Kow Chan Kuih (Nine Layer Kuih) a.k.a. Kuih Lapis

Hooray I finally made Kuih Lapis – possibly the most famous of traditional Nonya kuihs to grace the menus of many festive occassions e.g. wedding tea ceremonies. As a kid though, the Kuih Lapis was to me, a pasar malam (night market) staple. It made regular appearances on our dining table, so much so that I got quite sick of eating it, opting for other enticing offerings such as savoury karipap (curry puffs), banana leaf-wrapped glutinous rice with spicy prawn paste, yam/taro kuih with chilli sauce, sago and coconut kuihs etc. However this is one of J’s favourites (I have always been a Kuih Talam gal at heart) and since I have plenty of rice flour to spare in the pantry, let the kuih-making mania begin! Plucked from my newly purchased “Nonya Flavours: A Complete Guide to Penang Straits Chinese Cuisine cookbook jointly published by The State Chinese (Penang) Association & Star Publications (Malaysia), this recipe is quite the gem.


The recipe was pretty straightforward with simple ingredients, the kuih texture was right – firm and yet tender, it tasted like how it should taste without being sickly sweet and the individual pink and white layers peeled away beautifully, much to our delight! A tiny fault which was probably my own doing was not using the correct pan size; I ended up with 7 instead of 9 layers but still it was great fun peeling and eating the kuih by the layers!

 Peeled Away nice and clean

KOW CHAN KUIH (Nine Layer Kuih)
(adapted from “Nonya Flavours: A Complete Guide to Penang Straits Chinese Cuisine”)


180 g rice flour
150 ml water

180 g sugar
350 ml water
2 pandan leaves, knotted (also known as screwpine leaves – available at asian groceries)

200 ml thick coconut milk (from 1 grated coconut – note: I just used canned coconut milk)
1/8 tsp salt
1-2 drops pink colouring
1-2 orange-red colouring


  1. Combine the rice flour and water in a mixing bowl. Set aside to soak for 1 hour.
  2. Meanwhile, make the syrup – boil together the sugar, water and pandan leaves to dissolve the sugar. Leave to cool slightly, about 15 minutes.
  3. Add the sugar syrup, thick coconut milk and salt to the soaked rice flour in the mixing bowl. Mix well. Sieve and divide the batter into two. Colour one portion pink.
  4. Heat up a steamer. Heat a greased 20 cm (8″) round pan for 5 minutes in the steamer. Pour half cup of the white batter on the heated tray to coat it evenly all over to about 0.25 cm thick. Steam covered for 5 minutes, or until set. Then pour half a cup of pink batter over the white, and steam covered for 5 minutes, or until set. Repeat, alternating the white and pink layers until the last layer, which traditionally is coloured orange-red.
  5. After steaming the orange-red layer until set, steam the kuih for a further 15 minutes, opening the lid every 5 minutes.
  6. Test for doneness: the layer is set if it doesn’t stick to the fingers. Generally, 3 to 5 minutes is sufficient to set the layer; the layers may fail to bind if they have been steamed too long. Cool completely before cutting into diamond shapes. Use a serrated cutter for a more distinct shape.


like vibrant paint!

 *  UPDATE (below) : Kuih Lapis from my second attempt: all nine layers present!

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