How to make Rainbow Kueh Lapis, or Singapore Nine Layer Steamed Cake.
Today we’re making Nonya Kueh Lapis/Kuih Lapis, or Gao Teng Kueh, or Nine Layer Steamed Cake, a favourite dessert in Singapore, Malaysia and Indonesia.
Look at how colourful and pretty and fun this looks! This is a sweet, addictively chewy and bouncy steamed cake that is rich with coconut flavours. It’s SO yummy, and requires very minimal ingredients BUT not exactly easy to make, so I’ve got lots of tips here to ensure the perfect kueh each time.
No oven required, just a steamer. This is also a gluten-free kueh, using just tapioca and rice flour.
How much Batter do you need for Rainbow Kueh Lapis?
I’m using a 7-inch round pan, and this recipe can work for a 5×5 inch or 6×6 inch square pan. Anything bigger, you would do best to make more batter. My recipe yielded about 1 litre of batter. Each layer used 100ml of batter, so I had enough for 9 layers and slightly more just in case.
TIP – To determine how much batter you need, a pro tip is to simply fill your container with water to a height that you like. Measure out the water and add a few more millilitres, because it’s always better to have extra batter, than ending up with not enough to make nine layers. Mine was about 2-inches high.
Depending on how much batter you need, simply multiply the ingredients for this recipe so it adds up to what you need.
You can be specific like me and divide the batter into nine equal portions (and some extra) by weight, or you can simply eyeball the levels into equal portions. Ultimately it does not matter as long as it looks equal.
Tapioca Flour to Rice Flour Ratio for Perfect Rainbow Kueh Lapis
Tapioca flour gives the kueh lapis that stretchy, chewy bounciness, while rice flour add softness as well as the opaque white colour. If you have more tapioca flour, your kueh lapis will be more translucent.
I’ve gone through lots of experimentation to come up with the ratio in this recipe – ! This is my preferred ratio, for a chewy and bouncy Kueh Lapis, but still has a soft bite.
Don’t be scared to play around as long as the measurements equate the same!
Sometimes I like a 1:1 ratio, which gives me a softer kueh lapis. When making this for friends, I tend to add more tapioca flour because they love the chewy stickiness. Some people would also just do a full tapioca flour kueh lapis without the rice flour for ultimate bounce.
Why Strain the Batter?
This recipe calls for straining the mixture a couple of times. It’s an extra step that in my opinion is crucial as it does two things:
First, it removes any flour lumps that the batter might have. This is to ensure a nice, smooth Kueh Lapis.
Secondly, it gets rid of most of the bubbles that you get from whisking your mixture. You’ll still end up with some bubbles, but not as much as if you did not strain this. If you leave the bubbles you will most likely end up with a kueh lapis with lots of mini holes. The taste will not be affected, but it’s not the most pretty looking, smooth Kueh Lapis.
Colouring the Batter for Rainbow Kueh Lapis
We are doing nine layers, and you can just separate the batter into three equal parts and simply alternate the colours. I am going to be doing nine separate colours, just because I happen to have red, yellow and blue food colouring at home.
- Red: Red
- Pink: a hint of Red
- Orange: Red + Yellow
- Yellow: Yellow
- Cyan: a hint of Blue + a hint of Yellow
- Green: Blue + Yellow
- Blue: Blue
- Purple: Blue + Red
These are a total of 8 colours, the ninth colour will just be the white from the original batter.
The food colouring brand I used is called ‘Bake King’, but use any brand that’s easily available to you. Every brand will have different concentrations of colours, so play around with it. In general, 1-2 drops of food colouring is enough.
Steaming Time for the Different Layers
Steam the first layer for 7 minutes.
Subsequent layers, steam for 5 minutes. At each layer, check that they layer is fully solid but still sticky. Some aunties can use their finger to check, but I don’t have their apparently-heatproof fingers so I used a chopstick instead. This is important; if a layer is not fully solid yet, it will combine with the new layer as you pour it in. The final taste will not be affected. This happened to me on one of my first few attempts, and it actually came out a pretty, marble swirl.
DO NOT open the steamer in between to check on the kueh. The kueh will not be able to cook evenly if heat keeps getting released.
You also want to make sure you refill the steamer with water whenever needed – you will very likely need to as the water will evaporate before your kueh lapis is done. Absolutely do not allow the steamer to run on no steam as this will also affect the cooking time of your kuih lapis.
Steam the last final layer for 10 minutes, or until fully solid and set.
At each stage, wipe down the lid of the steamer so water droplets do not drop in your wet batter. Alternatively you can also wrap the lid with a towel to absorb the evaporating water droplets.
How to Cut and Serve Rainbow Kueh Lapis
Let the kueh fully cool to set completely. This should take 3 hours, you can also leave it overnight at room temperature. You can also pop this in a fridge to speed up the cooling process, but make sure it’s not for more than an hour, or else the kueh will toughen.
Use a plastic knife or cutter to slice the kueh lapis easily. If using a steel knife, wipe the knife after every slice with a oiled paper towel so that each new slice is smooth.
How to Store Kueh Lapis
Kueh Lapis can be kept for up to two days in room temperature. To prolong the shelf life, store kueh lapis in the fridge.
Before serving, simply steam the kueh lapis again for about 10 minutes and it should become soft and springy again.
More Recipes Like This
- Pandan Ondeh Ondeh | Chewy mochi with caramel sugar filling
- Lavender Butterfly Blue Pea Kueh Lapis
- Rice Cooker Pulut Hitam | Black Glutinous Rice Pudding
- Martabak Manis (Indonesian thick sweet pancakes)
Singapore Rainbow Nine Layer Kueh LapisCourse: Recipes
- Wash and knot pandan leaves together. Add to pot with water and sugar. Place over heat and let mixture come to a simmer. Let simmer until all the sugar has dissolved. Remove pandan leaves and discard. Strain syrup if there are pandan fibres in syrup.
- Add syrup to coconut milk and stir to combine.
- To coconut milk, whisk tapioca flour, rice flour, and salt. You should get a runny batter.
- Strain the batter several times to remove lumps as well as excess bubbles.
- Separate and portion out batter into three or nine portions, depending on how many colours you want to use. Add food colouring to each portion.
- Let the steamer run first. Ensure it is at a rolling boil.
- Prep baking dish by brushing with a small amount of oil. Place baking dish in the steamer and let it warm up first for about 5-10 minutes.
- Stir portion for first layer as the flours might have separated if left a alone at some time. Then pour batter into the baking dish. Cover and let it steam for 7 minutes.
- At the 7 minute mark, open steamer, and check that the layer is fully solid. It should also be sticky to the touch. Add the second layer, and steam this for 5 minutes.
- Steam subsequent layers for 5 minutes, except the final layer. Steam final layer for 10 minutes.
- Once kueh lapis is cooked, take it out of the steamer and let cool for at least 3 hours to fully set.
- Cut cooled kueh lapis to desired portions and serve!