Simple Eats – Kueh Lapis Legit 印尼式千层糕
The Gods must be CRAZY!!! I dunno what got over me but I guess this is something which I’d been very curious about for the longest time ever! I read about bloggers doing it and from what they’d shared, it seemed like scaling the Mt. Everest for Baking! In short, its reputed to be one of those arduous tasks that would literally suck the bone marrow out of your life!
I remembered my mum throwing me the dirty look with a “You know how to make MEH?!” with a tinge of faux poignance and doubt in her tone. Well, I definitely DON’T know how to bake it but when I’m done with it, hopefully I’m one small step closer to knowing! So here I am, ready to take the first leap … of faith!
First, the research. I did some reading up over the internet before settling on the recipe. Rose’s recipe is by far the most well used one over the online community it seems. But I found the one shared by Cherry very interesting too. Moreover she learnt it from Mdm Irene Yip’s classes at Bukit Merah Central a couple of years back and that seem to give a lot of credibility to the “workability” of the recipe. Then there’s Karen aka Mad Baker’s version as well. Karen is an accomplished baker in her own right, especially with macarons! And her photographs are so enticing, seeming to warrant the best tasting kueh lapis recipe around. In other words, I’m kind of torn between these three wonderful recipes, each having some attributes which I’d wish to impart to the Kueh Lapis I’m about to make.
In the end, I decide to follow Rose’s recipe as the backbone with some improvisations using the other two ladies’ versions.
The first task to separate yolks from whites is pure insanity … not to mention having to do it 25 times at one go! When I cracked my first egg, I know I’d already reached the point of no return.
Two mixes need to be prepared concurrently. First is the butter-sugar mixture which is creamed til fluffy before adding the dry ingredients. The second is to prepare an italian meringue aka egg whites beaten till they form stiff peaks. Yes I did the tipping whisking bowl over head trick! heh heh! Folding in the meringue into the remaining mixture, was the last step to preparing the batter, and incidentally the step I dread the most. It’s so difficult to fold the foamy egg whites into the golden yellow batter mixture thoroughly to achieve an evenly mixed consistency while not having to worry about overdoing it. It took me 45 mins just to get ready the batter! Started step 1 at 12.30 am and finished the last layer of baking and transferring the cake to only a cooling rack at 4.00 am. Well, the effort was worth it, I wanted to do it, I did it, and now I know… 🙂
Thank goodness my old oven has a grill function. Only thing lacking is a convectional fan and a in-built light bulb! And of course, the oven temperature and the thermo-regulating dial don’t talk to each other anymore. That’s when my oven thermometer steps in as a mediator. And the timer dial has been on strike for sometime already…
Down goes the first layer of batter which is thicker and grilled for the longest period of time until a golden brown tan developed. Each layer is then subsequently added and gently yet firmly pressed down with a specially crafted press, just for making Kueh Lapis. This helps to eliminate air-bubbles, thus preventing the cake from raising too much.
The cake is made aromatic using a specially concocted spice mix known as “rempah lapis”, which I think consists of star anise, cinnamon and clove. I got mine ready mixed from Ailin Bakery House, together with some stuff I used for Pineapple Tarts. Karen’s recipe advocated the addition of brandy. I don’t have brandy at hand and added rum essence instead.
After about what seemed like 9 months, I come face-to-face with my “conception” , a slightly burnt and brown kueh lapis. It doesn’t look very appealing but it smell so good! Honestly the cake didn’t appeal very much to me initially, but later I’d realised that the flavours took about 2-3 days to fully develop cos I liked it best on the 2nd day of CNY when I’m writing this post! So intriguing this “little” bake is. 🙂
The process is not without problems and I’m penning a list here as a reminder for myself and also for others interested in making it
(1) Separate the egg yolks and whites carefully. Any traces of yolk or butter in the whites and the latter would have problems forming stiff peaks. I have only one mixer and thus had to wash the blending whisks thoroughly before using them to make the meringue. I wonder if the procedure can be reversed, i.e. beating the whites to form stiff peaks first before using the same whisks without the tiresome washing to cream the butter, sugar. and egg yolks etc.
(2) Always use a metal bowl for forming meringues. Plastic bowls tend to retain traces of oil or grease, despite prior washing.
(3) Cherry reminded of a little detail to weigh the batter before adding to the previous layer. This is a very crucial procedure to ensure very consistently thick layers. She used 120 g for the first layer and 100g for each subsequent layer until the batter is completely used up. I did try to follow this religiously but unfortunately, my finished product is hardly exemplary to her instructions!
(4)Most recipes called for a 8′ x 8′ tin but the one I have is 9′ x 9′. And I was daft enough to use the same measurements provided by Cherry. Instead, I should have increased the batter mix for each layer to say 120 g to ensure that each layer is substantial enough.
(5) Do not wait until the batter skin is browned before taking it out of the oven. The residual heat from the in the inner layers prolong the grilling process and hence deepen the browning as well. Heed whatkaren said, grill until the layer turns lightly golden brown. Ever so lightly.
(6) Time provided in recipes only serve as a gauge and should not be followed to the strictest order. This is because different ovens have different “grilling temperature”, which is incidentally the highest temperature permissible by the particular oven and would thus vary from model to model. So one literally needs to “play by eye” to get it right. And as the layers build up, the “tanning time” shortens as the topmost layer would be getting nearer and nearer to the heating iron on the top of the oven.
(7) For the last layer, Rose used an aluminium foil to cover the top while Karen changed from grill mode to oven mode at 180 °C. Both steps are to ensure that the top gets an even brown coat. Cherry shares the same procedure with Karen but ironically the two ladies differ in the positioning of the tin in the oven throughout the procedure! That left me somewhat confunded! LOL
Here are some more tips from Cherry!
So if you have 2-3 hours to spare and willing to get your kitchen a bit messy, try this out! This lots of fun and bring loads of satisfaction!