It’s probably only in Singapore and Malaysia that you’d have two very different names for the same food. With our multi-ethnic composition, it’s very natural for cultural boundaries to be blurred and cuisines to be merged– hmm, I just couldn’t figure / find out whether this is supposed to be a Chinese pancake or a Malay pancake… so, let’s simply call it Singaporean / Malaysian!
I noticed while looking through recipes for Min Chiang Kueh that ‘alkaline water’ was a recurring ingredient in most recipes. Whenever the word ‘alkaline’ pops up, there’s always something interesting to say about the recipe. After all, how often do you add stuff that tastes like soap to your food? Or try this: name as many acidic foods as you can, and now try to name the alkaline ones. Umm baking soda (chemical leavener), ehhh egg white (very slightly alkaline), ehhhmmm sodium hydroxide (used to make Chinese century eggs or to make pretzels a rich dark brown!), uhhh… *blank*
Alkali is simply not normally found in food environments, but it sure has some useful properties — for instance, enhancing the Maillard reaction! [Let's save the century egg chemistry for another day.] As spoken of in the earlier pretzel post, raising the pH promotes this chemical reaction that leads to the formation of more brown pigments and a more intense roasty aroma. That’s exactly what happens in my beloved Min Chiang Kueh, or so I believe to be true, as how else would it be possible to get such a lovely dark brown sheen by merely pan-heating the batter on medium heat for 3-5 min, without developing a crisp crust?
That said, now that we know what the alkaline solution is for, there’s no need to comb the country to find ‘alkaline water’ on the retail shelves (they sell it in baking stores in Singapore for several other Asian food applications), as sodium bicarbonate (baking soda) I have used, worked perfectly well too. Yeast was my trusty leavener, conferring a nice bready flavour to the thick pancake that was porous enough to yield a satisfyingly soft yet chewy texture. Definitely one of my favourite Singaporean snacks!
Min Chiang Kueh / Apam Balik Recipe adapted from Lee Lee
- 150g plain flour
- 10g corn / potato / rice flour (for a more tender texture)
- 250ml warm water
- 30g sugar
- 1/4 tsp salt
- 1/2 tsp baking soda
- 1 tsp instant yeast
- 50g peanuts
- 12g sesame
- 25g sugar
- To make the filling, pulse the peanuts and 50g of sugar in a food processor (not too fine, nice to have some peanut bits to chew on). Mix in sesame seeds. (Or make more and store for the next time you make the pancake!)
- Mix all the pancake ingredients together and go do some studying for 1 hour.
- The batter gets all puffed up and sticky — add additional water (~50ml) to get a consistency that will flow on the pan.
- Use a paper towel and grease the surface of a 30cm diameter non-stick frying pan. Heat pan on medium heat.
- Pour half of the batter into the pan, swivel pan to spread evenly, and cover pan with a lid.
- Pancake is done when the top surface just completely dries out (about 5 min).
- Remove from pan and make the second pancake (batter makes two ~25cm pancakes).
- Spread a generous portion of peanut filling on one half of the pancake and fold over. Cut and serve!
Just 5 min of preparation, 1h of proofing (go do something useful meanwhile), and 15min of pancake-making. Creating delicious snacks hardly gets any easier than this!