Last Sunday marked the end of Ramadan here in Singapore, and in the last week, Muslim households have been abuzz with activities. Every year, there always seems to be a mad last minute flurry of baking, cooking, cleaning, decorating, and for some, it includes trips to the bank to change money to smaller denominations for the visiting little ones;– the culture here is for the working adults to give the young and elderly token sums of money when they go/come visiting.
Times may have changed, and societal culture definitely has evolved over the years, but Hari Raya Aidilfitri here never fails to bring out the purest and most colourful of traditions in all Malays, be it the older generation or the younger ones. Decked in ethnic clothes, families and relatives visit one another, exchanging well wishes and more importantly, seeking forgiveness for past wrongdoings and mistakes. In a way, Hari Raya Aidilfitri inadvertently becomes a pinnacle and manifestation of the individual’s self-reflection and repentance following the prior month of fasting.
Some say that since we fast for a whole month, therefore the celebration should last for the whole month of Syawal. Because of that, Hari Raya visiting usually lasts the whole month, with the first one or two weeks between families and relatives, while the last two weeks are mostly organised visits amongst friends, particularly the younger generation. In light of the month-long visitors, many houses seem to run out of traditional Hari Raya dishes towards the end of the month, so here’s a super easy non-bake cake recipe you can quickly whip up the day before you’re expecting guests.
Kek Batik (Batik Cake) is said to have originated in Sarawak, a Malaysian state on the Borneo islands, and due to its proximity, became a popular fixture in the Hari Raya celebrations on the other Borneo islands as well;– Sabah and Brunei. Batik refers to the symmetric and typically repetitive pattern using a wax-dyeing technique prevalent in Indonesia and the Southeast Asian region. Traditionally, the colours used were dark brown and white, much like the patterns on each slice of this Kek Batik, hence the name.
Truth be told, I’ve never tasted Kek Batik before this, but in my search for cake recipes to bake this Hari Raya, I was definitely attracted to the fact that this was non-bake (yes ladies, you don’t even need the oven for this; just plonk it into the refrigerator!) and absolutely hassle-free. A quick google search would land you with a whole lot of varying recipes, but the fundamental concoction remains;– the dark brown comes from Milo (chocolate malt powder), whereas the intricate white pattern comes from broken pieces of Marie biscuits (a type of graham cracker commonly used in Malay desserts).
Due to the myriad of recipes, I’ve noticed that there are varying descriptions of each slice, ranging in texture all the way from cakey brownie to hard fudge (candy). Three main determining factors lie in the ratio of fat-liquid proportion people tweak with, duration of heating the mixture till the ‘custard’ stage, and the duration of refrigeration. Those who freeze the loaf instead of refrigerating it would describe the cake to be more of a fudge candy, whereas the ones who refrigerate it for a couple of hours described them to be more of a chocolate pudding.
The recipe and method I’m sharing today boasts a great mixture of Milo and cocoa powder for those who fear it being too sweet, with an overnight refrigeration that would yield a soft and fudgey chocolatey cake (it can’t be Kek Batik if it’s not exactly cake, can it?) that proved its worth by being the first of all the cakes to be wiped out clean from the cake tray, lasting only two days. The only gripe is that you really must serve this chilled, which means that you have to keep it in the fridge until the guests arrived, but for something this good, even my mother had no qualms about it taking up her refrigerator space.
Batik Marie Cake
(adapted from here)
100g milo (any sweet chocolate malt powder will do)
25g cocoa powder
125ml boiling water
200ml sweetened condensed milk
90g white granulated sugar
5 eggs, lightly beaten
250g Marie biscuits (any graham crackers will do), broken into rough quarters
- Grease and line a 23cm x 9cm x 7cm deep loaf tin (or other loaf tin with a capacity of at least 5 cups or 1.25L) with baking paper, extending paper 2-3cm above edge of tin.
- In a deep saucepan, slowly add boiling water to milo and cocoa, stirring vigorously until it is smooth. Add butter, sweetened condensed milk, sugar, and eggs to the mixture.
- Place the saucepan over moderate heat and cook, stirring all the time with a whisk or a spoon, until you feel the bottom starts to thicken, about 5 minutes.
- Turn heat down to low, and continue to cook, stirring without stopping, for about another 20-25 minutes until a thick custard forms. (refer to recipe notes)
- Turn off the heat, and stir in the quartered biscuits. Mix until all the biscuits are coated with the custard.
- Transfer mixture to the prepared tin. Press down firmly so there are no air pockets in the mixture. Fold the paper extensions over the top and press down to even the surface. Then let cool to the touch.
- Cover with cling film, and refrigerate overnight.
- When the cake is firm, use the paper extension as handle to pull the cake out of the tin. Slice and serve chilled.
It may look like the custard will never thicken, and when it already has, you may feel like it has thickened enough. I’ve found that the best way to gauge is when the mixture is reduced to about half of its original amount, and when stirring, you can actually see the mixture coagulate together, scraping off the sides of the pan perfectly; i.e. you don’t see any liquid remnants at the sides of the pan.