This charming lil’ steamed Indonesian bread, Roti Kukus, sometimes called bolu kukus, is colorful, fluffy, moist, and just happens to be completely vegan! But what makes it truly extraordinary is the seamless blend of flavors and the delicate layers that are in this eggless cake recipe.
Non-vegan recipes for this can be full of nonsense, like artificial colors and bottled soda. This recipe I developed captures the original essence of the dessert while avoiding garbage ingredients you don’t want to touch with a ten-foot pole!
The name "Roti Kukus" itself, when translated, means "steamed bread" – but for real? Is this bread? Kukus carries a whisper of coconut, a hint of pandan, a little cocoa, and the comforting embrace of a vanilla-kissed aroma. But unlike my Kuih dadar, klepon or putu ayu, which is another steamed Indonesian dessert, this one can be made without bashing open coconuts or making your own pandan juice.
So, roll up your sleeves, gather your ingredients, and let's steam up your kitchen windows with the glorious pandan and vanilla fog of Roti Kukus.
🥰Why you are going to adore the ever-loving heck outta this recipe
✊ Vegan AF: Like all of my Indonesian recipes, this Roti Kukus recipe is completely egg and dairy-free! But don’t think for a second it’s not the most perfect fluffy recipe you've ever tried
💯 Reliable Pandan: The natural pandan extract I recommend for this recipe provides a fresh, vibrant green color and a distinctive aroma without the artificial ingredients that plague most Kukus recipes.
🥥 Coconut Magic: The subtle use of coconut extract in this recipe infuses a tropical paradise into every bite, giving your Roti Kukus a unique flavor that's better than a gaggle of airplanes. (Yes, some people I admire eat a gosh-darned aircraft once in a while)…
✅ Tested and Approved Worldwide: Like all of the recipes on my blog, after I perfected this Indonesian steamed cake through constant tweaking, it was then tested in kitchens around the globe by a large crew of recipe testers I work with. It's a foolproof, dependable delight that will make you do “yippy skippy.”
🌿Notable ingredients and substitutions
Pandan Extract (Ekstrak Pandan)
There are PLENTY of garbage-quality pandan extracts out there. Most of my recipes that use pandan, such as my taro rice pudding, bubur sumsum, and che ba mau, call for making your own pandan juice because natural pandan extract is hard to find. But, the glories of the internet make it possible to find ones like this pandan extract, which is pure, natural and great tasting! Don’t mess with other low-quality, and often artificial brands!
Baking Powder and Baking Soda (Soda Kue)
Instead of using bottled soda, full of high-fructose corn syrup and artificial flavors, as many bolu kukus recipes do, my recipe creates more consistent fluffiness using precisely measured leveling agents. I find that the keeping quality of desserts leveled with baking powder tends to be much better than with yeast. Take my cekodok pisang as an example. Those bad boys stay moist and amazing for a few days, whereas yeasted desserts like apple fritters get rough by day two.
Sweetness is the soul of Roti Kukus. Don’t want to eat regular ol’ cane sugar? This recipe can be made with powdered palm sugar or coconut sugar as the sweetener too, it just will not be quite as brightly colored due to the minerals found in those natural sweeteners.
Apple Cider Vinegar (Cuka Apel)
The touch of acidity from apple cider vinegar helps activate the leavening agents, ensuring a fluffy texture. The little bit of acid from the vinegar also helps to balance the sweetness of the bread, which is also why I use apple cider vinegar in my apple cider donuts. Lemon juice can be a suitable alternative, though I think the citrus flavor clashes a little bit in the dark layer of the cake made with cocoa.
Coconut Extract (Ekstrak Kelapa)
Optionally, you can include coconut extract in your recipe. I recommend it! If unavailable, leave it out instead of replacing it with a different extract.
Dutch Processed Cocoa (Kakao Bubuk)
This dark cocoa powder gives one layer of your Roti Kukus its rich, chocolatey goodness. Dutch-processed cocoa is ideal, but natural cocoa, or (my fave) black cocoa, works as well. You can also omit it for a non-chocolate version.
*See the recipe card at the bottom of the page for exact quantities, nutritional info, and detailed cooking directions.
Durian and Jackfruit: Durian, known as the "King of Fruits" in Southeast Asia, brings a distinctive, pungent intense melon-like flavor, while jackfruit offers its naturally sweet and fruity notes. In Borneo, where I often spend time in my slow season (winter in the USA), there are durians with bright RED fruit inside that look gorgeous in this dessert.
📖 How to make Roti Kukus like a pro
Nail this recipe 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.
Combine Dry Ingredients:
In a bowl, whisk the all-purpose flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt, removing any lumps, and creating a well at the center.
Into the well, add the sugar, plant-based milk, oil, apple cider vinegar, vanilla extract, and optional coconut extract. Whisk everything together until a thick, smooth batter forms.
All the Pretty Little Layers:
Divide the batter into three separate bowls. Mix cocoa into one portion, pandan extract into another, and leave the third portion plain for a multi-layered effect.
Prepare Your Molds:
Either use cupcake wrappers and lightly grease your baking molds with a neutral-tasting oil, or line your steaming trays with parchment paper to make it easier to remove the cooked cakes from the molds later on.
Layer and Steam:
Pour the dark-colored batter into the bottom, the plain batter in the middle, and the pandan-colored batter on top in each tray or mold. Steam for 20-25 minutes, then allow your Roti Kukus to cool. If you didn’t use cupcake wrappers, use a paring knife or small offset spatula to loosen the cakes from the pans.
Bolu kukus makes a nice breakfast, dessert, or accompaniment to various Southeast Asian dishes.
Want to put together a bangin’ little Viennese table of Southeast Asian desserts? Uh, yeah, of course you do. Serve these with great company like martabak manis, colorful bubur cha cha, pisang goreng, biji Salak, and ice-cold Kem Chuối.
- Perfect the Batter Consistency: Achieving the right batter consistency is crucial. That’s why I always either whisk or sift the dry ingredients first to distribute them evenly and avoid lumps.
- Layer with Precision: When layering your Roti Kukus, pour the dark-colored cocoa batter at the bottom, the plain batter in the middle, and the pandan-colored batter on top. This ensures the most visually distinct layers and a lovely-looking final result.
- Best steamer practices: 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. This is especially an issue with dishes like chee cheong fun and banh bao chay that will get wrecked by boiling hot rain! On the other hand, bamboo steamers are a little porous, preventing 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.
- Mold Preparation: Whether greasing molds, using cupcake wrappers, or using parchment paper, ensure your molds are well-prepared to prevent sticking. This step ensures your Roti Kukus comes out in perfect shape.
- Cool Before Slicing: Allow your Roti Kukus to cool before slicing. This helps it set and maintain its structure. Slicing too soon may lead to a crumbly texture, so be patient for the best results.
Roti Kukus boasts a delicate sweetness with hints of coconut and pandan, creating a unique and enticing aroma.
While all-purpose flour is traditional, you can substitute whole wheat flour and all-purpose flour with equal parts for a heartier version or use gluten-free flour.
To intensify the chocolate flavor, add a small handful of vegan semi-sweet chocolate chips into the chocolate batter layer, or drizzle the finished cakes with warm chocolate ganache.
Absolutely! Steam ovens and combi-ovens can usually accommodate whole trays of cupcake tins, which make it easier to bang out a big batch of these than in your ol' beat-up bamboo steamer on a stovetop. Bring out the big guns if you’ve got 'em!
To store Roti Kukus, place it in an airtight container at room temperature, keeping it away from direct sunlight. It can stay fresh for a day or two. To reheat, simply steam it again for a few minutes to regain its soft, moist texture.
✌️My faves to serve with this dish:
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Roti Kukus (Indonesian Sweet steamed bread)
- Steaming trays or molds
- Steamer or large pot with a steaming setup
- Measuring Cups and Spoons
- 2 ¼ cups all-purpose flour
- 2 teaspoons baking powder
- ½ teaspoon baking soda
- ½ teaspoon salt
- ¾ cup sugar
- ½ cup canola oil vegetable oil, or sunflower oil
- 1 ½ cups unsweetened plant-based milk
- 1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- ½ teaspoon coconut extract optional
- 2 tablespoons Dutch-processed cocoa
- 1 ½ teaspoons natural pandan extract
- Whisk together all-purpose flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in a bowl, forming a well in the center.
- Add to the center of the dry ingredients sugar, plant-based milk, oil, apple cider vinegar, vanilla extract, and coconut extract (if desired), and whisk together to form a smooth thick batter.
- Divide the batter into three separate bowls. Mix the cocoa into one portion, the pandan extract into one portion, and leave the last portion plain.
- Lightly oil your baking molds with neutral-tasting oil, use cupcake wrappers, or line your steaming trays or molds with parchment paper.
- Pour the dark-colored batter into the bottom, the plain batter in the middle, and the pandan-colored batter on top in each tray or mold. Optionally sprinkle the tops with a light dusting of vanilla sugar or vegan caster sugar.
- With your steamer over medium heat (don't let the water boil fully), steam the bolu kukus for 20-25 minutes until the centers have risen. It's totally ok, and some people like it even more when the kukus naturally split open. Allow them to cool for ten minutes, slice, and enjoy your layered Roti Kukus!