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 (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.
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]
Kueh Lapis Spekkoek
20 egg yolks
4 egg whites
500g salted butter
3 tbsp condensed milk
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.