The mere mention of Apam Balik (Malay) or Min Chiang Kueh (Mandarin) evokes a sense of nostalgia in many Singaporeans and Malaysians. So adored and relished is this childhood tea time treat that there are variations of this versatile pancake all across South East Asia – a namesake fluffier, yeasted version and Murtabak Manis – an extravagantly sweet Indonesian street food.
For the uninitiated, Apam Balik is a popular street snack that’s a type of taco-like crispy pancake that is filled with creamed corn, crushed peanuts, sesame seeds and of late even peanut butter and chocolate sprinkles. I prefer the traditional style that has creamed corn and crushed peanuts. But for this recipe, I’ve added more seeds and reduced it the amount of refined sugar so that I can enjoy it more often at home.
For me, however, the nostalgia doesn’t just stop with childhood memories of munching on these pancakes as an after-school snack – each messy bite takes me right back to Penang. There is this particular stall near Jalan Burma that churns out beautiful, crispy Apom Balik Pancakes using a charcoal fire and thick pans. The lovely gentleman who makes these shatteringly crisp pancakes usually has a crowd milling around as just the waft of these pancakes slowly cooking is enough to make any grown adult weak in their knees. Each customer takes away a few pancakes at a time as this teatime favourite is not easy to replicate at home. Most Apom Balik stalls have a few pans cooking at one time as each pancake takes about 10 minutes in total to fully cook. I was too busy stuffing my face and unfortunately, forgot to take any pictures of the numerous Apom Baliks we had devoured in Penang so I’ve only included just a few pictures of the Penang food artisans making other traditional food.
Thankfully, I now don’t have a take a flight to Penang to savour this. The key to making this pancake thin and crispy is slow-cooking and even cooking temperature such that the exterior of the pancakes take on a uniform golden brown to light brown colour. Slow-cooking also keeps the pancakes crispy for almost an hour without adding too much baking soda and baking powder that many recipes call for. I prefer to use a thick, cast iron pan like my Le Creuset skillet to achieve my pancake perfection.
Here are some of my tips on how to create your own Apom Balik at home.
Apam Balik Cooking Tips
- Batter – The batter has to be somewhat thick and pourable but not runny. The best way I could think of for estimating its viscosity is by dipping and lifting your spatula/ whisk above the batter and drawing the figure ‘8’. If the trail of batter does not disappear into the remaining batter, it is too thick and it’ll be near impossible to spread the pancake. Ideally, the figure ‘8’ should disappear in about 2 seconds. The batter gets thicker after the 1 hour rest so add a tablespoon of water at time to loosen the batter to the desired consistency.
- Sugar – I replaced half of the sugar amount with powdered palm sugar/ coconut sugar because it tastes better, gives a lovely golden brown to light brown colour and is has a lower Glycemic Index. You could reduce the amount of sugar required if you’d like. More sugar is sprinkled at the end for the traditional ones but I don’t think it requires that additional hit of sugar. It’s up to you how sweet you want it. I was making these for breakfast and as a snack so I opted for less refined sugar and bulked up on the nuts for a healthy, protein boost. Also, creamed corn usually has added sugars. My favourite combination so far is to smear a teaspoon of some cream corn and top with lots of crushed peanuts, black and white sesame seeds. So delicious and crunchy!
- Filling – I used readymade toasted crushed peanuts, toasted sesame seeds and ground flaxseeds. These are easily available in any NTUC supermarkets or Asian supermarkets. If crushed peanuts aren’t available, lightly toasted peanuts (not ground nuts) in oven till golden brown, skin them and coarsely crushed them.
Le Creuset Skillet Cooking Tips
Ultra crunch factor – The thick bottom cast iron skillet cooks the pancake so perfectly that the pancakes stay crisp long after they’re cooked. The textural experience from the eating these crips pancakes is just… out of this world! Because of the slow cooking time, all the moisture if slowly lost as it cooks.
Perfect, golden brown pancakes … EVERYTIME! – The satin black enamel helps in the even distribution and retention of heat that there are no brown/burnt spots. Each pancake is perfectly cooked. If you have a seasoned skillet with a natural patina, there’s no need to use any oil before pouring the pancake batter – such is the beauty of Le Creuset cast iron skillets.
You could leave the skillet on low flame while cooking through the entire batter and not have to worry about your skillet over heating as the satin black enamel ensures that does not happen. I can personally attest to this as I cooked over 20 pancakes while recipe testing and not once did I have to switch of the flame.
I hope you’ll give this recipe a go and bring a little childhood happiness into your homes! Perfect treat for kids on a school holiday.
Crispy Malaysian Pancakes (Crispy Ayam Balik)
For the Batter
- 200 grams plain AP flour
- 200 grams rice flour
- tiny pinch of salt
- 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
- 1 large egg
- 1 – 2 tablespoons coconut milk
- 50 grams castor sugar
- 50 grams powdered palm sugar / coconut sugar
- 250 millilitres water + more , if required
- vegetable oil / extra virgin coconut oil
For the Filling
- toasted, skinned, crushed peanuts
- toasted, white sesame seeds
- black sesame seeds
- ground flaxseeds
- chia seeds
- cream of corn
- sliced bananas
- In a large bowl, mix the AP flour, rice flour, salt and baking soda. Set aside.
- In large measuring jug, mix the egg, coconut milk, castor sugar and palm sugar with 1/2 the amount of water till all the sugar has dissolved.
- Add wet ingredients to flour mix and using a sturdy whisk, combine until all the ingredients are thoroughly mixed. Add the other 1/2 amount of water slowly while whisking. The batter should be uniformly mixed. Cover and set aside for about 1 hour. This is to relax the gluten in the flour.
- After an hour, give the batter a good mix. Batter would have stiffened. Add a little water until batter is thick and pourable . When you lift your whisk over the batter, the dribble from your whisk should take about 2 seconds before it completely disappears – just a simple test for viscosity.
- Heat your Le Creuset skillet or any thick bottom pan (any size would do) on low flame for about 10 minutes until pan is considerable hot, not smoking hot.
- Spread a very think layer of oil (I use a clean kitchen towel that’s soaked in a little oil) on the skillet. If your Le Creuset skillet is very seasoned, you could skip this step.
- Using a small ladle scoop about 1/3 cup of batter, pour into the centre of the skillet and immediately drag the batter in circular motions, as you would spread a pancake / those batter. Spread the batter as thin as possible.
- Leave the pancake to cook, undisturbed and uncovered for 5 seconds until bubbles appear and sprinkle crushed peanuts as needed. Leave to cook until golden brown on the bottom and the dough on top has all cooked. Use a still spatula to lift the edges and check. You might need to give the edges a little nudge.
- Just before gently lighting the cooked pancake, dot some cream corn as you’d like and add any other seeds you’d like. If you’d prefer a cream corn base, using the back of a spoon, spread some cream corn and sprinkle some crushed peanuts now instead of Step 8. Cream corn helps the nuts stick on the surface.
- Gently lift using an offset spatula/ fish turner and immediately fold while its hot to make taco shape. If you had spread cream corn as the base, the pancake must be consumed immediately as the pancake will become soggy.
- Repeat the steps with the remaining batter. Adjust batter if it’s too thick to spread. Cooked pancakes keep crisp for about 40 minutes. But I doubt they’ll last that long!