My first taste of rempeyek - savoury Indonesian crackers - was the best. They had been made by a friend of a friend, an excellent home cook who only made them by special order - they weren't available in shops. All the others I tasted after that were not nearly as good, so I decided to make my own.
The recipe took a long time to develop because I couldn’t get the flavour or texture right. The problem was the recipes I saw online were all so varied – they all used rice flour in the batter, but some also added tapioca flour and/or cornstarch; some mixed in coconut milk; some were simply flavoured while others included garlic, shallots and/or kaffir lime leaf. Even when recipes didn’t call for curry leaves, I added them, because those first ones I tried had included them.
When I finally got the flavour right, the texture was off – hard and brittle rather than delicately crisp. I tried adding baking powder, which didn’t work, and, finally, I added more water – which did.
You’ll need to visit a shop selling Southeast Asian products for some of the ingredients. If you can’t find candlenuts, substitute macadamia nuts. Ikan bilis are small, salted dried fish with an intense flavour. Kaffir lime leaves are double leaves – you need three pairs for this recipe. If you can’t find fresh curry leaves, leave them out – although they add a wonderful fragrance.
The best way to grind the ingredients for the flavouring paste is using a high-speed blender (such as a Nutribullet). A mortar and pestle works, too, but not as efficiently.
You may be tempted to fry the rempeyek in a small pan, to use less oil. Trust me on this: don’t. Use a large wok and don’t be too sparing with the oil, or you’ll be frying only two or three remepeyek in each batch, which will take a long time.
Make the flavouring paste. Halve the garlic cloves and cut the lime leaves into thin strips, then put these ingredients in a blender along with the candlenuts, coriander seeds, fennel seeds, 15g (½oz) of ikan bilis, turmeric, salt and pepper. Add 50ml (3 tbsp and 1tsp) of the water, then grind to a smooth paste. If necessary, add a little more of the water, mixing in just enough so the ingredients form a paste; if you add too much water, the blades won’t grip the ingredients, and the mixture will be coarse. If using a mortar and pestle, grind the coriander seeds, fennel seeds and ikan bilis to a powder first, preferably using a spice grinder, then put them in the mortar. Add the garlic, kaffir limes (finely minced), candlenuts, turmeric, salt and pepper and pound to a paste without adding any water.
Put the rice flour, cornstarch and tapioca flour into a bowl and whisk to combine. Add the coconut milk and egg and whisk, then whisk in the flavouring paste and the remaining water until smooth. Leave the mixture at room temperature for about two hours.
Pour oil into a large wok to a depth of about 12cm (4¾in) and heat to 180°C (350°F). While the oil is heating, remove the curry leaves from the stems, then mix the leaves into the batter. Put the ikan bilis and peanuts into separate bowls.
Fry a test rempeyek, to check the consistency of the batter. Stir the batter so the ingredients are evenly distributed. Dip a small ladle or long-handled spoon that holds about 15ml (1tbsp) into the batter, then top with four to five ikan bilis and three or four peanuts (you can add more of the toppings, if you like, but remember that the ikan bilis are very salty). Hold the ladle (or spoon) just above the oil and pour it in. If the oil is hot enough, the mixture will sink to the bottom, then immediately puff up and rise to the surface. The rempeyek should be puffy and a little lacy; if it’s not, the batter is too thick, so whisk in more water.
When the consistency is correct, fry the rempeyek in batches, stirring the mixture each time you ladle some up – if you let it sit, the flour will sink to the bottom. Fry them in batches for five to eight minutes, or until they are evenly brown, turning them over several times. Adjust the flame as necessary to keep the oil between 170°C (340°F) and 180°C (350°F).
Drain them on paper towels. Let them cool completely before serving. Leftover rempeyek should be stored in an airtight container. Makes about 40-60, depending on the size.