Mad about Kueh Lapis

              Kueh Lapis

It’s been a little past a week since I got home. Several cakes and many macarons later, I found myself staring at 20 egg yolks in my refrigerator. With no ice cream maker, absolutely no desire to make crème brûlée and the Lunar New Year just round the corner, I settled on the most logical solution: kueh lapis.

Kueh Lapis

Kueh (possible spelling variation: kuih, kway, kue) Lapis, also known as ‘kek lapis’, ‘kueh lapis legit’, ’spek koek’, ’spekkuk’, is a traditional Indonesian layered spice cake, baked with an insanely unhealthful amount of butter and egg yolks.

The heading on my mum’s recipe said “Kway Lapis Spekkoek”. I was intrigued by the term ’spek koek’ and did a little research. It turns out that ’spek koek’ stems from the days of the Dutch East India Company and Dutch colonization of Southeast Asia. In Dutch, ‘koek’ translates to cake and ’spek’ translates to lard or bacon. It is conceivable that the term ’spek’ refers to the cake layers, which resemble the layers in pork belly. But perhaps ’spek’ refers to lard as an ingredient. This leads to another question: Was ’spek koek’ brought by colonists to the Dutch East Indies or was ‘kueh lapis legit’ an indigenous sweet given a fancy Dutch name?

To make things even more interesting, kueh lapis is similar in concept to the German Baumkuchen (literally translated as “tree cake”), so named because the cake was traditionally made on a rotating spit and the cake’s cross section resembled the age-rings in trees. These days, the cake is more commonly made in a ring pan. The last paragraph in this Jarkarta Post article has a really interesting take on the origins of kueh lapis and even manages to link it with Baumkuchen. I’m not entirely sure if there aren’t several leaps of faith in the theory, but it is nonetheless a fascinating read.

              Kueh Lapis

Whether Dutch, Hungarian, German or Indonesian in origin, baking kueh lapis is an extremely time-consuming task - each layer of cake batter is spread thinly onto the previous layers and baked for several minutes. Being a slow worker in the kitchen and it being my first attempt meant that I spent several hours (with my mum) baking this particular cake. I’m relieved the cake turned out well, but I’m not sure if I’ll be baking it again anytime soon!

[Edited to include recipe, Feb 17, 2008]

Prune Lapis

Kueh Lapis Spekkoek

20 egg yolks
4 egg whites
500g salted butter
3 tbsp condensed milk
340g sugar
200g plain flour
2 tsp ground mixed spices
2 tsp vanilla essence
3 tbsp rum or brandy
90g pitted prunes, sliced into thin strips (optional)

1. Butter the base of an 8″ X 8″ X 2.5″ pan and line with baking parchment.
2. Pre-heat your oven, selecting the grill function.
3. Sift the plain flour and mixed spices together.
4. Beat the egg yolks and sugar together until pale yellow, thick and creamy
5. Cream the butter and condensed milk together until soft and fluffy. Add the creamed butter to the egg yolk mixture and mix until combined.
6. Beat the egg whites until medium firm peaks.
7. Fold in the egg whites, followed by the flour mixture into the rest of the batter.
8. Stir in the vanilla essence and rum until well-combined.
9. Spread a thin layer of batter onto the parchment paper.
10. Grill for 7 - 8 mins on the lowest rack in your oven or until lightly golden brown.
11. Remove cake pan from oven and press the baked layer down lightly with a metal fondant smoother. Prick all over the layer of cake with a toothpick.
12. Repeat steps 9 to 11 for each layer. (Optional: Add prunes on every second or third layer).
13. For the last layer, turn the oven down to 180 degrees C and bake on middle rung for 15 minutes or until golden brown.
14. Remove from oven and run a paring knife along the edges of the cake pan.
15. Turn the kueh lapis out of the pan and remove the baking parchment.
16. Flip cake back upright and let cool.

50 Responses to “Mad about Kueh Lapis”

  1. Eunice Says:

    LOVELY!! My gramma bakes all these traditional kuehs in the kitchen. Long & tedious, but the best time for bonding for us!! :D

    Could you post the recipe, pretty please? Want to surprise my gramma :D

  2. cookworm Says:

    A few months ago, I made the Spekkuk from James Oseland’s Cradle of Flavor, and it was truly fantastic (but not as pretty, as I didn’t bother with the layers). I’d love to see your recipe!

  3. Millie Says:

    I saw one of these at a bakery in SJ one time.
    It is so cool!! I was just wondering how can someone have the patient to make all these layers.

    I’ve e-mailed you..I hope that you have receive them!! = )

  4. Aunt HN Says:

    Hi Karen,

    The Kueh Lapis is well done! How about a piece for us? Look forward to sampling it.


  5. danielle Says:

    hey karen.. loved ur macaroons :) maybe next time i’ll get to try the opera ones..

  6. Karen Says:

    Eunice & cookworm: Thank you! I’ll post the recipe later after the madness that is CNY baking, cooking and visiting. :)

    Millie: Thanks! I’ve sent you a reply.

    Aunt HN: I’ll bring some over on Thursday.

    Danielle: I’m glad you enjoyed the macarons! I’m really sorry about the mix up. Please let me know when you’re back from Malaysia. I’ll whip up a batch of opera ones just for you. :)

  7. Tuki Says:

    That’s perfection! I want to make it right now :))

  8. jen Says:

    wow, I am in awe, I have seen this cake at asian bakeries but never would have had the skill or audacity to even give it a go at home. You have mad skills!

  9. danielle Says:

    r u sure about that? cause i would LOVE that.. everyone’s asking for them and i’m sure the bf can make a trip over to ur place between 2/11-2/13 (I’m back on the 12th) during the evening.. u don’t even have to make a full batch if that’s too much work.. let us know!

  10. Karen Says:

    Tuki: Thank you! Your Plaisir Sucre look so beautiful and exactly like the ones at Pierre Herme.

    Jen: Thank you. I know I’ve said this before, but your photographs are just wonderful! The cake is simpler to make than it looks, just a little tedious. Do give it a shot at home. I’ll be posting the recipe at a later date. :)

    Danielle: Absolutely! I’ve sent you an email. It’ll probably be about 10 - 12 pieces. Let me know if you would like more.

  11. Tartelette Says:

    The closest thing I ever made was a Dobos Torte, so seriously missing some layers! Looks wonderful and Happy New Year!

  12. Angela Says:

    My name : Angela K,
    I have started my blog and linked some of yr recipe & blog link
    without reliease that i NEED to ask permission.

    now, i would seek yr premission on this issue
    and if you feel not comfortable with it, it’s ok for me.

    I’ll delete it immediately.

    Kindly reply me by 7 Feb’08.

  13. Karen Says:

    Thank you, Helen. From what I’ve heard, the Dobos Torte has many layers too! :)

    Angela: You don’t need my permission to link to this blog or any recipes on here, unless you’re using my photographs. Please feel free to add a link here.

  14. Jessica "Su Good Sweets" Says:

    I saw your pineapple tarts on Flickr, and they look delicious. Do you care to share the recipe?

  15. EdibleImaginations Says:

    Love your spek koek. PERFECT torting & filling. Also love the way you play with the camera - like a friend would say - you get up close and personal with your creations …

  16. nicole Says:

    is it possible to make this without brandy or rum? could it be substituted with something else?

  17. Karen Says:

    Nicole: I should think it would be all right to just replace the rum or brandy with water if you want to avoid alcohol completely.

  18. Bina Says:

    Can u tell me what spices are used? And are u sure it would be ok to substitute rum with water?

  19. Karen Says:

    I used Chinese 5-spice powder, but you can make your own spice mix if you prefer. I’d definitely include cinnamon, cloves and star anise. The brandy/rum is added for flavouring, but if you leave out the liquid entirely, it may affect the fluidity of the batter.

  20. Florence Says:

    I have tried your recipe today. I used the chinese cooking wine `hua diao’ to replace rum, the result is good. The cake turned out great. All my family like it very much.

    Thanks a lot for the recipe.

  21. janice Says:

    Hi, thanks for sharing your recipe. I was wondering - for step 2, is there a temperature to set? and for step 13, is the oven still in grill mode or do we switch it to baking mode? Thanks!

  22. Karen Says:

    When using grill mode in an oven, the temperature is always set to the the highest that your oven can go (this is usually 220 - 240 degrees C). For the last layer, switch to top or top & bottom heating.

  23. Annie Says:

    I do not like to bake, I love to cook. Baking and cooking is now meeting at a certain point in passion for food of late. Looks like I have to get baking soon, as my kid and husband love to eat cakes. Thanks for the recipe. Where do your teach?

  24. chef ross Says:

    hi i have been making this kek lapis (as said here in malaysia) comercially for the last 3 years normally around hari raya (after the month of ramadan(fasting) time their are actually a lot of special requirements and special prep methods which need to be adressed when trying to make kek lapis
    a lot has been said about the origns of cake lapis and its spice
    in my humble opinion it most probably had origns in germany as we know as baumkuchen which uses multi layers of spice batter
    lebkuchen (gingerbread spice) tastes very similar to the spice used in kek lapis
    alot of amazing similaritys but no known proof
    for me anyway its enough proof this is such a special cake
    and by the way

  25. chef ross Says:

    after a lot of thought i have concluded that it is a variation of speculaas a type of dutch soft biscuit associated with xmas and the spice which is used is very similar to the spice mix used in indonesia except the pepper is replaced with both mace and anice

  26. dr.lowem Says:

    hihi! love your recipe!

    Followed it to a T, cept I used 2 tbsp rum instead of 3, cos I was afraid of it being too alcoholic, which actually turns out ok!

    It was scary to see so many yolks, but it’s kueh lapis legit afterall :) I must say it was a very ambitious bake-job for me to do, cos it’s the first time i’m doing a full-fledge bake at home with such tedious steps, but I actually love the whole process!

    The waiting for each layer to be ready really made me excited, but the overall turned out a little dry (must have waited too long for each layer to brown too much). Though the fragrance is heavenly!

    will mosdef make it again to perfect it. thanx babe for the share!

  27. liesa Says:

    i would like to try your recipes because i like this cake very much… but i need the information more detail …in the first baking it is 220 degress with fan or without fan… because my oven is seperate with the grill. so it is oke if i just use the oven ( bottom fire )

  28. Karen Says:

    Liesa: It is without fan and you can’t use bottom fire. It has to be top fire using the grill option for your oven.

  29. Marc Says:

    Hi Karen,

    Your baking and food photography skills are awesome!
    I wish to bring to your attention though that I suspect someone of stealing your work to advertise for their own gains.

    Thia gal, by the name of Kelly, is advertising on 88DB using your photograph of Kueh Lapis! How dispicable!

    I suggest you write to her to “suggest” her removing the photo from her ad.


  30. Mark Says:

    Wow, this is a pretty amazing recipe. Even though i got the steps mixed up (i folded in the butter with the egg yolks, followed by the sugar and i used evaporated milk instead of the condensed milk), the kueh lapis came out awesome!
    Thanks Karen! I’m gonna make this for new year and other recipe from this site. I’ll be sure to share this awesome site with my friends =)

  31. Catherine Says:

    Hi Karen! I bake my lapis just recently(not using the recipe above), but could not understand why/where and what went wrong. My lapis turn out to be “steam kueh” like rather than cake. Any advice? Appreciate very much!

  32. Karen Says:

    Marc: Thanks for letting me know. I have requested that they remove the photographs and they have done so.

    Mark: Thanks! I’m glad you enjoyed the recipe. :)

    Catherine: Did you bake the cake in the oven using top fire/grill only? I have not experienced what you have described and am not sure how to advise you. My guess would be that each layer was not baked long enough and that there may have been too much butter in the recipe you used.

  33. Catherine Says:

    Hi Karen!

    I tried your recipe today and was (still am) very happy that I succeeded! I was baking at my friend’s house. Ha! My oven comes with 3 types of grill - Turbogrill, large surface grill and infrared surface grill. Maybe I could have selected the incorrect one. Perhaps should I select the icon that shows a line over a grill or the one with the zig zag pattern. My oven is Electrolux EOB852
    Sorry, I hope I did not confuse you (I just want to be sure).


  34. Karen Says:

    Catherine: I’m glad you had success with my recipe. On my Ariston oven, I use the setting indicated by the icon with the “zig-zag” pattern, which is the grill function. I think any of the grill functions would work. You probably want to check your oven manual to see what each type of grill on your oven does - I’m guessing you can just go with large surface grill.

  35. Catherine Says:

    Hi Karen!

    Many thanks for your tips! I think I set the turbo grill but did not put on the lowest rung of the oven- that’s why!

    Again, I thank you from the bottom of my heart of your kind generosity to share this great recipe among the bakers here!

    Hip Hip Hooray! 3x

  36. Hsiaoshuang Says:

    The photos are enough to make me drool!

  37. Sophia Says:

    Hi Karen,

    Thanks for your recipe. I tried the recipe and was not successful. One of the layer is still wet- the bottom 4th layer. The rest seems okay. Is it due to the oven or is it due to my mixture? My grill goes off once it reaches a certain degree then it will light up again after about 10 mins. So could it be due to this. Should I just put the layer into the oven even though the grill is not lighted up and just leave it there until the grill lights up and then the cake turns brown? Pls advise.

    Thank you.

  38. Karen Says:

    Sophia: Once the oven has been correctly preheated, it’s normal for the grill to go on and off. Each layer should be lightly golden brown in colour (step 10) before you pour in the batter for the next layer. The timing is an estimate and will depend on how hot your oven is. Hope this helps.

  39. Kroocrew Says:

    Hello Karen,

    You have certainly sparked an interest in this great confection. Think it has to be a contender for both long running and just long thread.

    I too find the origin of recipes of interest especially when such a different culture affects the cuisine of another in this case the Dutch which was also apparent in Sri Lanka and the Portuguese in Ancient Siam. Both of these examples involved desserts. The question whether or not this was an existing base recipe or was a new concept is intriguing. My bet for not other reason is that it was brought in. Why? Ovens weren’t/aren’t a feature of SEA cooking. This recipe has minimum baking in an oven but still it seems important for that final round. The Dutch would have most certainly introduced baking and butter into this cuisine as they did in Sri Lanka.

  40. He Yulan Says:

    hi would like to ask u i use another recipe for the kek lapis.i replace rum for a bit of vanilla essense.but my cake come out too soft and oily. when i touch it, is quite oily.the layers are easily peeled off.The taste of it is still just the touch of it is oily and soft.

    i uses 250g butter,10 egg yolks, 150g sugar, 66g cake flour.I switch on only the top heat (electric oven), i do not have a grill option.any idea wat could have gone wrong?hope to know the answers as i am quite puzzled abt it.

  41. Mae @ Passionatemae Says:

    Karen: OMG..yum! Definitely in my bake list. Will link it to my blog when I make it.

  42. Boonchai Says:

    Dear Karen
    I have never bake a cake before!

    Would you please illustrate how to cream the butter?

    And what about melting the butter instead?


  43. Karen Says:

    Boonchai: I’m afraid you can’t melt the butter instead. Use the paddle attachment in your mixer to beat the butter and condensed milk together until creamy.

    Your butter should be soft when you start beating, not straight out of the fridge, but also not so soft that it’s beginning to melt.

    If you don’t have a mixer, then just cream using a wooden spoon. I’m sure there are many videos on Youtube that demonstrate how to cream butter by hand. :)

    Happy baking!

  44. Weiling Says:

    Hi, followed ur recipe except that we reduced the sugar and condense milk. The layers of the lapis are not obvious and turns out a bit dry but oily to touch though the taste is nice. Any idea why?

  45. Karen Says:

    Hi Weiling,

    The layers aren’t obvious possibly because you didn’t bake each layer long enough. The surface has to be brown, otherwise, you don’t see the contrast. By reducing the sugar, I think it won’t be as easy for the batter to brown since the sugar probably helps the surface to caramelise. I’m no expert, just guessing that. :)

    Dry, possibly because you’ve cut down on the amount of liquid i.e. condensed milk?

    I’d suggest not randomly cutting down on the ingredients. I’ve already reduced the amount of sugar in this recipe. I’m not sure how much you’ve reduced the sugar and condensed milk, but if I do want to cut down on sugar in any recipe, I’d go with just a 5% reduction each time until I find that the cake doesn’t turn out well anymore.

    Hope this helps and happy baking!

  46. Nina Says:

    Hai……….I am Nina from indonesia

    It really surprised me that you can make this beautiful “kue lapis” or “lapis legit(that’s we called it in Indonesia). Wooow……you make a great job cause in Indonesia if you can make this cake successfully, people will call you a master of cake. It’s very difficult and you need more time and patient and luck(^____^) Honestly, making this cake is like day dreaming for me but when I see your kue lapis, it’s challenge me. I hope I can make this beautiful cake soon.

    By the way, your roses cakes are really beautiful.

  47. Doreen Says:

    Hi Karen, Thanks fof sharing tis Kueh Lapis recipe.I tried making it today and was so excited itn out quite we oso taste gd.Only one prob, the color of the surface of the top layer was not so even n fine.Could it bcos I m using a microwave cum convention oven? Btw I would like to buy a new oven more for the purpose of baking, could u give me some advise as I m new to baking.

  48. Doreen Says:

    Hi Karen, Thanks fof sharing tis Kueh Lapis recipe.I tried making it today and was so excited it turn out quite well oso taste gd.Only one prob, the color of the surface of the top layer was not so even n fine.Could it bcos I m using a microwave cum convention oven? Btw I would like to buy a new oven more for the purpose of baking, could u give me some advise as I m new to baking.

  49. BunBun Says:

    Hello…i love the lapis picture u posted looks so yummy and I tried out my own lapis!! Hmm…twice…1st was lazy and manage to make a 7 layers kueh lapis…taste wise good…jus like wat outside selling.

    2nd time…i have improved..a lot..i should say…my lapis has 13 layers and it looks really nice. BUT…but there is some area with darker colour..not burnt, not uncooked…it looks ‘wet’ but not as moist as 1st time. I am not sure wats wrong with it. Only diff comparing to 1st attempt is the egg white i used hand to whisk and 2nd attempt was machine beat till really stiff. Is this make my lapis diff and wet at some area? Hope u can show me some light! :)

    P/S: I use half or your recipe above cos I jus tried out to bake a smaller size

  50. Lea Says:

    I baked this today and mine didnt turn out as yellow as yours, the browning on each layer was uneven and the cake looks wet after bake except the top and bottom layer which seems dry. Any recommendations?
    Can I check with you how do you prick all over with toothpick? I used a fork instead and really prick everywhere, could that be the reason why each layer is so wet?
    Appreciate if you could take time to answer.

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