I've developed quite a sweet tooth since moving to KL. It's hard not to, when it seems that at any time of the day or night one is never far from a vendor pushing -- and, sometimes, making on the spot -- one or another tempting morsel that is as easy on the taste buds as it is lovely to look at. And when most everything sweet on the street can be purchased by the piece, or a few pieces, for a song ... well, there's no use even trying to resist when "just a taste" is well within the realm of possibilities.
Two of my very favorite southeast Asian dessert ingredients -- sweet, smoky, almost undetectably bitter palm sugar and coconut in any of its forms (fresh grated, milk, cream) -- play a key role in quite a few Malaysian sweets. Yet another strike against abstinence.
Last Sunday, after a big lunch (aren't they all?) followed by a quick stop at the grocery store, Dave and I came across two young ladies peddling freshly made putu piring: steamed rice flour cakes filled with -- yes! -- palm sugar and topped with -- you know it-- freshly grated coconut. They were doing business in a spot on a Bangsar sidewalk usually occupied by a gent whom we've come to know as "the Bangsar bubur cha cha man". Our attention was drawn by the play of late afternoon light off the conical lids of their stainless steel steamer.
In truth were were not at all hungry, but these ladies were doing a steady business and, as I've learned over the years in Asia, any product proffered by a vendor receiving a constant flow of customers demands investigation.
To make the putu piring, coarsely ground rice flour is patted into a round, flattish mold, and then topped with a rounded teaspoon or so of grated palm sugar.
In the picture above, putu piring yet to receive their palm sugar filling can be seen to the right of the umbrella pole.
More rice flour is added -- enough to thinly cover the palm sugar -- and then firmly patted down. The molds are then turned upside down over thin pieces of cotton cloth lining the steamer, and a lid placed on top of each cake. After just a few minutes, the putu piring are steamed through.
Once the lid is off, a square of banana leaf placed on top of these delicate little cakes facilitates their removal from steamer bed to takeaway container -- which, in this case, is a piece of thin plastic laid on top of a sheet of newspaper. Grated coconut is heaped on top before the packet is sealed.
Verdict? Perhaps my dream sweet -- lots and lots of coconut and palm sugar flavor with no interference from other ingredients. Rice flour makes for a cake almost fluffy, and not at all sweet, a neutrality that allows the other two ingredients to take center stage. Overall, sweet enough to satisfy but light enough to allow multiple servings -- a wonderful (and dangerous) combination.
Delight in these putu piring on Sunday afternoons only, right outside TMC grocery store (red and yellow sign), Jalan Ara, Bangsar.