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Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Kuih Bangkit ~ Gluten Free Coconut Cream Cookies 薯粉饼

Kuih Bangkit.... It is a local traditional cookie, one of the staples for Chinese New Year and Eid.
Some people will make this with tapioca starch, some swear by arrowroot flour for best melt in the mouth effect and some will use sago flour to replace that elusive arrowroot flour.

In the olden days, this cookie was baked over charcoal. And I have only seen that being done once in my life, at my kindergarten teacher's home. I'm glad that in recent years, I had the chance to eat charcoal baked kuih bangkit again, made by distant relatives, and they are soooo much better than oven baked. The base of the charcoal baked ones were brown and the cookie was so flavorful and fragrant.

I had never tried baking this cookie, as it is easily available at an affordable price if it's not packed in Chinese New Year packaging. My Mom likes to jest about this cookie, saying it's so 'cheap', so why bother baking it.  So, it kind of stuck on me...

But this year, I decided to put aside my mom's words and try it out myself. It's not easy!!
I didn't know this is a temperamental cookie, until I made it and post it on Facebook.
It seemed many of my friends had issues with this cookie.
But I guess I figured out some of the issues my friends faced when they attempted this notorious cookie.

Please read my long post if you would like to understand more about baking kuih bangkit

Common issues:

Problem 1: Cookie too hard

I think :  Flour is under toasted. Toasting flour in a wok may create different results as each stove has different heat, each wok/pan distributes heat differently, and different recipes call for different toasting time.
 You see, these flours are starches. Starches form 'glue' when in contact with water, then heated, and in this case, coconut milk then baked. A cookie that contains 'baked glue' will be hard. The toasting of the starch is not only to remove moisture from the starch. It's supposed to change the starch, to modify it's properties so that it doesn't turn into glue when moistened and heated again.
My solution:
 Bake the flour at a specific temperature for a set amount of time to make sure the flour is evenly toasted, to avoid under toasting and technique issues.

Problem 2 : Cookie not fragrant

I think: 
 Not enough coconut content. Not enough sugar. Baking temperature too low
Reasoning : 
 Coconut milk is 'The' ingredient in this cookie that defines the fragrance. Using diluted coconut milk results in less favourable fragrance.
Low sugar will make the cookie smell 'floury'. A higher sugar amount will actually enhance the fragrance of coconut milk as the cookie will have a better maillarding effect. Less maillarding, less fragrance.
A lower baking temperature will also result in a less favourable fragrance, as heat is one important factors of maillarding.
My solution: 
 Add in coconut oil! Coconut oil is the flavouring agent in coconut milk that gives bakes that distinct fragrance and taste. This way, I could actually insert more coconut into the cookie than just using coconut milk or even cream.
Do not skimp on sugar, as my blogger friend Annie has the same thoughts as me when she did her kuih bangkit.
Don't go for snow white cookies, let it take on some colour for best flavour and fragrance development.

Problem 3: Dough not workable, hard to gauge.

I think :
 Toasted flour has issues, recipes are vague.
 Toasting flour in a wok doesn't give constant results. Under toasted flour will make the dough runny. Toasted flour not sufficiently rested will absorb more liquid, making the dough dry. It's frustating.
Some recipes will call for 'add in coconut milk as needed, you might not need all'. Experienced bangkit bakers gauge visually and new bakers will have issues with it. And old grandmothers will not be able to tell you the exact measurements.
My solution:
 Bake the flour and rest it sufficiently. Use specific measurements.

Why did I find out so much? I learnt from mistakes.

Before I started with my first attempt, I read a few recipes and already thought of using coconut oil in the recipe and baking my flour.

I referred to a popular recipe, with some minor amendments but it was very runny and the measurements were rather vague like what I described up there. I had to add in more toasted flour, so much more that I ran out of it and had it make an express toasted flour in the microwave. And in the end I have lost track of how much I added. As I have baked many cookies before, I can guess when should I stop adding in flour, but new bakers may not know when enough is enough. My cookies were ok, but the measurements were off and the fragrance was somehow lacking according to my preference, and hubby said they weren't sweet enough as well. So, I decided to make it again.... to get the exact measurements.

With this being a traditional cookie, I guessed the measurements will be old school with catty 斤 and rice bowls 饭碗 as most ladies in the olden days probably relied on verbal recipes. Recipes would be easy to remember. I suspect, it will be 1 catty flour 1 bowl coconut milk and 1 bowl sugar. And in the olden days... there wouldn't be any icing sugar. Some nonya recipes do call for cooking the sugar in coconut milk.

 So, I reformulated the whole thing.

First Attempt: Decent Kuih Bangkit cookies..... 

My second attempt, I used the old school method of melting sugar in coconut milk instead of icing sugar, hoping to incorporate more pandan fragrance. Surprisingly the dough was very manageable. I was very happy and optimistic. But the result was a crunchy cookie, but it was still fluffy, but too crunchy. I don't know if it's due to the different sugar or it's due to me using the flour too soon. I baked it the day before and made my cookie the next day. The dough warmed up as I added liquid to it, as if it's having a chemical reaction and the dough was drier than my first attempt, although the measurements shouldn't be too far off from my first attempt. I had to know why......
Good thing is that the fragrance and sweetness came out just nice, the way that I like it!!

Last experiment....
Baked the flour, left it for 5 days (to see if it's resting issue)
Made a portion with icing sugar and a portion with melted sugar (to see if it's sugar issue)
So, I found out my problems!
Most of all, I can stop my experiments as I am contented with my not too fragile but yet melt in the mouth kuih bangkit. I was happy with both recipes, both with pro and cons.
Although a melt in the mouth effect is important, to me, better fragrance wins over a slightly meltier cookie.

My personally preferred version is Recipe 1.

Recipe 1: Uses old fashion method of cooking regular sugar in coconut milk to melt.
Pro : Better fragrance, manageable dough, easy to cut with cookie cutter and easy to lift. Uses more coconut milk. Less fragile.
Cons: It is melty, but slightly less melt in the mouth compared to Recipe 2.

Recipe 2: Uses icing sugar
Pro: Slightly more melt in the mouth compared to Recipe 1. Cookie is fluffier and expands more.
Cons : Softer dough even when less coconut milk is used. Surface chips easier. Cookie shape doesn't stay as nice after baked.

So, you choose!

Toasted Flour Mix. (Must be made at least 3 days ahead)

320gm sago flour*
320gm tapioca flour*
Few blades of pandan leaf
*although generally called as flour, they are actually starches.

1. Preheat oven to 180C.
2.Line a large baking pan with grease proof paper. The paper has to be bigger than the pan.
3. Rub the pandan leaves in your palm to bruise and soften the pandan leaves. Tear them and scatter on to the lined pan.
4. Mix both flours together, and spoon them over the pandan leaves. Do not press down the flour.
5. Bake in oven for 30 minutes. Leave to cool in oven. It might turn lumpy.
6. Remove the pandan leaves and sift the flour.
7. Keep in a covered container for a few days before use.

*Flour weight will be around 90% after baking and cooled.
**If you need just an extra bit of toasted flour, the easiest way is to mix equal amounts of flour and zap in microwave on high.
2 Tbsp of each will need around 45 seconds of high power zapping. Leave to cool before use.

Kuih Bangkit (Recipe 1)

by WendyinKK

540gm Toasted flour mix plus more for dusting

260gm Pure coconut milk
1or 2 blades pandan leaf, shredded
180gm sugar
1/8 tsp salt

30gm homemade coconut oil
2 egg yolks

1. Put sugar, salt, pandan leaf and coconut milk into a saucepan. Cook it and gently stir it until it starts to simmer. Turn off the heat. Let it cool down totally, then only remove pandan leaf shreds. (I had 420gm of it after cooking). Mix in coconut oil and egg yolks.
2. Put toasted flour mix into a mixing bowl and make a well. Pour in the coconut milk mixture and mix to form a soft dough.
3. Cover the dough and leave to rest for 30 minutes to an hour.

** To  DIY  30gm of coconut oil, cook 200-250ml of coconut milk to make coconut oil. For method, please refer to this post **

Kuih Bangkit (Recipe 2)

by WendyinKK

560gm Toasted flour mix plus more for dusting
180gm icing sugar, sifted
220gm Pure coconut milk + 1/8 tsp salt
30gm homemade coconut oil
2 egg yolks

1. Mix toasted flour with icing sugar. Make a well in the center.
2. Mix coconut milk with salt, coconut oil and yolks. Pour this into the flour.
3. Cover the dough and leave to rest for 30 minutes to an hour.

Kuih Bangkit----Shaping and baking

1. Prepare baking pans and line with baking paper.
2. Dust rolling surface with some toasted flour, and roll out the dough (I roll half portion each time) to about 6mm thick. Cut with cookie cutters and place them on baking pan, with some space in between.*
3. Preheat oven at 160(fan)/180C and bake them for 15 minutes or more, until the edges take on some colour. Leave them in the hot oven for 5 minutes. Then cool it further on the counter.
4. If you prefer, you can dot each piece with some diluted red food colouring and return them to the warm oven to dry off.
5. Keep these cookies in an air tight container.

*Tip: Roll dough on table top/counter top is easier to manage than rolling in between sheets of plastic
**Kuih Bangkit when kept properly, can be made weeks ahead.

Please take note that these recipes have only been made with cookie cutters. I have not tried this recipe in a typical kuih bangkit mould, and I think it needs adjustments if pressed into moulds.
I made about 80-90 cookies(per recipe) depending on the thickness I rolled out, and the cookie cutters used.

Before you decide to amend the recipe, be aware that slight changes in sugar amount will need flour amount adjustments as well.

What I used:
Tapioca flour : Any brand, available at grocery stores and supermarkets
Sago flour : No brand, available at baking ingredient shops. Not commonly found in supermarkets.
Eggs : Grade B, around 60gm each
Coconut oil: Homemade, rendered from fresh coconut milk. If you want to use bottled coconut oil, it's up to you.
Coconut milk: Fresh, undiluted bought from the wet market.
If you prefer to extract it yourself, please place grated coconut into a muslin bag and wring it over a big bowl to catch the milk. Do not add water during extraction. Personally I do not enjoy the taste of canned coconut milk, but if you are ok with it, go ahead and use canned milk.

Will I bake it next year again................ I don't know :)
Even my man is saying the same words as my Mom... LOL
Perfect son in law.

*****2017 updates:*****
I tried to bake it again this year, mostly experimenting with the recipe, trying to go egg free.

Egg Free Attempt:
It doesn't work. The cookie turns out crunchy, and the dough will not turn out the same, even if the amount of egg is replaced with more, and more coconut milk. The outcome is a  crunchy cookie. The egg yolk is an emulsifier in this dough and must be well mixed with the coconut milk.
Recipe used: #1 without egg, and I cooked down 500g of coconut milk with 180g sugar to make it 2 cups removing most of the moisture in the coconut milk, instead of rendering oil from 250g of coconut milk, How do I explain this.... LOL. Anyway, it's basically almost the same as recipe #1 except for the egg yolk.

Diluted Coconut Milk Attempt
My usual place to get coconut milk was running low in coconut supplies. When I went to buy it, to my horror I saw her adding in water into the churning machine. And then when I got home, I tasted the milk and it was quite diluted! My cookie turned out rock hard. ROCK HARD! Cookie didn't rise much.
Recipe used: #2 without egg

Final Attempt
The coconut milk this time was fine, as I tasted it and it was alright and thick. This day, it was his daughter manning the stall. So, I split two batches with  the same coconut milk. One with egg and the other without egg with Recipe #2.
If the result for today's attempt was just as hard, then something could be wrong with my flour. Did I undertoast it at 160C, yes, I didn't look at the recipe and just did it at 160C.
The truth came out, that egg yolk is definitely needed for a fine textured cookie. The dough can be made egg free, provided, the coconut milk must be as concentrated as possible, but the end result will be a crunchy cookie with coarse crumbs.


  1. thank you so much to your hard work...

  2. Hello Wendy,
    Thank you for your effort to make such a detailed and wonderful analysis. Also, we seldom come across any Gluten free recipe in this region especially during CNY. Just wonder if there's any sub for egg since it's not allowed in my child's diet plan.

    Mrs Chan

  3. Mrs Chan,
    You can omit it. But you will need to slightly increase the coconut milk , or reduce the flour. Either way.

  4. Ya yaa why did it turned hot after i add the flour ive tried one b4 and it scared me

  5. This post is amazing. You must have put in a lot of work into it. I will muster the courage to try one of these days.
    Thank you for sharing!

  6. Experimental Cook,
    It was a good experience. It's been a long long time, since I wrote this type of experimental posts, haha.
    Long winded :)

  7. Hi Wendy,

    When you said, leave the flour to cool in the oven. Do you mean leave it cool overnight?

  8. Any alternative for coconut oil? Can use olive oil or brans oil?

  9. Doreen Tan,
    Use butter if you won't want to use coconut oil.
    I make my own, so I don't buy a whole big bottle of it.

  10. How long can these kuih bangkit last? Within 3 months early made.


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