March 22, 2011

BALINESE TEA CAKES


Last fall in the mountains of Bali, we tasted a local delicacy that we ended up dreaming about for months: lak lak, small crumpet-like cakes made from rice flour.  P, the kids, and I were all smitten and found ourselves scarfing down these Balinese tea cakes as though we hadn't eaten in ages. When we returned to Mount Batukaru last month, we knew we had to eat more lak lak. Johnny, our ever-gracious host at Bali Eco Stay, not only plied us with daily doses of these fresh Balinese cakes topped with palm sugar syrup and shredded coconut, he arranged for Lilah and I to go and cook with the lak lak lady.


It turns out there are lak lak all over Bali, with many regional variations, but Ibu Yoga is the lak lak goddess of Kanciana village. She makes hundreds daily to sell nearby. Being invited into a traditional Balinese kitchen was a first for me, and I was psyched. Ibu Yoga's kitchen is without fancy gadgets, electrical appliances, or even running water. Everything is cooked over a fire. I was awed by the beauty of the walls blackened with years of smoke and wondered just how many lak laks had been cooked there.

 

With very little verbal communication possible, I studied Ibu Yoga's technique and tried to glean her recipe.  I watched closely as she made the batter. With her hands, she mixed only two ingredients, rice flour and very warm water, until the consistency was like watery paint. When I saw her special terracotta lak lak pan, I asked if there was somewhere I could buy one. She ended up giving me her old pan (the one used in these photos) assuring me she had a nice new pan for herself. I treasured her soot-covered ceramic pan and hoped that all its memories of lak lak-making with Ibu Yoga would lead to success in my own kitchen.

When we got back to our little Bali kitchen, I was itching to try my luck at lak lak. I knew that cooking over a wood fire was essential to Ibu Yoga's cakes. An open fire, aside from camping, is not the norm for me - so I put Ibu's pan over the gas flame and got cooking. Like Ibu, I heated water up in a kettle, chopped candlenuts for seasoning the pan, then I mixed rice flour and warm water with my hands until the consistency looked like the Ibu Yoga's batter.


My first few attempts at my own lak lak were not great: the cakes were too thick, chewy, or under-cooked. But after a couple of tries, I felt as though my brief training with the master paid off. Now, after school, I fire up the lak lak pan and my kids and their buddies line up panting and chanting for lak lak. Sometimes we top them with palm syrup and coconut in the traditional fashion. Otherwise we use a dollop of coconut cream and a sprinkling of coconut sugar, or even just a smear of Nutella.

In this year of traveling mostly in the world's rice belt, I have come to see rice and rice flour as astonishingly versatile ingredients. I never would have guessed that rice flour mixed with water could be transformed into something as delicious as lak lak. Even if Ibu Yoga's ceramic lak lak pan does not survive our journey home, I am going to try a cast iron aebleskiver pan on my gas stove top in Berkeley. We cannot live without lak laks.

12 comments:

  1. Wow that's so awesome that you got a demonstration from her! Sharing recipes and eating different foods is the best part of traveling

    ReplyDelete
  2. Those look delicious! We had those in Malaysia and they were slightly different but equally delicous

    ReplyDelete
  3. This is so yummy. Thank you very much for sharing!

    ReplyDelete
  4. I love that it is a strictly rice product. So many cultures use wheat in their cooking now. I thought Chinese and Japanese cooking would use lots of rice and they do, but their desserts have lots of wheat in them. I would love more recipes with just rice flour or wheat flour alternatives.

    I enjoy authentic foods and unfortunately wheat has become so invasive in other countries and have tainted their foods. Any chicken Thai recipes would be great.

    I think these look wonderful and I love the simplicity of them. Great pictures too!

    ReplyDelete
  5. Thanks guys! Wish I could make a batch of lak lak for you all!
    Olinda, it is such a simple recipe and a delight that there is no need for wheat. I agree that so many rice-based cuisines are now adding wheat to their cooking. But if you can get to the really traditional recipes - voila, no wheat! More to come...
    -E

    ReplyDelete
  6. These remind me a little of those tiny Vietnamese pancakes filled with dried shrimp and drizzled with scallion oil. I can see why you were dreaming of them so long. They look addicting. You can't possibly eat just one. ;)

    ReplyDelete
  7. Erin, I am so completely in love with your blog. Such delicious recipes and amazing pictures. Mmmm. You have me inspired to cook up some black rice pudding in our kitchen here at Bloo Lagoon!! And also love 316 days...wish we had thought of that! :)

    Leonora

    ReplyDelete
  8. Your photographs are amazing. Love.

    ReplyDelete
  9. My grandparents' house in countryside used to have a "stove" like this, which was built with bricks. This kind of old style stove can make very delicious rice cake (e.g. sweet red bean cakes or turnip/daikon cakes). Love your posts and photos. Cheers!

    ReplyDelete
  10. Guess my earlier comment didn't make it through! I just saw Rochelle who told me about these - how did I miss them when I was in Bali? Can't wait to find the time and the pan. Gotta LOVE tea cakes in all cultures!

    ReplyDelete
  11. Yummm... While in Central and East Java lak lak is known as Serabi and in West Java, it's caled surabi.

    ReplyDelete
  12. Moutwatering photographs! These little pancakes sound delicious - I wonder whether I will dare to try making them

    ReplyDelete

So good to hear from you... I appreciate each and every note you leave for me!

Thanks,
E

Related Posts with Thumbnails