The Dutch call Indonesian Lapis Legit “spekkoek”, literally “bacon cake” while, in English, it is simply “thousand-layer cake.”
Though both names are fancy, they are a testament to this treat’s appearance, as the Indonesian-Dutch fusion dessert features 18 to 30 individually baked layers of spiced butter, sugar, and egg yolk.
Lapis Legit literally means “rich layer-cake”, and it is indeed an extremely rich cake, considering the fact that a standard cake can contain up to 30 egg yolks, 500 grams of butter and 400 grams of sugar, with the addition of a special blend of cinnamon, cloves, mace and anises.
Historically, colonialists from the Netherlands arrived in Indonesia in the 15th century, which would become part of its East Indies later, and with them came their version of German “baumkuchen”, a cake made by coating a spit with rings of batter.
Indonesians and spice traders added local flavor such as cinnamon, clove, mace, and nutmeg to the buttery, eggy batter and, rather than use a cylindrical spit, bakers across the islands prepared the dessert in a square pan, broiling each delicate layer before adding the next.
The result was a rich, intricate cake that was popular among both cultures.
After the Dutch departed, they imported the signature spice mix so they could continue to make to make the treat.
The cake may look deceptively simple, but each one takes four to five hours to make, with each of its layers tediously added on one by one.
And the cake is returned to the oven each time for the layers to be caramelised separately.
Due to its time-consuming preparation and imported ingredients (butter for Indonesia, spices for the Netherlands), even a small piece of the cake can be pricey.
But if you find the thought of 30 layers of butter and egg yolk excessive, Singaporeans and Malaysians also make a plant-based, nine-layer cake called kueh lapis that, unlike lapis legit’s European ingredients, reflects local produce.
Southeast Asians make these 9-layer wobbly, colorful squares by steaming ingredients such as coconut milk, rice flour, tapioca, and pandan, and it is a well-loved Singaporean tea-time treat, popular for its nine distinctive colours.
Making things slightly confusing, the name “kueh lapis” is now used to describe either cake, and you can even find versions of lapis legit that incorporate the rainbow colors of its relative.
The easiest way to know what kind of cake you’re eating?
Just count the layers!
Images from web – Google Research