Kek Kukus (Singaporean and Malaysian Steamed Fruit Cake)

Kek kukus recipe, a delicious, old fashioned steamed fruit cake from Singapore and Malaysia.
kek kukus, steamed fruit cake
kek kukus, steamed fruit cake

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. In fact, it was one of the favours at my wedding.

Originally published on LinsFood.com.

Estimated reading time: 6 minutes

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 Recipes page.

kek kukus, steamed fruit cake
moist and full of fruit

Kek Kukus Recipe

It’s a pretty easy recipe to make, all we do is:

  1. soak the dried fruit overnight
  2. make caramel from the sugar
  3. mix everything in
  4. 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 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!

Moist Fruit = Moist Cake

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.

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.

For the non alcoholic version, we’ll be soaking our fruit in light tea, much the same way we make the Alcohol Free Christmas Pudding below (the recipe is on LinsFood).

Alcohol Free Christmas Pudding
Alcohol Free Christmas Pudding

Tea in our Steamed Cake

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.

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 whatever black tea I suggest in the recipe below, to make a super light brew. Even a Oolong would be rather nice in this cake, but make it half strength.

steamed fruit cake slice
one bite is never enough!

Alcohol in Kek Kukus

Brandy is the perfect choice. But many prefer rum. Sweet sherry like Harvey’s Bristol Cream is also a good one. (Affiliate links).

In our traditional Christmas pudding, I use a mix of brandy and sweet sherry.

Naturally, if you don’t do alcohol, leave it out. I give you both options in the recipe card below.

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!

What Steamer to use for this Fruit Cake?

I have both the old fashioned one for the stove, as well as an electric steamer. This is because in the past, I used to make lots of Christmas puddings to order. Below you’ll find the links to Amazon to the kind I have, both are affiliate links.

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?

♥ 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.

Lin xx

Images by LinsFoodies

Kek Kukus (Singaporean and Malaysian Steamed Fruit Cake)

Azlin Bloor
Kek kukus recipe, a delicious, old fashioned steamed fruit cake from Singapore and Malaysia.
5 from 22 votes
Prep Time 30 mins
Cook Time 4 hrs 15 mins
Overnight + Cooling of Caramel 1 d 1 hr
Course Dessert
Cuisine Eurasian, Singaporean and Malaysian
Servings 12 (8-12 depending on slice size)
Calories 393 kcal

Equipment

  • kitchen scales
  • large bowls as needed (for soaking and flour)
  • jug for tea, if making
  • strainer for tea
  • ladle and spoons as needed
  • handheld whisk for eggs
  • 20cm/8" cake pan
  • steamer

Ingredients
 
 

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)
Dry Ingredients
  • 350 g all purpose flour (plain flour)
  • 1 tsp mixed spice (Pumpkin Spice in the US)
  • 2 tsp sodium bicarbonate
Everything Else
  • 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

Instructions
 

Start the Night Before

  • Place the mixed fruit in a bowl.

Alcohol Free

  • 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 (instead of the night before), just pour the hot tea on the fruit, immediately after brewing.

Alcohol

  • 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 (THE NEXT DAY)

  • 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, which is what the cream of tartar in old recipes is for. Besides reacting with the sodium bicarb to aid rise.
  • Reduce the heat (to low) and leave the sugar to brown. You are going for a deep, golden brown colour. 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 get too brown, as it'll get bitter, which means your cake will be bitter.
    Err on the side of caution. It's a fine line between yummy dark brown and burnt.
  • 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 not! 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.
    Traditional or electric steamers can be used. Both will require the same time.
  • 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.
    If using alcohol, feel free to up the alcohol content by drizzling 2 Tbsp of brandy all over before stirring. And if keeping for a few weeks, you can keep topping it up with brandy once a week.

Notes

The steaming time for an electric steamer will be the same.

Nutrition

Calories: 393kcalCarbohydrates: 54gProtein: 5gFat: 18gSaturated Fat: 11gCholesterol: 86mgSodium: 351mgPotassium: 88mgFiber: 1gSugar: 30gVitamin A: 706IUVitamin C: 1mgCalcium: 19mgIron: 2mg
Keyword cake, christmas
Tried this recipe?Mention @azlinbloor or tag #linsfood!
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13 thoughts on “Kek Kukus (Singaporean and Malaysian Steamed Fruit Cake)”

  1. Jess Tangavelu

    5 stars
    aiyoh this was so good I wanted to cry! it reminded me of my amma’s fruit cake that we had every Christmas. thank you!

        1. Hi Anne, you can bake this in the oven but it won’t be as moist as if you steam it. My suggestion would be to increase the amount of water (for the caramel) to 6 tablespoons and add another tablespoon of lemon juice (plus the 2 teaspoons in the recipe). That will help a little, without having to change all the measurements of the cake.
          Bake at 160C for about 70 – 90 minutes. I’ve not baked this recipe before, so the time is a guess. Check at 70 minutes, bake further if not done.
          I hope that helps.

  2. 5 stars
    Just made it yesterday, waiting for Christmas now, lol! Your instructions were very easy to follow, thanks Azlin.

  3. 5 stars
    Here it is! I was looking for it on linsfood. I made it last year, and it was just the way I remember my mum making it at Christmas. Thanks Lin.

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