Kek Lapis Sarawak is a traditional Malaysian cake famous both for its intricate kaleidoscopic appearance and the grueling process required to make it. Kek translates as “cake” and Lapis means “layers” in Bahasa Malaysia, Malaysia’s national language. Inspired by the spit cakes that Dutch colonists used to enjoy, it was born in Malaysia’s Sarawak state, located on the northwestern coast of Borneo, sometime in the 1970’s.
It’s basically a much more complex version of kek lapis Betawi, or lapis legit, that incorporates spices such as cinnamon, cardamom, clove, and star anise into a fluffy batter of butter, flour, and eggs, which bakers cook in multiple brown and beige layers.
Sarawakians pretty much elevated it to an art form: its outer layers do a good job concealing the complicated inner cake, that inside reveals a kaleidoscope of colors and geometrical shapes.
Making a Kek Lapis Sarawak can take anywhere from four to eight hours, depending on both the complexity of the design and the skill of the baker. The laborious process starts with the baking of the soft, puffy layers in deep pans. Layers of colored batter, made vibrant with food coloring and natural extracts, are gradually added, with each layer spending about 10 minutes in the oven. But baking the colorful sponge is only half the battle, (the easy half): the real trick to a true Kek Lapis Sarawak is the cutting of the layers and their reassembly in complex patterns by gluing them together with jam or condensed milk as glue.
Expert bakers told that making this Malaysian delicacy can be extremely hard for the uninitiated, especially because just one mistake can throw off the design completely, leaving you with nothing to show for after hours of toiling in the kitchen.
Others, despite all their experience, draws diagrams on paper when planning the design of their cakes and even so the designs can still turn out poorly.
Bakers in Sarawak also added their own spin on the cake’s flavors, resulting in concoctions such as kek lapis Cadbury and kek lapis Oreo. Building these cakes requires a vivid imagination, an almost mathematical mind for detail, and perhaps most importantly, a steady hand.
Because of its complexity, the time required to make it, and the fact that everything has to be done by hand, Kek Lapis Sarawak is considered one of the most difficult cakes to make, making it a challenge even for expert bakers. It’s also a relatively expensive dessert in Malaysia, costing up to RM250 (about $60) per cake.
Images from web – Google Research