Kuih Keria: The Iconic Palm Sugar-Glazed Sweet Potato Doughnuts
Kuih Keria is a beloved sweet treat in Melaka, Malaysia, known for its sugar-glazed sweet potato doughnut. This delightful snack comes in two main versions, one glazed with regular white sugar and the other with gula Melaka, a unique palm sugar from Melaka. The gula Melaka version, called Kuih Keria Gula Melaka, is particularly sought after due to its intense smoky fragrance, distinct caramel flavour, and subtle bitterness.
The origins of Kuih Keria can be traced back to the Malacca Sultanate in the 15th century. According to historical records, palace chefs created this delicacy exclusively for royalty, keeping the recipes a closely guarded secret for many years. It was only about a century ago that the method of preparing Kuih Keria became known to the common people, passed down through generations of palace chefs’ descendants. Since then, it has gained popularity in various Southeast Asian cultures and beyond.
The main ingredients of Kuih Keria include sweet potatoes, flour, baking powder, salt, cooking oil, and the sugar used for glazing. The sweet potatoes are first steamed and mashed. They are then combined with flour to form a pliable dough, which is shaped into doughnut rings. Steaming the sweet potatoes is recommended over boiling, as boiling can make the sweet potatoes absorb too much water, resulting in a less moldable dough. Unlike other types of doughnuts, Kuih Keria is not leavened, giving it a slightly denser texture.
The shaped doughnuts are deep-fried until they turn a cinnamon-brown colour. Once fried, they are removed from the oil, cooled, and ready to be coated with the gula Melaka glaze. Traditional preparation of Kuih Keria is a labour-intensive process that can take all night, often involving the whole family. This is mainly due to the elaborate process of making the gula Melaka glaze from scratch. Gula Melaka is obtained by extracting and collecting sap from coconut palm tree flower buds. The sap is then boiled and stirred until it thickens, forming a caramel syrup. Nowadays, many cooks and vendors opt for dissolving blocks of gula Melaka in water to create the syrup instead.
The fried Kuih Keria doughnuts are immersed in the hot caramel syrup. Timing and temperature control are crucial as the syrup needs to be cool enough to cling to the doughnuts and form a crust of hardened sugar shell, while still warm enough to flow evenly among the doughnuts. Lastly, the doughnuts must be separated from each other before the syrup solidifies into a single block.
When prepared correctly, Kuih Keria delights the taste buds with its crispy sugar glaze that complements the soft, slightly chewy sweet potato interior.
Kuih Keria is typically enjoyed during breakfast and teatime. While it is most readily available in Melaka, particularly the gula Melaka version, you can also find Kuih Keria in other parts of Malaysia.