Creamy, Dreamy Desserts of Bali

By Janet De Neefe
For The Bali Times

UBUD ~ Over the past few months, I have talked about all sorts of Balinese curries and simmering stews, so I decided it is now time to spotlight the sweet things that are eaten in Bali. And when you think of desserts, the ubiquitous black rice pudding, or bubur injin, usually comes to mind. But, of course, there is a whole host of other tempting treats that are available. And Ubud Market – or any market in Bali, for that matter – is a good place to start.

So follow me on an early morning jalan-jalan through Pasar Ubud, for this is the time when all the edible action begins. The buzz of an Asian market is like a shot of strong Balinese coffee and an experience that challenges all those comfy Western notions of hygiene and organization. Some might describe it as chaos and that is what I love about Indonesia: that shameless lack of order and independent spirit that clearly states “we won’t be told!” And the grandmas at the market are a law unto themselves. So be prepared for an assault of the sensory kind (and, if you understand Balinese, the verbal kind).

Ubud Market 6am: Amidst piles of incense, temple flowers, leafy greens, tofu, sandals and motorbikes, you will find a world of Balinese sweets that startle. I use the word “startle” because not only are they iridescent or sinister in color but the shapes can be formidable. And don’t expect to be walking into a neat David Jones-style setup with all the types of food you need available in one place. There is no set area for sweet dishes, just like there is almost no set area for anything.

On the ground floor nestled up to a pile of coconut graters, knives and chopping boards, you can find small steamed pancakes known as laklak that are cooked to order on a small griddle and served warm in a banana leaf drizzled with palm-sugar syrup. If you’re lucky, the pudding seller from Tegalalang will be perched on the cement stairs nearby, selling a delicious array of creamy Balinese desserts. For just a few rupiah, you can buy black rice pudding, sticky rice or banana with sweet potato and palm sugar topped oh-so-lovingly with roasted coconut milk that is bouncing with pearly pink sago. I have dreamed about her glorious treats.

And then there are the brilliant green pancakes filled with grated coconut and palm sugar, known as dadar unti. These are usually on sale in the open-air section near the offering paraphernalia that quickly transforms into a sandal bazaar by mid-morning. Dainty sticky rice “pillow” cakes or bantal, cleverly wrapped in young coconut leaves, can be found upstairs and downstairs. (I love these freshly made and served with a dollop of clotted cream and raspberries.) Kelepon, those cheeky small green balls filled with palm-sugar syrup that squirts out when you eat them if you don’t close your mouth, are often on sale at the bustling shoulder-to-shoulder market entrance. You can find rice-flour cakes resembling green worms topped with a shower of grated coconut, pink agar jelly and other bits and pieces downstairs tucked between bursting jackfruits and the satay seller. And near the glitzy toko that sells every plastic clip under the sun, you can buy toasted coconut bread that is even more delicious topped with simmered fruits or chocolate sauce.

Near the Melanting Temple and the rows of motorbikes is the pisang rai guy. Pisang rai is fresh sliced banana that has been dipped in a light rice-flour batter, boiled and then topped with fresh, grated coconut. I admit the description doesn’t do it justice because these small, tender treats are heavenly. Sometimes he sells jackfruit cooked in the same manner. Enak!

But it is the soft porridge-like desserts that I really love. I have a baby-like passion for smooth, creamy desserts and am besotted with the luscious pleasure of soft-boiled, velvety anything. The green pudding known as bubur sumsum is one of these. Redolent of pandan leaves and vanilla, it is Indonesia’s answer to crème caramel – without the calories. The best bubur sumsum is made from freshly ground rice but packaged ground rice will suffice. A glossy pool of sunburned palm sugar on top completes the taste sensation. You can usually find this somewhere at the Ubud market. Many of these sweet porridges are also available late afternoon under the local banyan tree or in village warungs. This is afternoon tea in Bali.

Temple cakes come in all shapes and sizes and can be found alongside leafy kangkung and other vegetables in the southern corner of the market. In accordance with Hindu dietary restrictions, milk and butter are generally not used, but naturally the Balinese remain flexible and hopefully so does God. Their way of honoring the sacred cow is to not use dairy produce in offerings, whereas in India it is the opposite for ceremonial foods. Steamed, brightly colored cupcakes are made by mixing together duck eggs, sugar and flour, creating an even richer flavor. The vivid colorings are added to the cakes to make them more seductive to God and the deities, and I must say that the towering offerings dotted with a jigsaw of colorful cakes are a visual delight.

This is just an introduction to Balinese desserts; there are a whole host of other cakes that can be found in shops and markets around the island. In the meantime, I have included the recipe of an all-time winner and perfect dessert for any occasion. Selamat makan.


Fruits in Coconut Milk

The alluring fragrance of cinnamon simmering in the pot makes this dish as much a pleasure to cook as it is to eat.

Kolak can be made from a variety of ingredients, such as banana, jackfruit, sweet potato and tapioca. It is equally suitable for the cool winter months or balmy summer nights, and can be made several hours before serving and then reheated and served warm or even chilled.

Serves 4

250gms palm sugar or brown sugar

3 cups water

3 pandan leaves or 1/2 tsp pandan essence

1 tsp vanilla essence

cinnamon stick (optional)

6 bananas

100 gms pineapple

100 gms ripe mango

1 cup coconut milk

1 tsp sea salt

3 tsp tapioca flour or cornflour

To make palm sugar syrup: boil the sugar in the water with the pandan leaves until the sugar has dissolved and reduced a little. This will take at least 30 minutes. If using pandan essence, add with the vanilla essence.

Strain the sugar water and return to the pot.

Slice the mango, pineapple and banana into chunks.

Boil the sugar-water with the optional cinnamon stick. Add the banana, mango and pineapple and simmer until the fruit has softened. Mix the flour with a tablespoon or more of cold water. Stir until it has dissolved and is smooth. Add to the fruit.

Stir in the coconut milk, salt and vanilla. Bring to the boil, and stir for a minute until the milk has heated up and thickened slightly. Check for sweetness and serve.

You can add a dash of rum at the end for extra flavor.

Serve with vanilla or coconut ice-cream or thickened cream.

Matur Suksema

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The Island

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