Kek Lapis: Saluting its sweet heritage

Maybe this won’t come as a surprise to many, but the original Kek Lapis we Malaysians loves so much actually comes from our neighbour Indonesia.

The story goes that during the 1970s and 1980s, the people of Betawi in Indonesia came to Sarawak and taught the locals there how to make the popular Kek Lapis Betawi.

The originators of the spiced Betawi cake were the wives of Dutch administrators stationed in Batavia (the old name for Jakarta).

These women created a cake recipe with spices like cinnamon, cardamom, clove, and star anise to be served during evening teas. Locals promptly picked up the recipe and thus began the spread of the Kek Lapis Betawi in Sarawak and later in Johor.

While Johoreans have stayed close to the original flavours of Kek Lapis Betawi – deviations have not strayed too far from the traditional local flavours made up of dates, prunes, durian, and cempedak.

The Kek Lapis of Sarawak however, has taken a different route, with each baker getting more and more creative with their interpretations of the cake.

Infusing Western cake-making techniques and flavours, Sarawakians created their version of Kek Lapis that wasn’t only moist, but incorporate almost all flavours under the sun.

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Modern Kek Lapis Sarawak can be divided into two categories: cakes with ordinary layers; and cakes with patterns, motifs, or shapes.

However, the general rule is that all Kek Lapis consist of at least two colours and be baked in an oven or microwave.

The batter uses butter or vegetable oil, milk and eggs, and requires a strong arm or electric mixer to be properly prepared.

The baked cake must be of a certain height, have a firm texture with a spread of jam or a similarly sticky sweet substance between the layers.

More detailed cakes often require special moulds to maintain the right thickness of every layer.

In 2010, this “edible” heritage was selected as a Protected Geographical Indication of Sarawak.

What this means for cake manufacturers in Sarawak is that only layered cakes that strictly adhere to the specifications of the Sarawak Kek Lapis Entrepreneurs Association are permitted to carry the much sought after label of “Kek Lapis Sarawak”.

So, if cake manufacturers outside Sarawak were to produce Kek Lapis, they can only label their cakes “Sarawak-style Kek Lapis”.

Although many small bakeries selling Kek Lapis Sarawak are scattered all over the city, Jalan Brooke in Kuching is an especially famous destination for this layered dessert.

Here are three leading Kek Lapis makers in Jalan Brooke to visit the next time you’re in town.

Dayang Salhah

The Kek Lapis sold at Dayang Sallah is not as moist as others make it. However, this bakery more than makes up for this shortfall with the wide variety of Kek Lapis that they churn out on a daily basis.

Mira Cake House

Arguably the most famous Kek Lapis store in all Malaysia, with even a branch in Semenanjung Malaysia at Dato’ Keramat, Kuala Lumpur, this bakery is where most tourists head to for their sugar fix.

Known for the wacky names they give to their Kek Lapis, Mira Cake House also boasts the most number of Kek Lapis varieties to be found in Kuching.

Warisan

This little bakery, on the other hand, is a favourite amongst the locals. They don’t have as many varieties as their friendly rivals but they do specialise in making more traditional forms of Kek Lapis that the older generation and locals prefer.

Jalan Brooke, where these Kek Lapis stores are found, is also where you can find freshly caught fishes and crustaceans, so this street definitely warrants a visit.

This article first appeared in uppre.com