The art of making the perfect Kuih Kapit (love letters)
Some people claim that oysters are an aphrodisiac. Then there are others who say that the tomato is the food of love (from its name pomme d'amour – French for "love apple").
In Malaysia, there exists a delicacy that, despite its name, is neither an aphrodisiac nor a love potion. Yet those who have tasted it have been known to wax lyrical over the exquisite flavour. The "love letter", more commonly known as Kuih Kapit (a paper-thin crispy biscuit), is an essential feature of Chinese and Malay festivals.
"To make, very time consuming; to eat, very fast," is an apt and colloquial way of describing the Kuih Kapit. While the women of the household sweat and strain over a charcoal stove, the younger ones wait eagerly to gobble all up.
Making Kuih Kapit has always been a family affair for the Cheah household. Many cooks may spoil the soup, but in this case, many hands – coming from a family of eight siblings – make work light. Come Chinese New Year, family members gather together for the annual Kuih Kapit secession, to catch up on gossip and swap stories while slaving over the hot charcoal stove.
Making Kuih Kapit requires a certain amount of multi-tasking. The "chief" cook juggles several tasks at one time – minding the fire, flipping the moulds, mixing and pouring the batter, cooking each piece to a perfect golden brown colour, then trimming the run-offs.
The assistants, on the other hand, have to quickly fold the Kuih Kapit into halves and then again into quarters, each representing a Chinese fan, while it is still hot and pliable. These works of art, once cooled, are then arranging neatly in air-tight containers.
Although the latter sounds like a simple task, one must remember that folding each Kuih Kapit must be done within a split second as it hardens almost instantaneously, making folding then impossible. An experienced assistant will also be able to choose the 'nicer side' to face outward so as to make the biscuit look more presentable.
Nowadays, two-moulded electric Kuih Kapit makers are available on the market; however, the most efficient way to make Kuih Kapit is still the traditional way.
- Sieve together 250 g rice flour and 2 tbsp tapioca flour
- 300 g sugar
- 10 medium-size eggs
- 400 ml fresh unadulterated coconut milk (from 2 grated coconuts)
- To prepare the batter, combine all the ingredients in a large mixing bowl. Stir them with a wire whisk to mix well until the sugar has dissolved. Strain the batter and allow it to stand for an hour before making the love letters. If a large batch is being made, store a portion of the batter in the refrigerator or a cool place to prevent the coconut milk from fermenting. A thin coating batter is desirable. Thin down with water if the batter is too thick.
- Heat up love letter mould over the charcoal grill. Keep the fire moderate and consistent in order that the colour of the love letter is even.
- Lightly grease inside (both sides) of the mould with cooking oil before pouring the batter for the first time.
- When sufficiently hot, pour a ladleful of the batter onto the mould. Close the mould tightly and bake over the charcoal fire for about half a minute on each side. Trim the run-offs from the batter with a butter knife before opening the mould to check the colour.
- When a love letter is golden in colour, remove it and immediately fold into a triangle. You can also choose to roll up the love letters if desired.
- Cool the love letters and store them in an air-tight container or tin.
Written and photographed by Adrian Cheah
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Updated: 1 February 2021