Dark, crispy and messy looking, it’s no wonder this popular traditional Malaysian cookie is known as kuih cakar ayam, which literally translates as chicken scratch cookies. Whether it refers to the scratchy marks chickens make as they dig around looking for food or undecipherable handwriting no one knows for sure, but ask any local and they’re bound to know this crispy, sweet snack you speak of.
But here’s a few facts about chicken scratch cookies you may be completely unaware of:
- They only require three ingredients to make.
- The ingredients are super cheap.
- Actually making them? Dead easy.
So why have you been forking out your hard earned cash when you can make this at home cheaply and easily? It doesn’t even require any fancy equipment. All you need is a wok or pot, a ladle, a circular-shaped mould and lightning fast reflexes. Alright, alright, you don’t need to be The Flash or Usain Bolt to make this, but working quick is necessary. And, well, a tolerance for handling hot things with your bare fingers is a definitely plus. Maybe some superhuman strength may be required to make some kuih cakar ayam after all.
Breaking it down to basics
Chicken scratch cookies are made with only three ingredients: yam, sugar and cooking oil for frying. Yes, it’s a carbs-galore kind of cookie but one that is completely worth all the calories.
We’ve read how easy it is to make kuih cakar ayam online and even watched some videos, but variations in techniques and even types of sugar used seem to exist. After all, there’s got to be a catch to making crazy good cookies with so few ingredients, right? We decided to break it down and test the different techniques floating out there in the universe. After some trials and tribulations, we settled on one we really liked which continued to work like a charm the multiple times we tried it. So if you’re a newbie to making chicken scratch cookies, follow our tips and we’re pretty sure you’ll get the hang of it real quick.
First, yam is finely grated. Then, sugar is melted in hot oil until it resembles sludge. Seriously. After that, all you need to do is dump in some yam into the hot oil, fry it until it turns nice and brown, and – here’s where the lightning reflexes come in – scoop the fried strings of yam into moulds while they’re still hot to form shapes. And then it’s all about being patient before you attempt to take a bite because they’re molten hot.
Even though they’re easy to make, we’ve come to realize that one of the important aspects about making this cookies is setting up your working space. We’ll break it down for you in the steps below.
Making kuih cakar ayam also all about the ratio. Just remember this: 1 cup of grated yam to 2 tablespoons of sugar, and you’re good to go.
- 2 cups yam, finely grated
- 4 tbsp sugar (read our sugar options below)
- Cooking oil
- Circular/round moulds, preferably made of heat-proof plastic, of about 3cm to 4cm in diameter
- Slotted ladle or strainer ladle for frying
The sugar factor
Different recipes we found called for different types of sugar. Since we wanted to make sure you make the yummiest kuih cakar ayam possible, we tested four different types of sugar to see which was the best. The only trouble with our findings was: they all tasted good! There were some variations though in terms of ease of use and taste, so here’s what we found:
Type of sugar
The easiest sugar to use and makes delicious chicken scratch cookies.
Jaggery (gula merah)
Sugar takes a while to melt and becomes somewhat clumpy. However, cookie is till tasty.
Makes for a crispy and very tasty cookie with a nice caramel aftertaste.
Coconut sugar (gula melaka)
Blows-your-mind kind of delicious. Incredibly crispy with a lovely burnt caramel aftertaste that makes you want more.
So which sugar does Butterkicap recommend? White for ease of use, budget and flavour. Brown for taste and a lovely caramel flavour. Coconut sugar if you want to up your game to a gourmet level. But why don’t you try all three instead and decide which one you like best? Having lots of kuih cakar ayam to deal with isn’t the most difficult of problems to solve after all.
Setting up the work space
- Next to or near your wok or pot, prepare a heat-proof metal tray. A baking sheet or tray is good. This is where you will transfer the just-fried yam bits. Make sure it is large enough to hold the fried yam bits, with space for you to work. Place your round mould and a tablespoon on this tray as well. If there’s more than one of you, place additional tablespoons and moulds accordingly.
- Next to it, prepare another large plate or tray. Line it with paper towels to catch any excess oil. This is where you’ll place the shaped cookies.
- If you’re making a large portion of chicken scratch cookies, prepare several plates or trays lined with paper towels so you don’t freak out when you run out of space. Do not double deck the cookies to avoid soaking the ones below in oil.
Making chicken scratch cookies
- Peel and rinse yam, then using the smallest hole on your box grater, grate yam finely into strings. Do not use a microplane as the holes are too small.
- Heat about 3 to 5cm worth of oil in a medium-sized pot or a wok. Ensure there is a lot of room to spare as the oil level will rise significantly once the yam goes in. You want to avoid having hot oil spill everywhere as it is dangerous and messy.
- Once the oil starts to bubble, it is ready for frying.
- Add 2 tbsp sugar into the oil and cook it, stirring until the sugar melts and looks like a brown sludge.
- Add 1 cup of grated yam, frying and stirring continuously until it turns golden brown and looks crispy.
- Remove fried yam, quickly tossing excess oil and transferring the yam to the first tray.
Shaping the cookies
- Working quickly, scoop in several spoonfuls of yam into the mould, pressing it down with slight pressure to compact and shape the yam. Do not press down too hard or you’ll end up with rock hard chicken scratch cookies instead.
- Once compacted, press out the shaped cookies onto the kitchen paper-lined tray to cool and absorb excess oil. Repeat step 7 until all the fried yam bits have been used up. You want to work quickly or the sugar will cool and solidify your mess of fried yam into on very big lump instead.
- Continue with the next batch of sugar and yam until your ingredients are finished.
- Let cookies cool completely before storing in an airtight container.
- What colour your yam is doesn’t really matter, as long as you’re using yam and not sweet potatoes.
- Cookie-making is a fun activity for parents and their children. Making chicken scratch cookies, however, involves handling really hot ingredients. We do not recommend getting your kids involved in the process.
- It’s a lot easier to make this when you’ve got two pair of hands – one to fry, and one to shove the fried yam bits into the moulds.
- We recommend working in small batches no matter how many pairs of hands you have helping you to ensure you don’t waste any fried yam when it starts to solidify.
- Since you’ve got the oil all hot and ready, why not make several portions of kuih cakar ayam? Once cool and drained of oil, store them in an airtight container and they’ll last you for a good, long time, if no one eats them all up first that is.
Aren’t you thoroughly impressed that you can make chicken scratch cookies at home? There is a downside to knowing how to make them though – you know exactly how much oil and sugar is used to make them and the health freak in you may not be too pleased about it. But if that doesn’t bother you, having easy access to these cookies may cause you to eat far too many and end up shaped somewhat like a kuih cakar ayam yourself. You’ve been warned.
So next time you’re at the supermarket, don’t forget to pick up a yam or two or five. And some sugar. Then head home to make your own chicken scratch cookies, snap a pic and share them on Instagram or Facebook with the #butterkicap hashtag so we can take a look. Enjoy!