On Kueh Lapis Legit
Kueh lapis legit, or kek lapis, is a Dutch-influenced cake from Indonesia. It is a very rich cake, involving up to 30 eggs, flavoured with Indonesian spices such as cinnamon, cardamom, nutmeg and clove.
The history of kueh lapis legit could be traced back to its cousin, spekkoek. The Dutch word spek meaning bacon. Some food historians say that the cake was so named because the layered appearance of the cake resembles bacon. Others say that spek is derived from specu, which comes from specerijen in Dutch - spices in English. Some also consider baumkuchen (the “tree-ring” cake) to be a cousin of kueh lapis legit, its traditional cooking technique involving baking the cake one layer at a time on a cylindrical spit over the fire.
Just like the spekkoek, each layer of kueh lapis legit is baked until the top caramelizes and browns before more batter is poured over it to form the next layer. The ideal kueh lapis should have a texture that is supply and chewy, and can be easily separated, layer by layer. It is suggested that this cake is a food that reflects a woman’s culinary skills in the kitchen - it was once reported that two brides-to-be from a prestigious family in Malaysia had to personally prepare kueh lapis legit for their wedding guests, on the insistence of their mother.
Over the years, kueh lapis legit has become so entrenched in the households of Southeast Asia that it is a comfort food for many. They are iconic cakes for Indonesians, Malays (particularly the Javanese), Chinese and Peranakan Chinese. Major festivals such as Hari Raya and Lunar New Year would not be complete without this cake. The auspicious Chinese saying 歩歩高升 (bu bu gao sheng - rising step by step) is also embodied by the layers of the cake.