It’s the Lunar New Year and Kepong homemaker Jennifer Yap, 45, is prepared to welcome the Year of the Ox. Her house is decorated for the festive season, complete with lanterns, auspicious couplets and good luck plants like lucky bamboo and kumquat tree.
In the past few days, Jennifer’s sister May Yap, 42, has been dropping by her home to prepare kuih kapit, one of the most popular treats during Chinese New Year.
Making these wafer-thin biscuits is undoubtedly a labour-intensive task. But the sisters are well versed in this as they have been making it since primary school.
“In the 1980s, our mother sold kuih kapit, cakes and cookies to supplement the family income. Back then, my sisters and I used to assist her, from mixing the batter, baking it to folding the kuih kapit. Even though it was hard work, we didn’t mind because we knew our parents were struggling to put food on our table, ” said Jennifer, who has two children.
Kuih kapit is a traditional sweet snack made by pouring batter in an iron mould baked over a charcoal stove. The mould has two plates, which are attached to two long handles used to control the wafer grill over a charcoal stove. Some moulds are plain but most are etched with animal and floral motifs.
Kuih kapit, also known as kuih semprong, egg roll, and kuih Belanda, is commonly found in Malaysia, Indonesia and Brunei. It is said to have been introduced to these local communities by the Dutch during the 17th century. The Spanish have their own version, called barquillo. This snack is popular in the Philippines, a country colonised by Spain in the 16th century.
Kuih kapit or love letters are a popular festive snack. Its name came about because lovers used to hide love notes in its folds to communicate with each other in olden days.
Over the years, kuih kapit has evolved with new flavours made with pandan, and sprinklings of white and black sesame seeds. There are variations with fillings of melted chocolate, or chicken floss and peanut butter.
The Yap family sticks to the original version, made of rice flour, eggs, coconut milk and sugar.
“To ensure the kuih kapit tastes nice, we use fresh ingredients. We buy fresh eggs and coconut milk from the morning market. Using fresh coconut milk gives a nice and sweet aroma to our homemade kuih kapit, ” explains Jennifer.
To make it, the charcoal stove is prepared early in the morning. It requires a fair bit of skill to ensure the fire is set at the right temperature. If it’s too hot, the kuih kapit will burn, and if there weren’t enough charcoal, the wafer would take too long to crisp.
“In the past, our mother and siblings would gather at my house to make the kuih kapit. However, this year, Mom has been unwell and hasn’t been able to help us much. Our sisters Penny and Alice can’t come over due to the movement control order. Thankfully May lives in the same neighbourhood, so she has been coming over to help me, ” Jennifer explains.
May takes charge of handling the iron moulds. She spoons the runny batter over the hot mould and quickly places them over the hot charcoal. She works quickly, while keeping an eye on the moulds over the heat. She turns the moulds regularly to avoid burning the wafers.
“Once we start, we can’t stop. Sometimes, we don’t even have time to answer our handphone. If we leave the moulds on the charcoal for too long, the wafers will burn, ” explains Jennifer.
They open the moulds after awhile, and May gently peels off the wafer carefully without tearing it. Jennifer has to quickly fold the wafer rounds into a triangle while they are still hot and pliable, and stores them carefully in a tin
The wafer is crispy and crumbles in the mouth. It has the right combination of sweetness, and creamy flavourful hints of coconut. It’s simply moreish and it’s hard to stop at one.
It is a tedious job to prepare these treats using a charcoal stove. Despite the availability of electric kuih kapit machines and stovetop krumkake (a crispy Norwegian cookie) mould, Jennifer prefers making these wafer cookies using traditional methods.
Sitting in front of the charcoal stove and folding the hot wafers make the task of preparing love letters a particularly hot affair, and most people would always brew a cooling herbal drink to counter its heaty effects.
“These moulds, baked over charcoal fire, tends to yield thinner and crispier wafers. People like our kuih kapit because they are homemade and tastier. Although making kuih kapit this way is hard work, it pays off because they taste good.”
KUIH KAPIT (makes about 200 wafers)
500g rice flour
300g castor sugar
300g fresh coconut milk
To a mixing bowl, add eggs and castor sugar. Whisk till sugar dissolves.
Add fresh coconut milk and rice flour and mix well. Add in water.
Strain mixture into another mixing bowl.
Heat up the kuih kapit moulds over a heated grill
Open the clasp and pour batter till it forms a thin coat.
Close the mould and place it back on the grill. Grill until the kuih kapit is golden brown.
Quickly remove from the mold and fold it into quarters. Repeat until the batter is used up.
Once cooled, store in an airtight container.
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