Well, looks like I didn’t really succeed in becoming a proper Chinese/Peranakan lady for Chinese New Year. The flat still needs a scrub and apart from the little spicy spring rolls, I only managed to make a small Indonesian kek lapis, or layer cake. This rich and dense, yet tender, cake is a time consuming affair involving lots and lots of egg yolks. The cake is also known as spekkoek, the Dutch word for ‘bacon-cake’, which reflects the layers within it and was developed when the Dutch were in Indonesia. I’ve heard that its origins might also lie with the German baumkuchen (tree-cake), where the layers are baked into a cylindrical cake.
There are so many variations to the recipe online – some involving a both egg yolks and whites, others involving up to 20 egg yolks for a small cake. When I saw that Pig Pig had a problem with one of those recipes, I decided to come up with a bit of a mashup recipe based on what I thought worked and what didn’t. I would normally never do this – cakes do require proper measuring and all that – but the proliferation of different ratios of flour to egg, of egg to sugar, of whites to yolks convinced me that it would turn out all right in the end.
And luckily it did! Three hours after I started (thankfully loads shorter than the time required for the shrimp rolls), I had a small, very heavy cake on my hands. The layers were very apparent and it all certainly looked impressive. As for the texture, it was firm indeed but by no means hard; instead, it was tender and had a good eggy, rich flavour. It keeps for a while too so I guess all that work goes a long way.
Anyway, whatever you do decide to or not to make, Happy Chinese New Year!
12 egg yolks (from medium eggs)
200g unsalted butter
150g caster sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 tbsp brandy
90g plain flour
1 tsp mixed spice
6 egg whites (from medium eggs)
1 tbsp condensed milk
1/2 tsp baking powder
Line the base of a cake pan (mine was 9×5 inch, a 7×7 inch one is also suitable, or an 8 inch round tin) and grease it all over. Preheat the grill to 180C.
Cream the butter and half the sugar together. Then add the condensed milk, vanilla and brandy and combine well. In another bowl, beat together the egg yolks and the rest of the sugar. Add the egg yolk mixture to the butter mixture about a third at a time, beating well to combine after each addition. Sift in the flour, mixed spice, and baking powder and fold in well.
In a large clean bowl, beat the egg whites to stiff peaks. Fold in the whites to the rest of the cake batter (part by part again) until combined.
Place your cake pan under the grill for a few minutes until it’s hot. Add a few tablespoons of batter (I used three for each layer; you can use two to four, I reckon) and as it melts, spread it into an even layer on the pan. Place the pan back under the grill and cook until the top becomes brown.
Lightly press down on the layer so the cake remains flat – I found this easiest when the layer had cooled a bit. You don’t want to compress the layer but just have it sit evenly. Repeat the layer making again. And again. And again. Until you run out of batter. And watch that pan under the grill like a hawk! It’s so easy to get distracted by the telly or by Twitter and then lo and behold, your cake will burn. If any bubbles form on a layer, pierce them with a skewer or sharp pointy knife before flattening the layer and continuing.
When all the layers are done, set the oven to the regular baking setting at the same temperature. Cover the cake pan with foil and bake in the middle of the oven for 5 minutes.
When done, turn out onto a wire rack to cool. Slice off the edges (they’ll be dark brown and hard) and then slice the cake into thin slices and then into pieces and serve. It’s more of a fingerfood-like cake, not one to slice into big pieces to eat with a fork. The cake keeps for up to two weeks when wrapped well in clingfilm. I hear it can last for months when stored in the fridge though I’ve not tested this!