Onde-Onde (Sweetened Pandan Coconut Balls)
Few Asian desserts bring me home like ‘Onde-Onde’—I call it ‘Own-Day-Own-Day’ (Sweetened Pandan Coconut Balls). The name has Malay origins and has different variations in different parts of Southeast Asia. ‘Ondeh-Ondeh’ is a spelling variation but refers to the same kuih or kueh as known in Singapore. In some ways it comes as no surprise that many claim ‘Kueh Dadar’ is similar to Onde-Onde in taste since they both have a strong pandan taste coupled with the unmistakable yumminess of juicy gula melaka (palm sugar) and grated coconut with every bite. Yet I tend not to fully agree with that observation. True that while the two share similar ingredients (pandan, gula melaka, coconut) yet Onde Onde is so much more exciting. There is nothing quite as gratifying as popping one of these delightful soft green balls and having your eyes pop wide open as you’re greeted by the ‘burst’ of sweet honeyed gula melaka filling your whole mouth. Yum. It’s like the the Pop Rocks surprise. Only that it’s Asian-style, sans the prickly zing of some explosive sweet?
The trickiest bit is the right amount of dough to gula melaka—you’re aiming for just enough to seal the ball without tasting far too much thick dough and thin enough without having the gula melaka ooze out before it reaches your mouth! When I first tried making this it took me so many frustrating attempts and many ‘wasted’ balls of onde onde stained with brown spots that were far too ugly to be served and far too ‘leaky’ to be tasty.
On watching a travel documentary featuring ‘Nyonya kueh’, I discovered the fool-proof secret is to roll the gula melaka into pea-sized marbles before inserting them into the dough! That was my Aha! moment, as with my secret of discovering that plunging the cooked balls into icy water to cool off just before the coconut coating stage, gave a super result.
I’ve included a pretty good recipe here, and be forewarned: once you start popping, you can’t stop! Enjoy, and if you have kids like I do, rope them in for some extra kitchen labour. They’ll have a ball, literally. To them, it’s edible and sweet green play dough.
Kat’s Onde Onde (makes about 25 balls)
300g Mashed Sweet Potato (skin of 1 large peeled, steamed and mashed up sweet potato)
150g Glutinous Rice Flour + 25g tapioca flour or cassava flour + 2 TB white sugar
100g cold water (for mixing flours and sweet potato to a dough)
¼ tsp salt
2 drops Pandan essence
150 g Gula Melaka (Palm Sugar), finely grated, rolled into mini balls
250 g dessicated coconut, or if you are very blessed—finely grated mature coconut
1 pandan leaf tied into a knot (for steaming)
1 large bowl of icy water (for cooling cooked dough balls)
Steam the desiccated coconut with 1 TB water and the salt with 1 fresh pandan leaf for about 15 minutes.
Skin the sweet potatoes. Steam the sweet potato on medium to high for 30 minutes or until the flesh is mushy. Mash the sweet potato flesh to a pulp.
For the dough, rub-in the mashed sweet potato with the glutinous rice flour, tapioca flour and white sugar until it has a coarse crumb consistency. Add water gradually, starting with about 40-50ml, then about 10ml each time and keep kneading till dough is pliable and no longer feels sticky to the touch. Add the pandan essence for colour and flavouring and mix it through the dough.
Grate gula melaka (palm sugar) into shreds or use a food processor to blitz it and grind it more finely. Using your fingers, roll into mini balls about the size of a tiny grape.
Pour the steamed dessicated coconut onto a wide plate, ready to coat the onde-onde once it has been boiled. Meanwhile, bring a pot of water to the boil, ready for boiling the uncooked dough balls and another bowl of icy water to cool the cooked onde-onde.
Roll out a small piece of dough (about 20g each) into a small ball and flatten it slightly. Insert a pea-sized ball of palm sugar into the middle and roll the dough to form a ball again, taking care to seal it completely.
Lower the balls of onde-onde gently into the pot of boiling water with a slotted spoon. They are done when they float up to the surface of the water. Remove each one carefully to prevent breaking and plunge them into the cold water to cool. Quickly toss each cooled onde-onde into the steamed dessicated coconut, rolling them around the plate till each one is completely covered with the coconut.