In Indonesia, putu means cake and ayu translates to beautiful. Putu Ayu are charming little steamed pandan cakes with a perfectly sweet coconut topping. They make a fantastic tea accompaniment for when you want a sweet that is light, really fast and easy to put together. There is no need to whip up frosting, or deal with any finicky decorating. These bad boys are your ticket to Dessert Easy-Street, and they just happen to be completely vegan too!
For the initiated, pandan will be one of your new favorite culinary herbs, especially for desserts. They bring vibrant green color and an unforgettable aroma to desserts like klepon, Bubur sumsum, kuih dadar, and these adorable little steamed pandan coconut cakes!
No matter your cooking level, whether you’re a novice or a seasoned chef, I’ve got you covered with very clear instructions, an extremely well-tested recipe, and easy-to-follow step-by-step photos. Grab a hot mug of bandrek to sip while you cook, and let’s start steaming!
🥰Why you are going to adore the ever-loving heck outta this recipe
✊ Vegan AF: Like all of my recipes, this one is 100% plant-based. Indulge in the deliciousness without harming our furry and feathered friends. No eggs or dairy are required! This vegan recipe is based on the best I have had at night markets throughout Indonesia and Malaysia.
🥸 Fool-proof Method: Don’t worry if you’re a newbie in the kitchen. My step-by-step instructions make it a breeze to create perfect Putu Ayu on your very first try. If you love coconut cupcakes, these are like that, but with even fewer steps and fuss!
✅ Tested and Approved Worldwide: Like all of my Indonesian and Malaysian recipes, I have tweaked and perfected this Putu Ayu recipe. After that, I have shared it with chefs from around the globe (sorry flat earthers, it’s a thing) who have double and triple-checked that it works well in kitchens all over the planet.
🥥 Notable ingredients and substitutions
Pandan leaves, also known as Screwpine leaves, are a signature ingredient in many Southeast Asian dishes, including rice dishes like nasi uduk betawi and nasi minyak, and desserts like che ba mau and biji salak. They contribute a delightful, fragrant, and slightly sweet flavor, giving the cakes their distinctive taste and aroma. I try not to mess with pandan extract because it’s often made with artificial colors and flavors. If you can’t find fresh or frozen pandan leaves at your local Asian grocery store, consider using a different herb and flavor altogether, such as using ube (purple yam) powder and making these little cakes a gorgeous shade of violet.
Palm sugar, aka Gula Melaka in Indonesia, is a natural sweetener made from the sap of palm trees. It has become one of my go-to natural sweeteners of choice, and I use it in everything from bubur cha cha from Singapore, to tupig from the Philippines. If you can’t get palm sugar, coconut sugar or brown sugar are good substitutes.
Freshly Grated Coconut
I think using mature coconut (the one with the woody brown outside) for the topping is 100% the way to go. In a pinch, if you can’t find fresh coconut (or don’t want the hassle of having to bust one open), you can use unsweetened desiccated coconut as a substitute. Rehydrate the dried coconut with a bit of warm water before using it to mimic the texture of freshly grated coconut.
*See the recipe card at the bottom of the page for exact quantities, nutritional info, and detailed cooking directions.
Stir ⅓ cup of chopped semi-sweet vegan chocolate chips into your Putu Ayu batter, and add a few tablespoons of crushed dry roasted peanuts to the topping. Peanuts and chocolate are a match made in heaven, so I load the heck out of my martabak manis with them as a filling.
Dat purple stuff:
Instead of pandan, use ¼ cup of ube powder in the batter to give these that gorgeous signature ube flavor and color.
To steam up a really cute layered version of these, you should follow my recipe for Roti Kukus.
📖 How to make the best putu ayu you ever had
Nail these lil’ fluffy coconut kue putu cakes on your first shot by following these step-by-step instructions with important tips. Or you can follow along with the easy-to-print recipe card towards the bottom of this page.
Pandan Leaf Preparation:
Cut two pandan leaves into 1cm. Sections with scissors and then blend them into tiny bits using a blender or spice grinder.
Coconut Topping Mixing:
Add grated coconut to the blended pandan, along with your choice of sugar, and pulse a few more times in the blender to combine. Set aside.
Pandan Milk Blending:
Blend the coconut milk and 3 more cut pandan leaves for 90 seconds until fully pureed.
Straining Pandan Milk:
Pass the pureed pandan-scented coconut milk through a wire mesh strainer, discarding the remaining pandan pulp.
Cake Batter Mixing:
In a mixing bowl, whisk together the strained pandan milk with flour, baking powder, baking soda, baking powder, sugar, vanilla extract, and salt until the batter is smooth.
Oil your molds:
If you are using metal cake molds, lightly oil them using any neutral-tasting oil of your preference. There is no need to oil silicone molds as they are naturally nonstick, and easy to get the cooked cakes out of.
Coconut Topping Placement:
Place a tablespoon of grated coconut topping into the bottom of each cake mold and fill them ⅔ of the way with batter. You can use metal molds, or silicone molds. Just make sure before you fill them that your molds will fit into your steamer and that your steamer basket allows them to sit flat.
Cake Filling and Steaming:
Steam the cakes for 30-35 minutes until they are just firm. After cooling for ten minutes, unmold and serve!
Putu Ayu makes a delightful dessert that pairs perfectly with a variety of Indonesian dishes.
After savoring the rich and aromatic flavors of Sayur Lodeh with Lontong, Tahu Goreng, Sambal Goreng Tempeh, Urap Sayur or Asinan Sayur over Nasi Kunyit, Nasi Minyak, or Nasi Uduk Betawi, dive into the sweet wide open arms of Putu Ayu which will hug you until your eyes pop out (but like, in a nice way)…
These coconut cakes are a nice light dessert to enjoy after your favey noodle dishes like Bami Goreng, Ketoprak, Mee Rebus, Mie Goreng, Pad Woon Sen, or Mi Xao Xi Dau topped with miso-glazed eggplant.
- Pandan Leaf Blending: Even a quality blender can have a tough time with pandan. Pandan has light fibers throughout the leaves that easily wrap around the blades of a blender. Make sure you cut the pandan with scissors into 1cm sections and your blender will be able to do a much better job with them.
- Best steamer to use: I always use a bamboo steamer. Steamers with a glass or metal top tend to accumulate drops of water on the bottom side of their lids, which end up raining down on whatever you are steaming in them. This is especially an issue with dishes like chee cheong fun. Bamboo steamers, on the other hand, are a little porous, and prevent your steaming cakes from getting soggy. If you don’t have a bamboo steamer, a good workaround is to stretch a clean kitchen towel across the top of the steamer before you put the lid on. The cloth will absorb some of the extra moisture and prevent that hot rain effect.
- Steaming Precision: Steaming time is critical for the texture of Putu Ayu. Ensure the cakes are steamed until firm but not overcooked. Use a toothpick or fork to check for doneness. It should come out clean when inserted into the center.
Yes, you can use pandan extract as a substitute for fresh leaves, but use it sparingly as it’s more concentrated. I prefer to use fresh leaves as pandan extract that is 100% natural is rare.
You can use desiccated (dried) coconut as a substitute, rehydrating it with a bit of warm water before using it in the recipe.
Yes, you can make Putu Ayu in advance and store it in an airtight container. Reheat it gently in the steamer before serving it for the best taste and texture. That really brings them back to life!
✌️My favey desserts to pair with putu ayu:
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Easy Putu Ayu (Indonesian Steamed Coconut Pandan Cakes)
- Preheat a large steamer over medium heat.
- Place the pandan leaf into a blender or spice grinder and blend until it is in tiny bits.
- Add grated coconut to the blended pandan, along with your choice of sugar, and pulse a few more times in the blender to combine. Set aside.
- Place the coconut milk and pandan leaves into a blender and blend for 90 seconds until completely pureed.
- Pass the pureed pandan-scented coconut milk through a wire mesh strainer and compost the remaining pandan pulp.
- In a mixing bowl, mix together the strained pandan milk along with flour, baking powder, baking soda, baking powder, sugar, vanilla extract, and salt. Whisk until smooth.
- If you are using metal cake molds, lightly oil them using any neutral-tasting oil you prefer. There is no need to oil silicone molds as they are naturally nonstick, and easy to get the cooked cakes out of.
- Place a tablespoon of grated coconut topping into the bottom of each cake mold.
- Spoon the cake batter into molds, filling them two-thirds full.
- Steam the cakes for 30-35 minutes until firm. Unmold after they cool for ten minutes and serve!