Marie biscuits, condensed milk, Milo: the three staple ingredients of my childhood in Malaysia.
The tastiest Marie biscuits were sold loose from large containers at the local grocery store. We dunked them into glasses of milk, and later into mugs of a popular Malaysian tea called BOH.
We used condensed milk in coffee or tea to substitute sugar and milk. Occasionally – don't judge me – my sisters and I slathered spoonfuls of the stuff onto slices of bread, and then, because that wasn't messy enough, dipped the folded sticky, sweet bread into our mugs of tea.
But our star ingredient was Milo. Chocolate-malt goodness has been the beverage of choice for many Malaysian children since it was introduced to the country in 1950. We drank it hot/cold/with ice-cubes/through a straw. Sometimes we ate it straight from the tin with a spoon.
Sometimes, we'd put these three ingredients together, throw in some cocoa to ramp up the chocolate factor and add eggs to create a custard-like texture on low heat on the stove. Then we'd let the concoction set in the fridge and have what is known as batik cake.
"It is almost too pretty to eat, but we never let that stop us."
Batik is a traditional textile art popular in Malaysia, Indonesia and India. It's made by creating patterns on fabric with liquid wax in a spouted tool called a tjanting, waiting for it to dry, then applying dye. The dye sinks into the fabric but can't penetrate through wax, so after you remove the patterned wax, a design is left behind.
I grew up with batik fabric in many forms – my grandmother's sarongs, my father's shirts, my mother's traditional blouse known as a kebaya, and various decorative items. In a batik cake, the Marie biscuits perform the role of the wax amid the thick, chocolate custard "dye". When the cake is set, slicing through it reveals a batik pattern which is almost too pretty to eat - but we never let that stop us.
Whenever my mother made batik cake, my sisters and I had the important task of breaking the Marie biscuits into quarters. The page in my mother's recipe book is smudged with cocoa and Milo, evidence of a well-loved dessert and of our trust in her recipe.
When I moved to Australia, I realised this childhood favourite came with slight variations to the ingredients and other names. Both the Hedgehog slice and Prince William’s Chocolate Biscuit Cake are similar, although neither has the distinctive malt flavour of Milo.
But ultimately, this dessert, with its delightful broken-biscuit etchings against the chocolate background, will always be batik cake. It reminds me of the excitement of coming home to a chocolate-custard aroma, of the sisters who indulged in it with me, and of the batik prints that decorated my childhood.
Mum's batik cake
This unbaked dessert is popular in Malaysia, Singapore and Brunei. It is the perfect tea-time treat and has a chocolate-malt flavour from the addition of Milo.
Makes 16 generous squares
- 250 g Marie biscuits
- 170 g butter
- ¾ cup caster sugar
- 4 eggs
- ½ cup cocoa
- ½ cup Milo
- 395 g sweetened condensed milk
- ¼ cup water
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
1. Break the Marie biscuits into quarters and set aside.
2. Prepare a cake tin with foil or baking paper.
3. Cream the butter and sugar in a large mixing bowl.
4. Mix in the eggs, one at a time.
5. Add the cocoa, Milo, condensed milk and water and mix well.
6. Transfer the mixture to a large saucepan or wok on low heat, stirring constantly until the mixture thickens and starts coming off the sides of the pan.
7. Carefully fold in the Marie biscuits and the vanilla.
8. Pour into the cake tin and smooth down the top.
9. Chill for at least 3 hours in the fridge, preferably overnight if you can wait that long!
10. Cut into squares and marvel at the beautiful pattern before enjoying with a cup of tea or glass of milk.
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