Kek kukus is what we call steamed fruit cake in Singapore and Malaysia. It is very, very similar in flavour to the fruit cake found in the West and that is especially popular at weddings and Christmas.
And if I remember correctly, one of the favours at my wedding was a portion of this cake.
Table of contents
What is Kek Kukus?
It’s in the Malay language, so a little Malay Language lesson, methinks?
- Kek = cake (duh), pronounced the same way
- Kukus = steamed, to steam, pronounced coo-cose (s sound, not z)
- Kek kukus = Steamed cake
Origin of Kek Kukus
It’s definitely a British heritage, from the days when both countries were part of the Commonwealth.
I’ve always identified it as a Eurasian cake, as it’s always something that was around at Christmas time. Not unlike our (British) Christmas cake and Christmas pudding.
However, as with many Singaporean and Malaysian recipes, the “ownership” of kek kukus is also a subject of contention by the various local ethnicities.
The Eurasians, the Malays and the Nyonyas all lay claim to it in one form or another.
If you fancy reading up on the racial make up of these 2 countries, head on over to the Singaporean and Malaysian page, where you’ll also find a huge number of recipes.
Kek Kukus Recipe
It’s a pretty easy recipe to make, all we do is:
- soak the dried fruit overnight
- make caramel from the sugar
- mix everything in
- Steam for 4 hours
Soaking the Dried Fruit
When using dried fruit, you must, you must, you must soak them for a few hours, preferably overnight.
Dried fruit (raisins, sultanas, etc) are thirsty little things. So if you haven’t quenched that thirst, they are going to drink up all the moisture in your cake batter, leaving you with a not-so-moist cake.
So we’re going to start our recipe the night before. This is especially important if you are planning to use alcohol for this. I’ll explain why.
For the non alcoholic version, we’ll be soaking our fruit in light tea, much the way we make the Alcohol Free Christmas Pudding below.
Because our tea will be boiling hot, the dried fruit need only an hour or so. However, the alcohol you use is going to be at room temperature, so the raisins, etc are going to need more time to soak it up.
Tea in our Steamed Cake
If you’ve never soaked your fruit to make kek kukus before, try it and see, you’ll be amazed at the difference it makes.
I know traditional recipes do allow for soaking, after the fruit is added to the caramel and butter mix. It’s left for an hour. But what it’s doing is soaking up the liquid that the flour needs!
So to stop that, we ensure that our fruit are soft and plump from an initial soaking. This is how I make our Christmas puddings and cakes, so it just made sense to apply the same method to this childhood recipe.
I use tea instead of fruit juice because it adds a lovely aroma without altering the flavour of the cake. Using fruit juice just makes our kek kukus too fruity.
What tea to use?
I find Darjeeling or Earl Grey to be the perfect choice. Light and floral, they add, without overpowering.
If you haven’t got either, use half the amount of tea I suggest in the recipe below, to make a super light brew.
Alcohol in Kek Kukus
In our traditional Christmas pudding, I use a mix of brandy and sweet sherry.
How long will Kek Kukus keep?
Kek Kukus has a fairly good shelf life. The one without the alcohol will keep a good 2 weeks, if wrapped in clingfilm or foil and kept in an airtight container.
You could also freeze this steamed fruit cake for up to 3 months. Defrost on the counter for a couple of hours, then steam it for an hour to “fluff up” and warm up. When I only have a couple of slices, I zap it in the microwave oven for 30 – 60 seconds.
To me, warm kek kukus is the business, with some custard or ice cream on the side. Or clotted cream!
Kek kukus with alcohol will keep for 2-3 months, if stored in an airtight container. I make Christmas pudding in November and still use them at Easter for trifles and puddings. So in theory, you could keep it for much, much longer. Especially if you’re going to feed it with alcohol every month or so.
There are stories of fruit cakes being kept for years. I’m sure you’ve heard of them. I’m just not that brave!
So there we go. For all of you who’ve asked for this recipe over the years, ta-da!
Shall we get our aprons on?
More Cake Recipes on LinsFood
♥ If you like the recipe, don’t forget to leave me a comment and that all important, 5-star rating! 😉 Thank you! ♥
And if you make the recipe, share it on any platform and tag me @azlinbloor.
Kek Kukus (Singaporean and Malaysian Steamed Fruit Cake)
- bowl, ladle and spoons as needed
- 20cm/8" cake pan
- whisk or food processor for the eggs
Soaking the Dried Fruit (Alcohol Free)
- 500 g mixed fruit (raisins, sultanas, citrus peel)
- 1 Tbsp Darjeeling (or Earl Grey) tea leaves (or 3 bags) (1/2 Tbsp if using regular black tea)
- 250 ml boiling water (and more to top up)
Soaking the Dried Fruit (with alcohol)
- 500 g mixed fruit
- 250 ml brandy (or rum)
- 350 g AP flour
- 1 tsp mixed spice (Pumpkin Spice in the US)
- 2 tsp sodium bicarbonate
- 300 g caster sugar (granulated is fine too)
- 4 Tbsp water
- 2 tsp fresh lemon juice
- 250 g salted butter
- 1 tsp vanilla extract (I use this vanilla paste)
- 3 large eggs
Start the night before
- Place the mixed fruit in a bowl.
- Make the tea with the tea leaves and boiling water. Leave to brew for 4 minutes. Strain the tea and leave to cool to room temperature.Pour the cooled tea all over the fruit, cover and leave overnight. Stir once before you go to bed, and again when you get up the next day.You could do this an hour before you start the recipe, just pour the hot tea on the fruit.
- Pour the brandy all over the fruit. Stir, cover, and leave to soak overnight. Stir a couple of times, once before you go to bed, and again when you get up.
Mix the Dry Ingredients
- Sift the flour into a bowl and stir in the mixed spice and sodium bicarbonate. Cover, and set aside.This could be done later, while the sugar/fruit mix is cooling.
Let's get Cooking
- Place the sugar and water in a heavy-bottomed pan and stir, you will get a thick sludge-like mix.
- Place the saucepan on medium-low heat and leave it to dissolve. Don't stir it yet.
- After a couple of minutes, squeeze the lemon juice all over and give it a stir. The lemon juice will help to prevent crystallisation, and which is what the cream of tartar in old recipes is for. Besides reacting with the sodium bicarb to aid rise.
- Lower the heat (to low) and leave the sugar to brown. You are going for a deep, golden brown. There is no need to stir.This step is to allow us to get that caramel flavour and dark colour synonymous with kek kukus. But you don't want the sugar burnt. To some extent, the darker the caramel, the darker your cake. But don't leave it to be too brown, as it'll get bitter, which means your cake will be bitter.
- Add the butter and stir to melt and mix. Cutting the butter in a few pieces will make this step quicker. I am always too lazy for that!
- Now add the mixed fruit (along with any leftover liquid, tea or alcohol), and stir well. Turn the heat up to medium and bring back to a simmer. Leave it to bubble gently for 2 minutes. Then, take it off the heat and leave to cool to room temperature.1 hour should do in cool climates. If you're in the tropics, place it somewhere cool, but not your fridge.
Let's get Steaming
- At the end of the hour, fill the base of your steamer to its maximum point and place on the stove on high heat, as you get the cake ready to steam. Check it after 7-10 minutes. Once it's boiling, reduce the heat to low or medium-low to ensure the water is steaming away steadily.
- Grease, line and grease a 20cm (8") cake pan. The first grease allows the liner to stick to the pan. The second grease is to allow your cake to come off easily, whether your liner is stick proof or no! Call it insurance.
- Beat the eggs with a beater on medium speed for 20 seconds.
- Pour the eggs into the cooled sugar/fruit mix and stir with a wooden spoon to mix thoroughly. So you don't want a mix that's too warm, as your eggs will scramble. This is why we want the mix to be at room temperature, or at the very least, lukewarm.
- Stir in the vanilla, followed by the flour mix (which would have the mixed spice and sodium bicarb in). Mix everything up well, using a wooden spoon.
- Pour the cake mix into your prepared tin, leaving a good inch at the top. Cover it with a layer of foil. Steam for 4 hours. Check with a cake tester to see that it's done. It should be.Top up the steamer, as necessary, with boiling water. Don't let it go dry.
- Cool the cake completely on a wire rack, in its pan. Can be enjoyed immediately, but is better the next day. Even more so after 2 days as the flavours develop and the cake gets more moist.To store, take it out of the pan, and wrap with clingfilm, then a foil, and leave somewhere cool.
This post contains affiliate links. Any purchases made by clicking them may earn me a small commission.😉