I don’t know about you, but when my sugar levels hit rock bottom one too many times I start hallucinating. Namely, visions of glutinous rice treats like these Ondeh-ondeh start to haunt me. I suppose I should count myself lucky that my cravings for sweet treats like kuihs and daifuku tend to originate from the Asian region and are more likely to be traditionally devoid of animal ingredients.
Recently, I’ve tried incorporating more raw foods like salads into my diet, just to see if there was a way to sneak them in for someone of Vata disposition. I’ve failed miserably to do so with lethargy, insomnia woes and indigestion, all classic Vata imbalance symptoms nipping at my heels the past week. Perhaps these symptoms ballooned into a full out desire for these familiar warm sweet treats that remind me of childhood?
What happens to a Vata out of balance…
When I say full out desire I’m talking about yesterday, when all of a sudden, I become impregnated with the strong desire to have a full spread of every and any glutinous rice ball known to mankind. I couldn’t tell which I wanted more, was it ondeh-ondeh with its deep dark coconut molasses filling, or daifuku with black sesame red pean filling, or dango with some sweet topping, or tangyuan with oozing molten sweet sesame filling, or ang ku kuih with its soft chewy skin encasing roast peanuts?
My mind was a jumbled mess throwing together different permutations of ingredients – could I make red bean paste tang yuan and roll them in kinako? Maybe daifuku coated with kinako and gula melaka syrup drizzled generously over?? My Vata mind was literally bursting, flitting from one crazy idea to the next. I found myself at a loss wondering exactly what to buy at the supermarket.
Then my eyes fell on a pack of gula melaka. As per habit (not of the weed type), I sniffed it despite its being sealed well in plastic and actually caught a whiff of that intoxicating dark coconut aroma. Wow! Maybe it’s because I can’t remember the last I had gula melaka but it was clearly decided, after paying for my purchases, it was gonna be ondeh-ondeh I’d be making soon.
A little about ondeh-ondeh, for the uninitiated, these are simply what I like to call ‘furry balls of delight’. A good ondeh-ondeh can be chewy or soft, depending on your preference, and should have the fragrance of pandan. The skin shouldn’t be too thick, which would be the mark of an unskilled maker, and the ondeh-ondeh should contain a generous amount of coconut sugar syrup. Biting into a good one therefore results in a burst of syrup filling your mouth and sliding down your throat, which may be a bit shocking at first for those not accustomed. I assure you is a very pleasurable experience though. Since the filling consists entirely of coconut sugar, procuring a quality grade with a strong coconut aroma is highly essential.
Lucky for you and me average folks, ondeh-ondeh is pretty straightforward and easy to make. I say easy, if you have diligently cultivated some level of dexterity and nimbleness in your fingers and palms. Not to mention a keen sense of knowing how to rectify problems concerning glutinous rice doughs and wrapping fillings in dough without bursting. Yup, you’re all set you home cook enthusiast you.
Choosing Gula Melaka (Coconut Palm Sugar)
My mom always said not all gula melaka were born equal. She gets all snooty about origin, giving me the impression that real gula melaka can only really be found in Malacca. In addition, the selection of good quality gula melaka seems to be shrouded in mystery.
“It’s hard for me to tell you, you just know a good one by its looks.”
Thanks, ma. I appreciate the suspense but that’s not very informative. So to find out what makes the cut and what doesn’t, I tried making the filling with two kinds of gula melaka.
The darker one on the left is organic and came in a much larger cylindrical block. It was slightly drier and brittle, perhaps owing to the length of time we’ve kept this one. You can understand why we previously guard its use – it was inherited from an aunt living in KL, so I like to think of it as being of a superior grade. The one on the right I found easily from the supermarket. As you can see, its closer to a caramel color and had more give to it as I could more easily shave it with a knife. Taste-wise, as expected, the left one tastes much darker not unlike how molasses tastes in comparison to sugar. The right tastes brighter and perhaps allowed me to discern the coconut flavor better? But strangely had a metallic aftertaste. Had it got to do with the higher levels of iron and other beneficial minerals found in coconut sugar? *shrug*
So how’s one to use these coconut palm sugar blocks you (the non-Southeast Asian) ask. Simple, shave off as much as you need, chop to fine bits and use where you like a dark sweet taste with an accompanying coconut aroma.
In fact, it might do you good to pop a small bit into your mouth and see how it tastes. Perhaps they make for better non-dairy treats compared to caramel. Besides ondeh-ondeh where the filling entirely consists of gula melaka, one can melt this down to a syrup (which is used in Cendol) and use for drizzling over pancakes, cakes or dessert or use it to sweeten drinks and other baked goods for a different accent.
Gula Melaka chopped, onward to making the glutinous rice dough!
Making Sweet Potato Ondeh-ondeh – Making the Dough
I picked a recipe using sweet potato that comes from Foodista which I thought might produce softer, chewier skins.
The dough proportions weren’t very accurate considering I had to use a lot more water than indicated. As above, the dough was way too dry and had deep ravines running through. I actually added about 1 1/2 to 1 3/4 times the amount of water. Basically, you want a soft dough that can be molded easily without much cracks. What you have to expect with glut. rice flour though, is that it won’t be malleable like gluten flour and its texture can more accurately be described as ‘soft and moldable’ like playdough. The recipe proportions for gula melaka and coconut were spot on though, and I wasn’t left with too much of either dough, filling or coating.
Here’s my first attempt ever at making the ondeh-ondeh. Not so bad if I say so myself. These have already been stuffed with the coconut sugar…
Forming the Ondeh-ondeh & How to stuff a lot of filling
Okay, so this is me who’s ever made ondeh-ondeh once trying to teach you the technique to successfully molding these dough balls. Please pardon the pretentiousness.
First, pinch off some dough about half the size of a golf ball, roll gently in your palms till smooth then make an indentation where your filling will go in. Some key tips: cover the rest of your dough to prevent drying out, be gentle and don’t roll the dough too much as it might crack, also don’t spread the dough too thinly when you make the indentation as the dough might also crack.
Proceed to heap the minced gula melaka in.
No dignified cook will ever pass up the opportunity to stuff as much filling into anything. And you know what? You can have your cake and eat it. I’ve always been using the same simple trick for stuffing fillings ever since I learnt it from making Anpan.
It looks almost too much, but once you compress the contents into the dough (carefully!) using a teaspoon, you’ll find that you’re able to stretch the skin more without ripping while having enough leeway at the top to press the ends shut. Again, I gotta emphasize that the dough cannot be too thin otherwise it will rip, for sure. Be greedy within limits, okay?
Seal the tops, gently, gently.
You can see that the balls aren’t exactly baby-bottom smooth-like, which is not a problem at all since they will be boiled in hot water. This gelatinizes the starch and makes the cracks less visible. And after that roller coaster of a ride bobbing up and down in boiling water, they will be coated in grated coconut anyway so heck, these don’t even have to be a perfect sphere!
Make sure though that when you happily shape the balls, you place them on a non-sticky surface especially if your kitchen tends to be hot and humid from, I don’t know, other things cooking on the stove at the same time?! When I molded them months back in my cousin’s kitchen, they began to stick onto the plates. Not a pleasant memory.
Boiling the Ondeh-ondeh & Coating them
Now that the water in your pot is boiling away, slip in 4-5 balls at a time. Let them come to a boil, not too furiously lest this perforates the skins and your precious coconut gold leaks out, nor let it go to a simmer. Perhaps a good description would be ‘let bubble away until the balls swell visibly and float to the surface’, like so.
Don’t scoop them out in haste when they start to float. Let them boil for a minute or two longer just to make sure the granules of sugar have melted entirely (especially if you didn’t chop them very finely) or risk little chunks in your ondeh-ondeh marring your otherwise very successful attempt.
Out from the pot, slip them gently onto a bed of fluffy grated coconut. Notice how many times I’ve said gently?? Well if you made all the effort in the world to stuff your ondeh-ondeh to the max with filling to the point of making the skin real thin you don’t want risking a burst in these babies now do you? I have to say though, that some of them WILL burst, its all part of the ondeh-ondeh experience and its not your fault if you tried. Boiling in increases the pressure inside the balls and makes them susceptible to springing a leak anyways. It’s okay, just pop them into your mouth and pretend nothing happened. Evidence destroyed 😀
Made fresh, ondeh-ondeh is best eaten on the spot when their skins are the softest, or at most within the next day. If you find they’ve toughened up a little, or that the sugar hasn’t quite melted on the inside, you can still salvage them by re-warming in the microwave. Please take caution and don’t overdo it else they might explode and rain down on your parade, especially after all that hard work making them.
Recipe & Gula Melaka Afterthoughts
My afterthoughts? I think I prefer the usual green ondeh-ondeh made with just pandan water and glut. rice flour since I prefer chewy rather than soft skins. I would’ve also made an effort to shape the balls smaller since they really poof up after cooking. Regarding which gula melaka I preferred, I felt either didn’t make the cut in terms of delivering a full on coconut flavor, but really, maybe that is to be expected from less than the highest grade of coconut sugar. My mom preferred the lighter one compared to the dark one so the supermarket type gula melaka is still passable for ondeh-ondeh it seems!
All in all, if you’ve only ever eaten them before without making, I do urge you to try making yourself (albeit under the watchful eye of an experienced person/homecook enthusiast who knows his/her way around the kitchen!). It makes for a simple and fun treat to make and enjoy eating especially if you’ve got friends who can help during the process.
For the moment, I’m (burp) all maxed out on coconut sugar. Craving satisfied after having about 8 balls of these, I won’t be getting my hands dirty with rice flour for quite a while. But we shall see…