Trying out Kue: Indonesian’s Classic Festive Cookies in Lebaran
Lebaran (or Aidilfitri for our Malay-speaking friends) is a festive season when Muslims celebrate after one month of fasting by visiting family and friends. Even if you’re not a Muslim, it’s still a custom for Indonesians during the holiday to visit family and close friends, regardless of their religion. After all, it’s the gathering and the reforging of friendships that counts.
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Among the little things, you can expect seeing lots of kue ‘cakes’ during these visits. However, these ‘cakes’ are, in fact, an assortment of bite-sized cookies with different flavors ranging from savory to sweet. Apart from candies (and water in pre-packaged plastic cups), these cookies are essential when preparing for the arrival of guests in Lebaran.
Whether you’re visiting a friend’s family home for Lebaran or just curious and want to get a taste, we recommend sampling these staple cookies during the festive Lebaran season:
The most famous one of the ensemble is nastar, round-shaped ‘cookie’ with a pineapple jam filling. To call this ‘cookie’ would be wrong, though. The exterior is soft and crumbles easily, melting immediately in your mouth. There is even an assumption that this mini pastry is a derivation of the pie.
Nastar traces its origins back to the Dutch era. The name ‘nastar’ comes from the Dutch word ananas, which means pineapple (later turned into the Indonesian ‘nanas’), and taartjes which means tarts. This delicacy then gained popularity among Indonesian natives and was renamed nastar.
This nastar has a variety of fillings, but the most common one is pineapple jam, which will attack your senses after you break down the pastry coating. Some variations also have cloves stuck in them, for some added spice.
2. Putri Salju
This cookie’s name, Putri Salju, means Snow White in Indonesian. This crescent-shaped cookie gains its name for the powdered sugar sprinkled on top of it, giving it the impression of being covered in snow.
The ingredients of the cookie itself vary between people, but people usually mix in ground peanuts or macadamia nuts. People like to add other twists on the recipe like putting in cheese or even matcha powder, but one thing is for sure: the cookie has to crumble and melt together with the sugar as you bite into it.
Kastengel, like its cousin, the nastar, is also an Indonesian cookie of Dutch colonial origins. It derives its name from Kaas, the Dutch word for cheese, and stengels, which means sticks. It’s a far cry from the Dutch kaastengel we know today (as it’s longer and thinner), but it lives on in its tinier version as a staple cookie for Lebaran and Christmas.
The kastengel, unlike other Indonesian cookies, is savory and salty, thanks to its main ingredients, cheese. Similarly, like the Dutch version, Indonesian kastengel recipes begin to use various types like Gouda cheese.
A good kastengel isn’t overly crumbly and tastes strongly of cheese without being too salty. Sweet kastengel also exists, though not as common as the salty version.
4. Kue Lidah Kucing
Kue lidah kucing is a thin, elliptically-shaped cookie with a pale yellow color. Another cookie from the Dutch colonial era, it’s original name was the Katte Tong ‘cat’s tongue’, translated into lidah kucing by Indonesians. The name probably comes from the fact that it’s long and thin, just like a cat’s tongue.
Kue lidah kucing usually has a light taste —not too sweet and not too savory —just right. It also usually has a minimal topping of shredded cheese, but there are also variations with chopped peanuts.
5. Kue Kuping Gajah
Unlike the previous cookies, kue kuping gajah is an Indonesian original creation. It’s a thin, round cookie that looks like curling waves when seen from the side. The appearance is unique, with a black-and-white spiral pattern. You should’ve seen this cookie at least once in meetings or gatherings in Indonesia during coffee breaks.
There are numerous variations of the kuping gajah recipe, with flavors such as chocolate, vanilla, and even Mocca. It should be crispy and tastes rather strongly of vanilla or chocolate.
6. Kue Sagon
If you already know about sago, then you shouldn’t be unfamiliar with this one. The kue sagon is a traditional cookie from Jogja made from sago (sagon means sago in the Javan language).
This vintage cookie comes in many shapes and forms, but the authentic recipe usually features sago flour (though many people don’t use sago flour) as well as grated coconut flesh. The preparation method is pretty simple, just like many other Indonesian cookies. As it uses coconut and sago, the end flavor should be a rich balance of sweet and savory.
Unfortunately, this cookie is getting harder to find, even among Javanese households, so make sure you try them when you see a jar!
7. Kue Semprong
Kue Semprong has many names: Asian Egg Roll, Sepit, Sapit Kue Belanda, Kue Kapit, or Love letters. It’s a wafer snack from egg batter heated in an iron mold and either folded into squares, quarter circles, or rolled into tubes. The Peranakan Chinese version sometimes has the wafer etched with decorative motifs of flowers or animals.
This snack is not only popular in Indonesia but also in Malaysia, Brunei, and Singapore. As one of its names suggests, the semprong is a version of the traditional Dutch roll, only with a thinner crust (Belanda is a Malay word for the Dutch).
Kue semprong mainly refers to the tube version popular in Indonesia, while kue sepit refers to the triangular/quarter circle cakes. The cakes are hollow, with some add-ons to the wafer, like sesame. The traditional Lebaran version, however, is usually simpler and focuses on the sweet taste of egg.
8. Kembang Goyang
Kembang Goyang is a traditional Betawi snack, although it’s popular among Javanese families during Lebaran.
However, according to Fimela (link is in Bahasa Indonesia), the Kembang Goyang (translated as Swaying Flower in English), took its inspiration from the golden swaying flower stalks on Javanese bridal headdresses.
The Kembang Goyang, traditionally, has various purposes in many Indonesian regions. Mainly, however, it is offered to visiting guests. It’s a snack made into lovely floral shapes and has a light, savory taste with a crunchy crust.
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