Saturday 8 June 2013

Chwee Kueh (Steamed Rice Flour Cakes with Preserved Turnip Topping)

Loosely translated as water cake, which really doesn't do this Singaporean dish any justice. Whenever I try to explain this dish, the mere mention of the name induces frowns and inquisitive looks. As the name seems bland and insipid but the dish itself is far from that.

Chwee Kueh remains a firm favourite amongst many Singaporean and is a typical breakfast dish that can be found in every hawker centre. There are two different types of Chwee Kueh available in Singapore. The Hokkien version uses more liquid in the rice batter resulting in a soft and delicate texture; the Teochew concoction which is the recipe feature below, on the other hand, are firmer and bouncier but both have that chewy, custard-like texture which makes them very appealing.

The real magic, however, lies in the sweet and salty topping made using preserved radish (chai poh). Hawkers from different stalls put their own little touches into the making this to set themselves apart from competitors. Chillies and toasted sesame seeds are just a few of the little twists. Some will add more dark soy sauce for a richer topping and other will add more sugar to yield a sweeter taste. All these depends on personal taste and you can add as much or as little of each as you like.

There are special moulds for making these which will need a trip to Singapore to procure but there  a few great alternatives. I use mini tart tin cases here which I've bought from one of my many Paris trips. These measures about 7cm in diameter and 1.5cm deep which are perfect. In the past, I have resorted to using Chinese porcelain teacups and even a large cake tin too. If you are using any of this, you will need to adjust the steaming time accordingly and check by inserting a knife or skewer/toothpick into the cake. It should come out cleaned when cooked. If using a large cake tin, just make sure you cut them into manageable bite size cubes before serving.

The traditional cutlery of choice when serving these are toothpicks. To be honest with you, most Singaporean, like me, are always baffled by this as they are not the easiest thing to eat with using mini toothpicks but hey, it's tradition and that's how I served it at my recent catering event. Nobody complained and all the plates came back empty, accompanied with cries for more. Another sure affirmation of Chwee Kueh's popularity in our Singaporean hearts.

Ingredients (makes about 18-20 pieces)

200g rice flour
20g tapioca starch
pinch of salt
250ml tepid water
300ml boiling water
oil, for greasing the moulds

For the toppings:
6 tbsp lard (use sunflower oil for the healthy option if you wish)
3 garlic cloves, finely chopped
200g preserved salted radish (chai poh), finely chopped
2-3 tsp dried chilli flakes (optional and depending on how hot you like it)
1 tbsp toasted sesame seeds (optional)
60ml water
1/2 tsp dark soy sauce
1/2 tsp sugar


To prepare the toppings, heat up the lard or oil in a pan over medium-low heat. Add the garlic and stir-fry for 1-2 minutes, until fragrant. Add the preserved radish, chilli flakes and sesame seeds and sir-fry for 1 minute. Add the water, dark soy sauce and sugar and cook gently over low heat for 30-40 minutes, stirring regularly to stop it from burning, until the radish is soft and fragrant. Set aside to be re-heated later just before serving.

To prepare the chwee kueh, sift the rice flour and tapioca starch into a large bowl. Add the salt and whisk in the tepid water. Then gradually add the boiling water, whisking constantly to form a smooth batter. Set aside to rest for at least 30 minutes.

During this time, lightly greased the individual chwee kueh mould and bring the steamer to the boil. 

Strain the batter into a pan and heat over low heat, stirring constantly with a whisk. (Note: Do not step away from the stove at this point)

Once the batter starts to thicken, remove from heat immediately and continue to whisk for a few seconds. The batter will turn into a thick custard consistency in the residing heat. Spoon the batter into the pre-greased mould until just below the brim. (Note: the chwee kueh will expand and rise slightly once cooked)

Place the mould in the steamer. Lay a clean cloth over the steamer before putting the the lid on to absorb condensation. Steam over medium heat for 12-15 minutes, until the chwee keuh  is cooked through and set. Test by inserting a knife or toothpick into the chwee kueh, it should come out clean.

Remove from the steamer and leave to stand for 1 minute before running a small knife around the inside of the mould and turn out the chwee kueh onto a serving plate, spoon over the hot radish topping and serve immediately.


  1. I can't believe I found this recipe! I feel homesick just looking at the pictures. Thanks for posting this.

  2. I take it you are from Singapore too? This is one of the few dishes that I do misses as well :)



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