A popular local snack in Singapore, Ang Ku Kueh (in Hokkien), also known as 红龟粿 in Chinese, and literally translated as ‘red tortoise cake’ is a traditional Chinese sweet or savoury snack that is typically eaten for breakfast or anytime of the day or teabreak. It’s made of glutinous rice flour and filled with sweet or savoury paste fillings such as mung bean paste, sesame paste, peanut paste, pandan coconut filling and more.
The classic ang ku kueh is red in colour, shaped like a tortoise (hence the name ‘red tortoise cake’), and imprinted with auspicious Chinese characters such as 寿 (longevity), 福 (fortune), 吉祥 (auspicious). During joyous occasions such as an elderly’s birthday, a baby first month celebration or Chinese religious rituals, it is not uncommon to see this snack being offered during prayers or served as gift to guests. You will also find other colours such as green, purple, orange, yellow, blue or even multi-coloured ang ku kuehs.
Here’s my rendition of the classic ang ku kueh that is sugar-free. The deep red colour of the skin comes from blending and extracting the concentrated juice of the beetroot. I’ve also tried boiling the beetroot and sieved out the fruit to extract the juice and it yields a pretty nice pink. I’ve made the red ang ku kueh wrapped with sugar-free peanut paste as well as sweet sugar-free mung bean paste. Both taste great, as I made my own paste, I was able to substitute the sugar with Stevia sweetener or Monk Fruit sweetener, slightly more ideal for people who are conscious of sugar intake.
Tips when making Ang Ku Kueh
- In order to yield a soft pliable dough that does not break easily when kneaded, it’s important to add hot boiling water to the dough, not just hot water. Adding hot boiling water helps ‘cook’ the glutinous rice flour that give rise to a soft flexible dough.
- Control the heat when you steam, boil the water on high and after placing the ang ku kuehs into the steamer, reduce the heat to medium and leave a little opening to let steam out a little. Whenever there’s extensive moisture forming on the lid cover, quickly wipe it dry as the water condensation might drip to the kuehs and with high heat, it’ll lose its shape quickly.
- I used a 50/50 ratio for the filling and dough. I find it’s the perfect balance as the skin is thin enough for the amount of filling.
- Coat the kueh with a thin layer of glutinous rice flour before pressing the dough into the mould, so that it’s easy for the pressed dough to be knocked out of the mould.
- Do not undercook the kueh. Cooked ang ku kueh should have translucent skin.
- After it’s cooked, brush some vegetable oil on it.
Watch how to make Ang Ku Kueh on YouTube
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Sugar-Free and Gluten-Free Ang Ku Kueh (Red Tortoise Cake 无糖红龟粿)
- 80 g glutinous rice flour
- 1 tsp Stevia sweetener or sugar
- ⅛ tsp fine salt
- 10 ml vegetable oil
- 30 ml beetroot juice from 1 beetroot
- 45 ml hot boiling water
- Peanut paste filling or mung bean paste filling
- Banana leaves wiped clean and cut to size
- 1 tbsp vegetable oil for brushing
- 1 tbsp glutinous rice flour for dusting the moulds
Prepare the dough for the skin:
- Peel and cut beetroot into small pieces. Blend and sieve to extract 30ml juice concentrate. Bring beetroot juice to a boil.
- Mix 80g glutinous rice flour with 1/8 tsp fine salt, and 1 tsp Stevia sweetener (or sugar). Stir to combine well. Make a well in the centre and pour in 45ml hot boiling water. Use a spatula to start stirring until it forms a crumbly dough. Then add 30ml of hot beetroot juice and continue to mix.
- When cool enough to handle, use your hand to knead the dough and gradually add the oil and continue to knead into a soft, pliable and shiny dough.
- Cover and let it rest for 15 minutes. The dough should be soft and will not break when kneaded.
Assembling the Ang Ku Kueh:
- Wash and dry the banana leaves. Cut out the banana leaves according to the size of the mould, leaving about 1cm space all around. Grease one side of the banana leaves with vegetable oil.
- Roll into balls 20g of peanut paste filling each, and 20g of the dough each. I’m using a 40g mould. The ratio of dough versus filling I used is 50/50.
- Roll the 20g dough into a ball, press a hole in the middle with your thumb to form a ‘bowl’.
- Place the peanut paste filling in the middle of the ‘bowl’ and press the edge of the dough to close. Make sure it’s sealed properly to avoid leakage. Then roll into a smooth ball again.
- Dust the dough ball with some glutinous rice flour before gently pressing the dough ball into the mould to form the shape. Knock the mold gently on your palm and the dough will flip out of the mould.
- Place each ang ku kueh on a greased banana leaf.
Steam the Ang Ku Kueh:
- Boil water in a steamer pot on high heat. Place the ang ku kueh on a steamer tray, leaving about 2cm apart from each piece. Cover with lid, leaving a small opening of about 1cm.
- Steam on medium heat for about 10-15 minutes until skin turns translucent.Note: I steamed my 40g ang ku kueh for about 13.5 minutes on average each time). I also wiped off the moisture condensation forming on the lid 2-3 times during steaming.
- Transfer the ang ku kueh onto a plate and brush with some vegetable oil. Let the ang ku kueh cool down before serving.
How to store Ang Ku Kueh
- Cooked ang ku kueh can be kept at room temperature for 1-2 days. Keep in an airtight container and store in the fridge, that should last about 5-7 days. To serve, just steam on medium heat for about 3-5 minutes.
- If you would like to store cooked ang ku kueh for a longer period, it can also be kept in an airtight container in the freezer for up to 3 months. To serve, just steam without thawing on medium heat for about 5-8 minutes.