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
  8. 140g Castor sugar (I used cane sugar)
  9. (B)
  10. 8 Egg whites
  11. 90g Icing sugar (I used 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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