A layer cake is not your typical cake. It’s got layers, surprises in between the layers, exotic spices, finger-licking cream if any. Usually, one tiny slice of these layer cakes is often enough to take you on a heavenly trip to unicorn island where nothing bad exists, ever.
While most of us are familiar with the common cream-filling layer cake such as black forest cake or rainbow confetti birthday cake or wedding cake, the real deal lies in those layer cakes that are not very popular across the world. These unsung heroes of layer cake are the primary focus of today’s blog. And since we are from Asia, we hope you join hands with us as we explore the most popular layer cakes that exist in all of Asia.
1. Indonesian Layer Cake
Starting with the mothership, we swear by the succulent, aromatic taste of Indonesian layers cake. With authentic Indonesian spices (cardamom, cinnamon, clove, mace, and anise) infused with a generous amount of flour and eggs, these cakes are never a disappointment. Of course, the quality of the cake fully relies on the quality of the ingredients used. If you ever think of trying Indonesian layer cake in Kuala Lumpur, try Ambon Layer Cakes.
Traditionally known as Lapis Legit (Spekkoek in Indonesian), layer cake was first made in the 19th century Dutch colonial times in Indonesia. This firm-textured cake is a Dutch-Indonesian version of the European multi-layered traditional spit cake.
These cakes are very popular and served as a holiday treat or as memorable souvenirs. Additionally, it is also served or given as gifts during many local festivities such as at birthday parties and weddings.
Indonesian layer cakes are typically very labour-intensive, requiring meticulous and precise methods to build a large number of layers, as many as 18 layers. In Indonesia and other parts of Southeast Asia, layer cakes are flavoured according to the population’s taste preference. This includes white coffee, durian, prunes, cranberries, pandan, mocha, etc.
Since Lapis legit has spread to Malaysia, a new modified version of the layer cake has been developed in Sarawak. It is called the Sarawak layer cake or Kek lapis Sarawak which has deeper and more intense flavouring.
2. Kuih lapis
Kuih lapis is another traditional Asian dessert popular in parts of Southeast Asia such as Malaysia, Indonesia, and Singapore. Unlike the Lapis Legit, Kuih Lapis is a steamed layered cake consisting of rice flour and tapioca flour along with other ingredients. Popular colours used are red and green - the green colour is achieved by using the healthy nutritious pandan. The layers are built in such a way that each of the colour is used alternatively to give the final product an alternatively-coloured pudding layer cake.
Commonly served as a dessert, before cutting and serving, Kuih lapis need to be cooled down completely after it is steamed. One bite in your mouth, Kuih lapis tastes very much like a jelly cake. But has a strong, chewy, gelatin-like texture due to rice flour.
3. Kue lapis malang (or Spiku malang)
In East Java, Kue lapis malang refers to a two-layered cake that is made with a different technique.
Very similar to a marble cake, Kue lapis malang a white and brown layering that makes it look attractive and enticing. Two separate batters, each of yellow colour and dark brown colour (made from cocoa powder) is prepared. These batters are then separately baked after which they are layered one after the other. Each of the layers is stuck together with a thin layer of fruit jam. This finished product makes it very popular in East Java. In Surabaya, a similar cake is popular but made with three layers.
4. Japanese Cheesecake
Time to venture a little farther to the east, presenting to you another popular Asian layer cake. Known as soufflé cheesecake in Japan, this light and fluffy dessert is made by using lots of egg whites into the cake batter. The use of many egg whites gives it that characteristic fluffy texture, which almost feels like cotton candy when eaten.
This popular Japanese cake originated in Hakata, Fukuoko, Japan in 1947. Although completely different from regular cheesecake, Japanese cheesecake can be eaten either hot or cold. Some prefer to consume it while it’s hot because it melts in your mouth and gives a pleasing experience. It was created by a Japanese chef Tomotaro Kuzuno who went to Germany in the 1960s and found käsekuchen, which is a type of German cheesecake.
5. Sans rival
Sans rival is a classic Filipino dessert which is a favourite among its population. With its origin going way back to French, Sans rival has been slightly modified when compared to the original recipe. It is made with layers of crispy, baked nut meringue which is sandwiched together with the pâte à bombe - a rich, smooth, velvety French cream. Yes, it’s the ultimate indulgence.
Sans rival is typically made with almond or hazelnut as its main ingredient. However, the Filipino version uses toasted cashews. When many Filipinos travelled to Europe to study, returned to the Philippines, they were inspired by the cooking techniques learnt abroad.
Its name means "unrivalled" in French. A similar, smaller version of this recipe is called a silvana.
Commonly eaten during special occasions, Sfouf is a popular Lebanese dessert. Whether it's a birthday, family gathering or just a lazy afternoon pick-me-up snack. Main ingredients used are semolina and turmeric which gives its typical yellow colour. Oftentimes, certain nuts are added to Sfouf to make it more tasty and intense. Especially, slivered almonds give it that attractive look as well as increase the overall taste by multifold.
Typically, dry in texture, Sfouf is best enjoyed with a cup of tea or coffee.
7. Banh Chuoi
Baked or steamed, this classic Vietnamese dessert contains bananas as the primary ingredient. It usually consists of sliced bananas and a combination of condensed milk, sugar, coconut milk, and sometimes other ingredients such as bread, eggs, or coconut. And we all know how condensed milk tastes when its added in any dish!
This dessert comes in various shapes and textures, they often come with sprinkled sesame seeds and a topping of coconut milk.
Incorporated with very simple ingredients such as rice flour and water, Bibingka is another classic Filipino cake. It is known to have been prepared in clay pots lined with banana leaves which give the cake a very intense and aromatic flavour. Over the year, Bibingka is known to have been adapted with various ingredients. Now it is prepared with milk, eggs, butter, coconut milk. Commonly enjoyed during Christmas, these cakes also come with a sweet as well as savoury toppings.
Another spongy make from Japan makes its feature in the list. Kasutera is made with flour, eggs, and a strachy syrup. Believe it not, this cake is completely devoid of any butter or oil and yet has a very soft, fluffy texture. Because no other fat source is used in the cake, all the fat for the cake comes from egg yolks.
Historically, this cake was brought to Japan by Portuguese merchants. Today, there are many variations with flavours such as chocolate, green matcha tea, brown sugar, or honey. It is used as a popular gift and a nice souvenir to give to friends or relatives.
10. Kue Putu
Ending with another Indonesian classic, Kue Putu is a steamed cake typically sold by street vendors. This dessert or snack is made with glutinous rice flour and is flavoured as well as coloured by pandan leaves. If you’ve heard of bamboo tubes, Kue Putu is commonly steamed in these tubes. The center of the Kue Putu is filled with palm sugar -- which makes this dessert sort of suitable for health freaks as well.
Finally, the cake is dusted with freshly grated coconut. A very similar sweet also popularly exists in Kerala, the southern state of India. It is known as puttu, and also is infused with rice flour and lots of coconut. If you’re a coconut fan, you must already be salivating! ;)
So, there you go - that’s all for the top 10 layer cakes found in Asia. We are sure there are many more out there. If you’ve got any such popular Asian layer cake recommendations, do let us know!