Growing up in Singapore in a Chinese-Indonesian family, I looked forward to two things at Chinese/Lunar New Year: red packets filled with cold hard cash; and an assortment of new year goodies ranging from savory foods such as bak kwa (Chinese pork jerky) to sweet treats like Indonesian kue semprong.
Kue semprong, also known as kuih kapit in Malay, is a thin crepe-like cookie that has been rolled into a cigar shape. It is so-called because of its resemblance to a smokestack (semprong in Indonesian). This colonial legacy is believed to be inspired by rolletjes, a crisp waffle-like cookie the Dutch eat at New Year. Thus the cookie’s other name, kue belanda or Dutch cake. Eager to localize this delicacy, Indonesians swapped out the wheat flour and milk with rice flour and coconut milk.
A cookie can never have too many names; which brings us to another moniker for kue semprong—love letters. Legend has it that these cookies were often used to relay love notes. Back in the day, girls and boys were not allowed to mix and mingle freely without chaperones. A lovestruck teenager must have spotted the opportunity, inserted a love note into a cookie, and tossed it over the fence for her crush. If the cookie was eaten, it meant the message was taken to heart. Secret lovers could also use this modus operandi to exchange messages. Since the medium of exchange was edible, any evidence could be easily and quickly destroyed.
This year, Chinese New Year and Valentine’s Day are only two days apart. So perhaps it’s no coincidence that love letters play a role during both holidays.
Speaking of love, making kue semprong is definitely a labor of love. The cookie is traditionally made by sandwiching a thin layer of batter between two metal plates, and the mold grilled over a charcoal stove. The molds come in different designs: flat, corrugated or etched with auspicious and decorative words and animals. Once cooked, the cookie is quickly rolled into a cylinder.
In lieu of the traditional molds (which you can find on eBay), I used a pizzelle-maker to make my kue semprong. They end up a little shorter and thicker, but the flavor is spot-on. Kue semprong is usually paper-thin; the delicate cookie crust should shatter the moment you bite into them. —Pat Tanumihardja
Test Kitchen Notes
It's more difficult to make the fan-shaped version of this cookie (called kue sepit) if using a pizzelle iron owing to the cookie's relative thickness. If you have a krumkake or waffle cone iron, you’ll get closer to the real deal! —Jess Kapadia
- Prep time 20 minutes
- Cook time 30 minutes
- makes about 40 cookies
plus two tablespoons (125 grams) rice flour
(25 grams) tapioca starch
(150 grams) granulated sugar
- Whisk together the rice flour, tapioca starch, and salt in a large mixing bowl.
- Whisk together the eggs and sugar in a medium bowl until the sugar dissolves and the mixture is foamy. Pour in the coconut milk and whisk for about 30 seconds until well-combined.
- Make a well in the dry ingredients and gradually add the coconut milk mixture. Mix well, scraping down the sides of the mixing bowl. Strain the mixture using a fine-meshed sieve to remove any lumps.
- Before plugging in your pizzelle iron, use a paper towel or brush to grease the patterned mold with vegetable oil. This will help with cleaning later on. Heat it up according to manufacturer’s directions.
- Once the iron is hot, pour a tablespoon of batter into each mold, and spread the batter out thinly with the back of the spoon. Close and latch the iron and cook for 1 to 1 1/2 minutes or until golden-brown.
- Remove the cookies quickly and use a chopstick to roll into cigar-shaped cylinders. Move as fast as you can—the cookies will harden rapidly as they cool, and transfer the rolled cookies to a cooling rack.
- Repeat until all the batter is used up. Remember to stir before you pour batter into the mold to scrape up flour that may have settled to the bottom of the bowl.
- Store in an airtight container for up to a week.