberant jaune orange hue. For mee rebus, it would be in the gravy and ondeh ondeh, the dough wrap.
Wrapping the chopped gula meleka inti (filling) into a piece of flatten dough can be quite nerve-wrecking for first-timers. It requires a certain level of dexterity to make sure that the filling is properly encased within while making sure that the exterior of the dough remains untainted by any bits of palm sugar. More important is the ratio of dough skin to filling. Too little dough used and the liquefied filling risks breaking the barrier and leaking out. To err on the safe side and use more dough may cause one to “eat too much dough” with too little filling affecting the overall palate experience. A good ratio for me is 3 parts dough to 1 part filling.
The assembled ondeh ondeh should remain bitesize, no more than 25g each to allow each of them to be popped into the mouth all at once without biting into two. I managed to keep mine within 20g each, i.e. 15g dough skin with 5g filling. I’d seen some sold commercially which are made even smaller, but I am not really in favour of that. Smaller ondeh ondeh means lesser inti and thus, watered down experience of gula melaka bursting in your mouth!
Ondeh Ondeh Recipe makes approx. 30, each about 20g (adapted from Irene’s Peranakan Recipes by Elaine Yeo)
330g sweet potatoes
135g glutinous rice flour
80 ml tepid water
150g gula melaka
50g grated coconut
1 pinch of salt
2 pandan leaves
Peel and slice sweet potatoes and steam for around 20-30 min or until soften.
While waiting for the sweet potatoes to steam, chop gula melaka finely to an almost crumb-like texture.
Once the sweet potato is done, place grated coconut into a dish with crushed pandan leaves, sprinkle and toss in pinch of salt and steam for around 15 min. This is to cook the coconut to prevent it from going rancid too quickly.
While waiting for the coconut to steam, work on the dough first mashing the sweet potatoes in a large mixing bowl. This is done traditionally with the back of a fork but a potato ricer, masher can also be used. Process the sweet potato until no lumps are observed and develop a smooth pulp-like texture.
To the sweet potato mash, add glutinous rice flour followed by tepid water. The warm water should not be added all at once but over 2-3 sucessions, rubbing and kneading in the dough, sweet potato mash and water together between each addition to form a dough. 80 ml of water only serves as a gauge as it really depends on the level of moisture the sweet potatoes have. Stop adding water when the dough becomes firm and pliable.
Divide the dough equally into small pieces, each 15g. Flatten each piece of dough with your thumb and place approximately half a teaspoon (about 5 g) of gula melaka inti in the centre. Cover the filling and wrap tightly. If necessary, dust your palms and fingers with a little glutinous rice flour to prevent the dough from sticking.
Bring a pot of water to a boil before lowering the flame to a very gentle simmer. Place the glutinous rice balls gently into the water, stirring gingerly to swirl the water around and prevent the dough balls from sticking to the bottom of the pot. The water must be barely simmering, gently cooking of the dough balls to prevent them from bursting and at the same time, prolonging the cooking time for the gula melaka filling to melt completely.
Remove the cooked balls which float up and drain slightly over a perforated spoon or a fine wired sieve before rolling them over the dish of grated coconut.