Baking The Thousand Layer Cake (Kueh Lapis)

The 4 days of Chinese New Year holiday zipped by in a wink. As the madness of the festivity sizzled off with the kids heading back to school, life is slowly resuming normalcy.This year, limping from a busted knee, I made a conscious decision to take it easy.

It’s a luxury to be spending Chinese New Year at home because everything could be bought from the store, from pineapple tarts to every kind of Chinese New Year crackers and cookies you could think of. Well, I thought so.

I bought back 3 tubs of pineapple tarts from 3 different stores but the crust either tasted too buttery, or the pineapple jam too sweet. Credit goes to my mom who had pampered us well, we grew up with homemade pineapple tarts. Nothing I tried tasted quite like what I was looking for.

I was relieved when my mom told me that she was going to bake some despite her hands being tied up with my new born nephew. My elder boy isn’t a big fan of pineapple tarts and he told me he wouldn’t miss them even if I didn’t bake them BUT he requested for something else.

He wanted the Kueh Lapis I baked last year. The Thousand Layer Cake but the one I baked looked nothing like a thousand layer.

He insisted that it doesn’t matter how it looks, it matters more how it tastes. Ok, he wins. I told him I will try.

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The truth is, I shudder at the thought of making Kueh Lapis (again). It’s the most time consuming pastry that I had ever baked, a testament of a baker’s patience. And the worst thing that could happen is to end up with a cake that looks and tastes totally wrong after hours of back breaking labour.

I went around asking for a tried and tested recipe but no luck. I was swamped with so many different recipes on the internet. The number of egg whites, the number of egg yolks, the kind of flour, the amount of flour, the type of sugar, the amount of sugar all differed from recipe to recipe. There were so many different variations. The more I searched, the more confused I got. But every recipe required the careful baking of each layer, one at a time.

So for many days, I just sat on the thought of making Kueh Lapis. I felt tired just thinking of it. It didn’t help that I was running all over the place stocking up on food. I realised I couldn’t quite stick to my initial decision of taking it easy after all. And I couldn’t afford the time to just sit in front of the oven baking layer after layer of batter.

Finally, on the very last Sunday before Chinese New Year, I got my husband to bring the kids out in the evening and after 5 hours of toiling in the kitchen, I emerged with my first decent looking Kueh Lapis.

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It looked pretty good, much better than the one I baked last year, at least you could see the many layers. However I thought the cake tasted a bit dry.

So the next day, I tried making another one, this time I reduced the number of egg whites and it took me 3.5 hours, a great improvement from the day before, as I was more familiar with the recipe and steps.

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I tried counting the number of layers as I baked but I lost track after the 10th layer. It was such a laborious bake but I am so glad I took the plunge. My ignorant sister was really expecting a cake with a thousand layer. I told her just a 20 layer one like this was enough to break my back.

My kids love it and so far, the feedback for the cake hasn’t been too bad. I am quite sure I will be baking this again, but only after I recuperate.

Meanwhile, here’s wishing you and your family a Goat year filled with abundance, happiness and good health.
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Kueh Lapis
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Prep Time
1 hr
Cook Time
2 hr 30 min
Total Time
3 hr 30 min
Prep Time
1 hr
Cook Time
2 hr 30 min
Total Time
3 hr 30 min
Ingredients
  1. 500g Chilled butter cubed
  2. 200g Condensed milk
  3. 3tbsp Rum liquor
  4. 150gm Cake flour (I used 160g for my second bake)
  5. 3/4tsp Lapis spice (All spice or you can try mixing 1/2 tsp nutmeg, 1 tsp cinnamon powder)
  6. (A)
  7. 20 Egg yolks (use large egg - 65-70g each)
  8. 140g Castor sugar (or cane sugar)
  9. (B)
  10. 8 Egg whites
  11. 90g Icing sugar (or cane sugar)
  12. 1/4tsp Cream of tartar (optional)
Instructions
  1. Preheat oven to 200 deg C top and bottom heat. (Most recipe recommend a 9 or 10 inches square tin but I could only fit the batter into one 7 inch square tin)
  2. Lined the base of the tin with baking paper.
  3. Whisk egg whites, sugar (from B) in a clean mixing bowl at max speed until stiff. Set aside.
  4. Whisk egg yolks, sugar (from A) at max speed until thick and pale. Set aside.
  5. Cream butter, condensed milk and rum liquor at medium speed until fluffy and creamy.
  6. Add in the sifted flour and spice. Add this mixture into Step 4 (egg yolk mix) gradually till well mix.
  7. With a spatular fold in Step 3 (egg whites mix) into mixture from Step 6 in batches.
  8. Continue the process of folding in till two mixtures are well incorporated.
  9. Place the baking paper on the preheated tin. Spread a thin layer of batter (I used a ladle to measure about 100g) on the warm tin and bake till golden at the center rack. Take about 5-7mins for the 1st layer. This first layer is thicker than the rest
  10. Second layer onwards use the same ladle and measure about 80g of batter. Use the same amount for subsequent layers to ensure layers are even.
  11. Increase the oven temp to 230-240 deg C, switch to Grill function as we only want heat from the top. Subsequent layer takes about 3-4 mins to bake.
  12. Use a metal presser to lightly press each baked layer before adding new batter. Use a toothpick to get rid of any air bubbles. Spread the batter evenly, the heat will melt the batter. Before going into the oven, give it a bang to let out the air bubbles. This will help to even out the layers too.
  13. Repeat the process (pour batter, grill, press) until you've used up all the batter. As you build up the layers, you might need to decrease the temperature of the grill or lower the oven shelf so that the cake doesn't cook too fast. The whole process took me about 2.5 hours. Do watch the batter in the oven as a minute difference could burn the top layer of the Lapis.
  14. When the cake is done, leave it to cool for 10 minutes, loosen the sides with a knife, then invert the pan onto a wire grid rack to give a nice pattern to the top before turning the cake the right side up. Serve in thin slices.
Notes
  1. I stored my Lapis in an air tight container in room temperature for a couple of days during Chinese New Year and apparently it tastes even better as the flavours continue to develop after it has been baked. You can store it even longer if you put it in the fridge or freezer.
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On Learning A Second Language

In Singapore, every child going to a public school studies English as a first language.
At the same time, he is required to learn a second language.
This was and remains a national policy, something started by our first Prime Minister almost 50 years ago.

In the beginning, the language policies were controversial and politically explosive.
The Malays and the Tamils feared marginalisation by the Chinese majority.
The Chinese pushed for pre-eminence of Chinese base education.
Mr Lee stayed the course and pushed for English as the first language in all public schools.
The rationale was that English as the language of commerce and the sciences would enable Singaporeans to connect with the international community.
It was a question of survival for an island state with no natural resources.
The value of learning the mother tongue according to Mr Lee was to maintain ethnic identity and traditional values.

Today, the situation has turned.

50 years ago, it would have been difficult to imagine that parents today would face so much angst over learning of the mother tongue.
English is now the most commonly spoken language on the island.
Even most of the illiterate aunties and uncles know a splattering of Singlish, or the local style of colloquial English.
Most children today I know don’t want to learn their mother tongue.

Learning our mother tongues can be really hard work, especially where Chinese is concerned.
Thousands of unique characters. Thousands of idioms made up of any number of combinations of unrelated characters.
There is only one way. You memorize and then regurgitate during the exams, then you kind of forget everything.
And looking at current Primary school curriculums, I know that learning Chinese has only gotten harder.

My K2 boy brought home his very first tingxie (Chinese Spelling) list.
Frankly, I was appalled because I was expecting 上,下, 左, 右.
But I guess those were too simple.
They would hardly prepare the kids for the demands of Primary school.

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Do we really have to do this?
Do we have to make it so painful?
Do we have to test students on Chinese like all the other subjects?

Unlike English, Maths and Science which lay the foundation for higher level learning, you almost don’t have to read a single Chinese book or document after A’level or O’level unless you are taking Chinese as a subject in University.

If you stick to the original motivation for learning Chinese, add another motivation of learning Chinese for opening the windows of opportunities in China.
Or to be able to communicate with the older generation who can’t speak English.
Or with the hundreds of thousands of migrant workers from China.

Do we really need to set such high standards for Chinese for our schools where all subjects are taught in English.
Shouldn’t we be spending more time cultivating the children’s interest in the Chinese culture, the history, and the stories?

In discussing Chinese language education, Lee Kuan Yew writes :
‘The greatest value in the teaching and learning of Chinese is in the transmission of the norms
of social or moral behaviour. . . .
It would be a tragedy if we were to miss this and concentrate on second language proficiency nearly equal to the first language’

And it makes me wonder … Are we still teaching and learning our “mother tongues” for the purpose of protecting ethnic identity, a sense of “rootedness” and cultural values or has it became another avenue for standardized testing so that we could separate the wheat from the chaff?

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My Re-Gifter

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My 5 year old is a terror who drives his elder brother crazy on a daily basis. He takes pleasure in bugging and irritating his brother and their constant squabbling more or less contribute to my daily stress.

Yet this little terror had a sweet and loveable side which made it difficult for anyone to stay angry with him for long. Recently he caught the gifting bug. He probably love receiving present so much or had seen too much of me wrapping present during the holiday season. Presents wrapped in brown paper, tied up with strings and gift tag.

I was so thankful for Christmas because it kept us busy during the school holiday, from baking to making little handmade for the house and for gifting. It was also the perfect time to dig out Christmas stories for bedtime.

We read Howard B. Wigglebottom And The Power Of Giving which conveys the true spirit of Christmas and the story left quite an impression with Marcus.

I guess seeing all the presents that piled up around the Christmas tree made him eager to be part of this gifting frenzy. But being a preschooler with no pocket money made gifting kind of tricky. So I was pleasantly surprised when he handed me my Christmas present.

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Apparently he had rummaged through the house and found this tiny photo album I had made for the family while we were in the States. He had it carefully wrapped up with brown paper, tied and tagged like the rest of the presents. And when his Dad uttered why didn’t he had one as well. He was quick to wrap up one of his hama beads creation and gave it to him. It was all so cute.

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My elder boy was never really big on making cards but his little brother will jump on any chance to draw a card or make a gift. He enjoys doing it so much that he decides to do this on a regular basis. And I am happy to be at the receiving end.

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Here’s something he gave me the other day.
A note stuffed in an envelope, wrapped and taped with multiple layers.

Guess what’s in his note?
His Tingxie for the week!

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