Ang Ku Kueh Recipe (红龟糕 – Red Tortoise Cakes)
Homemade Ang Ku Kueh… fresh off the steamer.
Ang ku kueh translates directly from Hokkien into “red tortoise cakes”. They are glutinous rice cakes with various sweet fillings served on a banana leaf. You will most commonly see mung bean or peanut fillings. Yummm-mmmy!! The Angku are moulded into the shape of a tortoise to signify longevity and its red colour symbolises luck. Traditionally, the Chinese would give these red delights to relatives and friends to celebrate weddings, birthdays, or a newborn’s first month.
I have an announcement to make. For those of you craving it, these beautiful, tasty and intricate kueh can be made at home! It is not as difficult as you’d think. You just need some patience, time and a friend or two to help you. And if you’re ultra lazy and don’t own a mould, you can even just omit the moulding step and make ‘em round. Still tastes good!
Store-bought Ang Ku Kueh from Katong, Singapore. Tau sar (mung bean) filling on top, peanut filling below.
After two years away from home, the ghost of Ang-ku started to haunt me. When I paid Singapore a visit, red images would pop in my head, and I’d occasionally say to no one in particular “eh… how come ah? I think I want to eat ang… ku… kueh...!!”
I literally swooned when mum ta pao’ed (takeaway’ed) home a box of them after attending a newborn’s muah guek (first month celebration). The Chinese believe that if a child can survive the first month, then the survival rate is high and they celebrate it. The akk were unexplainably delicious! Loved the sticky, chewy texture of the red skin, punctuated by the unctuous, fragrant spread of warm tau sar (mung bean filling) in your mouth as you bite further into the treat.
Mum’s tapao’ed akk. Note how the intricate pattern isn’t there. That’s because traditionally, the Chinese would gift undecorated ang ku kueh for male newborns, and the intricate version for females.
Part of this blog seeks to keep my heritage alive by talking about the Chinese and Peranakan food traditions that’s been passed down the generations. This is why this year’s theme revolves around making Nyonya kueh! When you live overseas, simple joys like a having a piece of ang ku kueh for tea just won’t happen. Think your local IGA or Coles might sell it? Lol… dan gu gu (wait long long)… You have to make it happen yourself!
I feel that this can be a good thing… it forces you to actually re-create the foods that you’d otherwise take for granted if you were living back home. As usual, the recipe for ang ku kueh will be placed at the end of this post. Meanwhile, I will show you pictures of the process and talk about all the fun and pain you can have with making this favourite kueh of mine! . Before we start, I’d like to formally thank Fakegf and Ees for being my ang ku kueh project minions. Over a fortnight, Fakegf helped me with the pink batch while Ees helped with the final red batch. Nyonya kueh is something that’s just so much easier when more than one person is making it.
Here’s a picture of Lauren’s kids trying my ang ku kueh. The eldest didn’t like it, but the other two really dug into it. Really adorable seeing ang moh kids enjoying kueh kueh.
This here is my first attempt at making akk with the help of Fakegf. Just about everything was perfect, down to the skin and filling. However, not enough red dye was used and the kueh came out salmon pink! Don’t make this same mistake again, the kueh really looked like alien embryos when they’re not red enough.
Start by washing and soaking the mung beans overnight. Mung beans are really just split green beans. Here, they’ve been steamed with pandan leaves in the beans and the steaming water. To break your workload, you might even want to make all the fillings in advance and then refrigerate/freeze them until the day you intend to make the kueh.
I don’t know why, but mum’s recipe stipulates that you have to use the “3 Elephants” Erawan Brand of glutinous rice flour. Luckily, it can be found in Melbourne. If you’re using other brands of glutinous rice flour, please let me know if the outcome’s just as good.
In the age of city-living, you can no longer visit your neighbour’s and ‘borrow’ a banana leaf from their garden. My leaves were bought at the Asian grocers in a wet 1kg pack. You’d probably only use 10% of that packet. The rest can be divided up and frozen for future use. Try making otak otak (grilled fish paste wrapped in banana leaves) with them!
I’ve looked through a number of recipes. Some of then use rice and glutinous rice flour. Others use fresh sweet potatoes and glutinous rice flour. I chose a recipe that uses sweet potatoes because I think the sweet potato’s natural orange accentuates the red of the dye. And incidentally, this recipe gives you perfect skin.
When making the skin, you need to add red food colouring to water before pouring it into the flour mixture. Well.. all I can say is, the level of redness seen here still isn’t red enough! Try adding more colouring so that it’s twice as red as what you see here.
If this is the colour of your dough after kneading, you should be fine. :)
Kneading can be done in a mixer with a dough hook attachment, or by hand.
Depending on the size of your akk mould, you have to estimate how much filling and skin to use. For mum’s traditional mid-sized wooden mould, we used 20g filling, 25g skin.
It is easier to roll your filling into compact balls beforehand. They MUST be compact, if there’s air in them, it’d cause problems with using the mould. Sometimes, the filling won’t roll into balls, just add a bit more water to the whole mixture to help cement things.
The dough is also a pain in the arse to wrap around the filling. The dough can dry out quite quickly in dry/cold climates, forming a semi-crumbly consistency that cracks easily. Making ang ku kueh is easier in warm, humid weather. Keep the dough covered in its bowl with a wet tea towel to prevent dessication. This is why it helps if you’ve got people to help you make the ang ku kueh. One person rolls the filling and skin into balls, another person wraps the filling, and the 3rd person moulds the angku immediately. This way, the filling and dough isn’t left out in the open to dry and become crumbly.
I thought it might be easier to show you how it’s done using a video posted below. Gosh I’ve got quick hands! I learnt that its okay to compact the dough firmly by using cupped palms. However, if you’re rolling them into smooth balls, do so evenly and gently or they could crack, crumble and expose the filling inside!
My hot-pink Angku mould.
This happened quite a few times. :(
Eventually, I learnt how to avoid disasters. First, you should flour both the mould and the dough. However, don’t cake the mould with flour, the design won’t imprint properly. Use glutinous rice flour, other flour types may give a blotchy design. Also, the outside of the dough ball shouldn’t be contaminated with bits of filling, it will warp the design.
If you pushed too hard and some leftover skin sticks to the mould, use a toothbrush to scrape it off, flour the mould, and then scrape it off again.
Press the dough into the mould gently and evenly without focussing too much on any single point. Too much force will cause the skin to stick to the mould.
Peanut filling can become very hard when cold, you might need to warm them up. To help with moulding, flatten and elongate the filling before wrapping the skin around them. Otherwise, you will probably be pressing very hard on the centre of the dough against the mould because the filling inside is hard and won’t spread.
Flip the mould over and give a decisive, gentle knock onto your hand…
B E A U T I F U L !!!
Here’s a video to recap how to use the mould…
Oil a square piece of banana leaf and place the un-moulded akk on it. The Chinese word on top of the design means ‘longevity”. Steam for 8-10 mins over a low-medium bubble until the ang ku turn a bright, glistening red. Big flames will cause the Angku to puff and bubble up, destroying the design. Taste test one Angku after cooling, the skin should be sticky all the way through, and no part of it should be doughy.
Fresh off the steamer!
Even the broken akk turned out okay. Brush lightly with oil after it’s cooled a little.
Ang Ku Kueh Recipe
Nyonya Flavours: A Complete Guide To Penang Straits Chinese Cuisine
Mung Bean Filling:
- Steam the beans and pandan leaves in rapidly boiling water for 30-45min until soft and mushy
- Blend the beans in a food processor in batches, use a small amount of water to assist
- Combine the blended beans, sugar and oil in a wok
- Stir continuously under very low heat until the mixture binds together and won’t stick to your hands
- Add a bit more water if the mixture turns out too dry and crumbly
- Leave to cool first before forming into compact balls that will suit the size of the angku moulds
- Keep the rolled balls moist by covering with a wet tea towel .
- Roast the peanuts in the oven at 160ºC for 15 mins
- Allow to cool, remove the skins and chop them coarsely in the food processor
- The above steps can be time consuming, especially removing peanut skins. You can buy pre-roasted unsalted peanuts without skin instead, and just briefly dry fry them in the wok till fragrant before chopping them in the food processor.
- Dry fry the sesame seeds in the wok over low-medium heat until fragrant and slightly brown.
- Remove and crush the sesame seeds
- Place all ingredients in a mixing bowl and mix them thoroughly with your hand
- Add a bit more water if the mixture turns out too dry and crumbly
- Form them into small compact balls that will suit the size of the angku moulds
Ang Ku Kueh Skin:
- Add red colouring to water until it’s a deep red colour
- Measure out 370ml of this red-water mixture and set aside for use, discard the rest
- Mix all the ingredients together and knead, adding water bit by bit, until you get a smooth dough
- Keep the dough in its bowl, covered with a wet tea towel to prevent drying out
- To assemble, flatten a piece of dough to about 0.5cm thickness
- Put a ball of filling in the centre and wrap skin over the filling, sealing the edges together
- Roll lightly between the palms to smoothen the surface
- Lightly dust the Angku mould with glutinous rice flour
- Flour your hands and dust the dough as well
- Gently press the filled ball of dough into the mould
- Knock mould against the table to dislodge the Angku and tap it out onto your hand
- Place Angku on a lightly greased banana leaf
- Steam over low-medium heat for 8-10 mins, or until the ang ku are a deep glistening red, opening the lid halfway to depressurise briefly
- Allow to cool, then brush lightly with oil so they will not stick together .
* The Ang Ku Kueh can be kept without refrigeration for up to 3 days. If they’re refrigerated, steam them again for 5 mins before serving.
* If you don’t own a mould, just steam it as a flattened ball and pretend you’re attending a male newborn’s muah guek (first month celebration). :)