The history of kue lapis could be traced back to its cousin, spekkoek or kue lapis legit, which is another multi-layered Indonesian cake. It is believed that spekkoek was inspired during the colonial times by the Dutch version of spit cake, a cake that is made of dough or batter, and baked one layer at a time on a cylindrical spit over the fire.
Just like the spit cake, the method for making spekkoek and kue lapis is similar, the main difference between the two is the former is baked while the latter is steamed. Each layer is meticulously baked or steamed for 5 to 12 minutes before the batter is poured over it to form the next layer. The ideal kue lapis should have a texture that is supple and chewy, does not stick to the teeth, and can be easily separated, layer by layer. According to Dr. Leslie Tay of ieatishootipost.sg, it takes the award winning Lina’s Confectionery, four hours to make a tray of kue lapis.
This cake is usually made out of nine layers of green, white, and red. However, there is no restrictive rule on the number of layers; one can easily see a kue lapis with layers of 12 or 13. It has a coconut and pandan fragrance, and not overly sweet. Although the cake is formed by having the layers of batter stuck together, it should not be so sticky like a gum that gets glued to the fingers or teeth. The layers should peel off easily one another.
There was an interesting article about kue lapis in New Straits Times, Dec 14 1972, which suggested how this cake is a food that reflects on a woman’s culinary skills in the kitchen. On a grand wedding of two sisters from a prestigious family in Malaysia…. The “Arabian Nights wedding”, as the writer described, it was attended by nearly 1800 guests, some of them belonged to royalty. Amidst the “near-pandemonium” wedding preparation, kue lapis was the food that the brides-to-be had to personally prepare for their wedding guests, on the insistence of their mother. She was known as one of the “the country’s best cooks”, and expected the same standards from her daughters.
Kue lapis has also found its way into Cooking for the President: Reflections & Recipes of Mrs Wee Kim Wee, by Wee Eng Hwa. It gives an intimate insight into the ex-president’s wife’s philosophy of cooking. “Cooking and dining together have been important for our family. As this book unfolds, you will see how food and entertaining have played significant roles in our family – making friends and winning heart”, says Mrs. Wee Kim Wee. “Cooking with love”, continues Mrs. Wee, “makes a difference to the food.”
In this 566-page cookbook of 230 Peranankan recipes, kue lapis is described as a “nonya fudge” with a “distinct coconut-pandan fragrance”. The Wees like the idea of its served as a “snack or dessert with hot Chinese tea”.
Since the early days in South East Asia, kue lapis is not only enjoyed in times of celebration, and but has also been a delicacy fit for the ex-president of Singapore. Over the years, kue lapis has become so entrenched in the households of South East Asia that it is a comfort food for many. However, one does not have to spend long hours in the kitchen, just to have a taste of this Peranakan snack. It is commonly found in most confectioneries in South East Asia.
Another piece of delicious history. Brings back memories. Yum!
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