Black and white: A ‘kuih’ for a quiet teatime with fragrant coconut cream and black glutinous rice
Published on: Sunday, October 30, 2022
By: Kenny Mah, Malay Mail
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How about a black and white 'kuih', made with a quiet, minimalist weekend in mind? — Pictures by CK Lim
Kuala Lumpur: We all need a little colour in our lives.

Not only to cheer us up but to gladden our taste buds and bellies with a variety of tastes and textures.

Being a born and bred Malaccan, I always associate flavours and colours with Nyonya kuih, the sort that is served in a bakul siah, those iconic red and black baskets made from bamboo.

There are kuih koci wrapped in banana leaves and ang koo kuih, in shades of red, black and green. Soft and moist apam balik, redolent with the fragrance of gula Melaka (palm sugar) and santan (coconut cream).

The most easily recognisable are the curry puffs, which aren’t strictly Peranakan but are so commonly included in the platter of kuih-muih that I have never seen them as anything else.

If you’re lucky, there might even be lepat kacang, one of my favourites. The rustic filling of glutinous rice and black-eyed beans wrapped in triangular packets using daun palas (fan palm leaves). Maybe even rempah udang — cylinders of steamed glutinous rice filled with an aromatic blend of dry-fried shrimp and grated coconut.

The selection can be astounding: kuih abu sagu, kuih bingka ubi, kuih talam, pulut inti, and more.

It’s a little rainbow for your afternoon tea.

Perhaps no other kuih represents the vibrant and arresting nature of these teatime treats than the perfectly named seri muka. Here is a kuih that would bring a smile – and a glow – to your face.

Like the morning sun, the top layer is a wobbly yellow custard, whilst the bottom layer is made from compacted glutinous rice strewn with ribbons of blue from bunga telang (butterfly pea flowers).

The golden sun, the snow-white clouds and the bluest sky, all in a tender slab of Nyonya kuih.

But then there are the days where we eschew the riot of colours; we ask for less garish and less glam. Instead a more serene and meditative mood is sought. Almost Zen-like, almost minimalist.

You know the sort of weekends of which I speak: quiet and contemplative. A time for watching a garden made from tiny pebbles, everything in a shade of grey or a contrast of black and white.

Yes, black and white. Why shouldn’t we have a kuih in black and white too? An afternoon treat for a calm and carefree weekend. Slow food and solace found.

Well, I thought we ought to have such a delicacy and this is what I came up with.

Black and white kuih

I pay homage to our delightful seri muka albeit allowing the kuih to undergo a process of desaturation, if you will.

For the black portion, I have replaced the conventional glutinous rice with its black-hued cousin. Black glutinous rice feels stickier to handle, and I’m no master of it as you can tell by my nearly misshapen results.

(Let’s call it rustic and be kinder to ourselves.)

Shredded coconut adds textural contrast.

As for the white portion, a white custard suffused with coconut cream works wonderfully. To continue the rustic theme (again, kindness to oneself is a virtue), I have added dessicated or shredded coconut to the mix along with a handful of black glutinous rice for textural and visual contrast.

These additions mean the custard layer won’t be as velvety smooth as the corresponding yellow layer on a classic seri muka but no matter: the imperfections marry well with the Zen approach.

Rustic squares of black and white 'kuih', ready to be enjoyed for tea.

After all, the 7th-century Zen master Seng-tsan observed that true freedom is being "without anxiety about imperfection.” So let us all be free to enjoy our weekend tea by savouring every detail and finding beauty in the delicious crooks and crannies.


(a) Bottom Layer:

400g black glutinous rice

200ml coconut milk

200ml water

2-3 pandan leaves, tied into a knot

1 teaspoon salt

(b) Top Layer:

200ml coconut cream

4 large eggs

150g sugar

6 tablespoon rice flour

2 tablespoons corn starch

1-2 tablespoons shredded coconut


Oil, for coating the tray


Begin with the preparation for the bottom layer: Soak the black glutinous rice in enough water to cover for about six hours or overnight.

Bundles of fresh 'pandan' leaves for aroma.

When ready to use, drain the soaked rice and place it in a mixing bowl. Add the coconut milk, water, pandan leaves and salt. Stir till well combined.

Transfer mixture to a wide tray and place inside a steamer. Steam for 20-30 minutes over high heat until the rice is fully cooked and pliable. Remove the pandan leaves before using the steamed rice.

Whilst the black glutinous rice is being steamed, you may proceed with preparing the top layer: Mix the coconut cream, eggs, sugar, rice flour and corn starch together in a medium-sized pot. Stir until well combined.

Heat this custard mixture over low heat until it has thickened but remains semi-liquid. Look for the mixture to be almost sauce-like but thick like a ganache. Once it reaches that stage, remove the pot from the stove and continue to stir briskly to prevent it from clumping.

Spreading out cooked black glutinous rice to cool.

Transfer the steamed black glutinous rice to a large round tray that has already been lightly oiled. Set aside a spoonful of the steamed rice to garnish the top layer. Using a spoon or ladle, flatten the layer of rice until it’s compacted and evenly spread.

With the help of a sieve to remove any lumps, pour the custard mixture onto the bottom rice layer. Sprinkle the shredded coconut and a few grains of the reserved steamed black glutinous rice onto this top custard layer.

A whole steamed 'cake' of 'kuih' waiting to be sliced into squares.

Finally steam both layers together over medium heat for 20-30 minutes until the top custard layer has set. Allow to cool before cutting the "cake” into smaller squares or blocks. Serve with some freshly brewed tea.

For more Weekend Kitchen and other slice-of-life stories, visit lifeforbeginners.com.

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