Have you ever tried Klepon? These Indonesian style glutinous rice balls are bound to start a party in your mouth. Imagine these pandan coconut mochi-like balls are bursting with palm sugar liquid when you take a bite.
My friends once told me that as an Indonesian, I should promote more Indonesian recipes in my blog. Then I told my friends why I should bother making some when you could buy them anywhere instead. Yes, I live in Jakarta, the capital of Indonesia, where you can literally find countless food from traditional snacks to authentic Indonesian food just around the street corners. But I think I should take back my words since coronavirus pandemic basically changes everyone’s lifestyle. I began making plan meals at home to take extra precautions to keep me and my family safe.
We were all kids once, and there are not many things that can pull me into the sweetest childhood memories as quickly as my childhood Indonesian snacks and sweets can. In my case, Klepon is forever the one that makes me nostalgic for the good old days. My mom usually bought some at nearby traditional markets or school’s snack vendors. Apart from the unique bright green color, they are fun to eat since they burst in your mouth when you take a bite. I think it will be fun to recreate this nostalgic childhood snack at home.
Klepon is a traditional Indonesian green rice cake filled with liquid palm sugar and coated in grated coconut. It is one of the most popular Indonesian traditional snacks and commonly found in Indonesia, Malaysia, Brunei, and Singapore. Klepon is actually a Javanese name for these sweet glutinous rice balls. In other parts of Indonesia, such as in Sulawesi, Sumatera, and in neighboring Malaysia, it is mainly known as onde-onde or in some regions buah Melaka (Malaccan fruit). If you are already familiar with Japanese mochi or Chinese tangyuan, Klepon has a similar chewy and smooth texture because it is also made with glutinous rice flour.
The balls are green in color because the dough is flavored and colored with pandan paste. The finely shaved palm sugar (Javanese sugar/gula Melaka) is inserted into the dough and rolled into balls. Then, boil the balls until they float to the surface. Subsequently, the palm sugar melts due to the high temperature during the boiling process, creating a sweet liquid inside the balls’ core. Finally, roll the balls in grated coconut for the finishing touch.
Klepon must be bite-size. I warn you that you should not bite just half of it since the filling will basically drip all over. When you take a bite, your tongue will taste so many flavors. It starts from the savory of steamed coconut meat, the chewiness of the glutinous rice balls, and the bursting sweetness of melted palm sugar. The sweet and salty combination of palm sugar and coconut is the best because it makes klepon taste not overly sweet. Then, you will go back to taking another one since they are so fun and delicious to eat.
The Green Color of Klepon
Traditionally, Klepon is green in color. The color is traditionally made from pandan and suji leaves extract, whose leaves are widely used in Southeast Asian cooking. Nowadays, there is pandan paste readily available in the grocery stores in small bottles. That is why I used pandan paste for convenience. But if you are up to making your own extract, you can find the recipe at my previous Pandan Extract.
All you need to do is to blend the pandan leaves with water to get the natural extract. Then, measure the extract to the amount of water needed in the recipe. Because the recipe uses hot water, you will need to heat the pandan extract first in a saucepan before adding it to the flour mixture.
If you cannot find any pandan paste or you do not want to make your own extract, you can substitute it with food green coloring to get that signature Klepon color. But I really suggest adding the pandan extract instead of food green coloring since Klepon will taste and smell better.
The Palm Sugar Filling
Palm sugar is known in many names and many variants depending on its ingredient, production method, or the region. If you can, try using a block of palm sugar rather than the granulated palm sugar since the block sugar has an earthy aroma, sticky texture, deep sweetness, and intense dark brown color closely resembling molasses. We call it gula Jawa (Javanese sugar) in Indonesia and gula Melaka in Malaysia. To use, you will need to shave them off with a knife since it usually comes in a cylinder shape. Try not to substitute it with other sugar because of its distinct flavor. You can usually find it in most Asian supermarkets.
There is also a specific difference in palm sugar naming in Indonesia. If it is made from coconut, it is called gula jawa or gula merah, on the other hand, gula aren (aren sugar) refers to palm sugar that specifically made from the sap of aren palm flowerbuds. The sap is then boiled until it thickens. Then, the sap is poured into bamboo tubes long and left to solidify to form cylindrical sugar blocks. It is used in some savory dishes but mainly in the local desserts and cakes of the Southeast Asian region.
Coconut is literally everywhere in Indonesia. It is a basic ingredient to make Indonesian cuisine from savory to sweet foods. We usually have at least one coconut seller at nearby traditional markets. You can even request the seller to grate the coconut meat on the spot because freshly grated coconut can easily go bad or dry out. For the best flavor and texture, you should coat Klepon with freshly grated coconut.
If you cannot find freshly grated coconut, you can alternatively use desiccated coconut. However, you will need to steam it for 10-15 minutes before using it to rehydrate and soften it. Nevertheless, it will not taste the same as freshly grated coconut but using desiccated coconut is the best alternative for it.
How to Make Klepon
After gathering all of the ingredients, we are ready to make Klepon. Firstly, season the freshly grated coconut with salt for taste. Then, steam it for 10 minutes just to delay the coconut from going bad easily. Cool it down completely before using. You also need to prepare the palm sugar filling first by shaving and mincing it with a sharp knife.
Klepon are best cooked soon after they are made. Otherwise, the moisture from the dough will melt the sugar and the sugar will leak out. Before making your dough, heat water in a big pan so that the boiling water will be ready to use after you shape the balls.
Now we are ready to make the glutinous rice dough. Firstly, mix glutinous rice flour with rice flour or tapioca and salt. Then, add the pandan taste and hot water to the flour mixture. Try adding the water little by little if necessary to avoid the dough to become too wet. What we want is firm dough but able to hold the shape. It should be smooth but not too sticky either.
Then, take a little bit of dough and make it into balls. It should be about 1-inch small balls. Flatten the dough and fill each with about 1/2 teaspoon of shaved palm sugar. Close the seam and make them into balls again. Plunge them immediately into boiling water. Do not let them sit out on your counter. You will know they are fully cooked when they are floating to the surface. Wait for a minute to let the filling fully melted inside before taking them out to a strainer.
You will need to strain the water first or you will wet the grated coconut. Then, roll them onto a plate of grated coconut when still warm. Please handle Klepon gently because they are very fragile. I dropped one by accident and the filling burst out everywhere.
The dough is too wet and sticky. It means you add too much water to the flour mixture. Please note that the amount of water will probably differ depending on the humidity of your environment. Hence, you will need more or less water necessary than stated in the recipe. But I suggest adding about a third quarter of water first before you gradually add a tablespoon of water when you are working on the dough. This will prevent adding too much water into the dough. If you feel like the dough is too sticky, simply add more glutinous rice flour to the dough until they feel nice to work with.
My dough is cracking or crumbling. This means your dough is drying out or does not have enough water. To prevent the dough from drying out, I usually cover the rest of the dough with a wet kitchen towel. If the dough is still too dry, add a little bit of water and work it through the dough.
The filling bursts out during boiling. This usually happens when you do not seal the balls properly. Make sure the surface of the balls is smooth with no crack. Then, you should boil them immediately right after shaping. Do not wait until all are filled and shaped. Otherwise, the moisture from the dough will melt the sugar and the sugar will leak out.
The balls are sticking to the bottom of the pot. Simply push them around with the back of a cooking spoon gently.
How to Store Klepon
Make sure to consume Klepon on the same day they are made. You should keep them at room temperature since they have quite high water content. The glutinous rice balls will harden and dry out when stored in the refrigerator. If you have leftovers, they are best stored straight in the freezer. To thaw, warm them in the microwave until they are soft to touch and serve immediately.
You are supposed to eat the whole thing inside your mouth and chew it with your mouth closed. I warn you again that you should not bite just half of it since the filling will basically drip all over.
More Indonesian Dessert Recipes
If you don’t know, I have tons of delicious traditional Indonesian dessert recipes on my blog. Here are some of them.
- Kue Lumpang Ijo (Pandan Sticky Rice Cake)
- Putu Ayu (Steamed Pandan Coconut Cake)
- Biji Salak (Sweet Potato Balls with Palm Sugar Porridge and Coconut Milk)
- Pandan Coconut Ice Cream