Rainbow Kuih Lapis



I’ve been thinking a lot on the subject of happiness and looking to what makes me happy. There are some successes last year that made me feel A-W-E-S-O-M-E; and there are little things that just lifts me up. Trying a new recipe is definitely one of my joys. I suppose you want to know what this little piece of happiness is called? This is a mid-afternoon tea snack/ dessert from my childhood called ‘Kuih Lapis‘ which literally means, Layered Cake. The fact is it is not a cake. There is no English translation to the word ‘kuih‘. As I had tried to explain to my FIL, ‘kuih‘ can be savoury or sweet, fried, steam or baked, it can be had in the morning, but mainly for afternoon tea, yet not limited to any time of the day. It is beautiful, delicious, rich, homely snack. And play’s a big part in all Malaysians lives.


Traditionally, kuih lapis has nine layers (the Hokkien name for it is Kow Chan Kuih) and is alternated with white and pink layers. This has seven and I thought I would make it in rainbow colours for the sheer joy of it. And really, doesn’t that make you smile? The best bit is, if you’re a child like me, you can eat it layer after fabulous layer because it peels off so delicately. Hmmm… omnomnom.

I always thought making this would be difficult but no, it’s very simple; uses only four key ingredients – sugar, coconut milk, rice flour, water; and the whole things is relatively quick. The hardest part would probably be waiting for 5 minutes in between layers before pouring the next. If you have patience worth 5 minutes, then you can make this wonderful Malaysian kuih.

I have to commend Debbie Teoh and her book Nonya Flavours. I highly recommend it to all Malaysian and Nonya food lovers. The cookbook not only contains popular Nonya recipes but also my entire childhood. It explains the Nonya culture, the festivals, the beliefs, the pantang larang (superstitions), the practices – I have never been so impressed by a cookbook that impelled me to buy five copies to give away to friends and family. From the book I have tried kari kay (curry chicken), hong bak (braised spiced pork) and mi koo (steamed bread) and they all turned out delicious. If you’re in Malaysia, drop by MPH book stores, as they do have more copies than the others.

As for the recipe, I’ve adapted it accordingly to suit my preferences.

Kuih Lapis Happee Monkee

Rainbow Kuih Lapis
Prep time
Cook time
Total time
Recipe type: Afternoon Tea
Cuisine: Malaysian
Serves: 6
  • 180g rice flour (bought from Asian grocery, preferably from Thailand)
  • 200ml water
  • Syrup:
  • 140g white sugar
  • 300ml water
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract (or 2 pandan leaves, knotted)
  • 200ml thick coconut milk
  • ½ tsp salt
  1. Combine the rice flour and water in a mixing bowl. Mix well and soak for one hour.
  2. Meanwhile, boil sugar, water and vanilla extract until sugar is dissolved.
  3. Leave to cool (approximately 10 minutes) then add coconut milk and salt.
  4. Add the rice flour mixture, mix well and sieve.
  5. Divide mixture into seven portions, ½ cup each. Colour to your heart’s fancy.
  6. Place a steamer (bamboo steamers does a great job) over medium-low fire, heat up a greased 20 cm (8") round pan for 5 minutes in the steamer.
  7. Pour one batch of batter (1/2 cup) on the heated tray and coat it evenly.
  8. Steam covered for 5 minutes, or until set (test it by touching the layer. If it doesn’t stick or lift, it’s done).
  9. Repeat the process until the last layer. Steam the kuih on low heat for a further 3 – 5 minutes.
  10. Cool completely before cutting.
  11. Note: Layers may fail to bind if it have been steamed too long.





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