This butter-rich spice cake, flavored with cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves and known as spekkoek (the Dutch spelling) or spekkuk, is an inheritance from Holland’s four-century colonization of Indonesia. The recipe was given to me by Mami, my friend in Bandung, Indonesia, who is an expert in all things sweet. Because butter is a rare commodity in Indonesia, especially outside of big cities, many cooks substitute margarine. Mami wouldn’t dream of doing that. “Spekkuk is a special-occasion cake. It deserves a splurge,” she says. She usually makes this cake when important guests come calling, or for her berbuka puasa (literally, “opening the fast”) feasts during Ramadan. Essentially a pound cake baked in a tube, or Bundt, pan, it has a golden, faintly crisp exterior and a shamelessly rich, velvety interior. There are few things more satisfying than eating a warm slice of spekkuk along with sweetened tea (the traditional accompaniment) or cold milk (my favorite accompaniment).
Lapis legit (literally, “layered stickiness”) is a spekkuk constructed of up to twenty-five layers, each no thicker than 1/8 inch. The more layers you make, the more grand the cake. It’s made by spreading successive thin layers of batter, one layer at a time. As each layer is added, it’s baked until it’s cooked through, usually five to ten minutes, and then another layer is spread on top. The process is repeated until all of the batter is used up. Some cooks alternate white, spice-free batter with golden-brown, spice-laced batter for a variegated effect. Other cooks make lapis legit with ten thicker layers, as opposed to twenty-five thin ones. Though these multilayered cakes are lovely to look at, they taste no different than a single-layered spekkuk. Have all of your ingredients at room temperature and this cake will go together easily.–James Oseland
Indonesia Spice Cake
1 H, 25 M
Makes one 9-inch tube cake
Special Equipment: 9-inch tube pan with 3 1/2-inch sides or 9-inch nonstick pan
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Position a rack in the middle of the oven and preheat the oven to 325°F (160°C). Grease and lightly flour a 9-inch tube pan with 3 1/2-inch sides (or, my preference, use a nonstick pan of the same size but don’t grease and flour it).
Resift the sifted flour along with the baking powder, nutmeg, clove, cinnamon, and salt into a bowl. Now, resift the flour mixture and then set it aside.
In another bowl, using an electric mixer on high speed, beat the butter until it’s soft and very pliant, about 1 minute (or 4 to 6 minutes by hand with a wooden spoon). Gradually add the granulated sugar and beat on high speed until the mixture is pale and fluffy, 3 to 5 minutes (or 6 to 8 minutes by hand).
One at time, add the 4 whole eggs and beat on high speed until the mixture is light and fluffy, about 2 minutes (or 5 minutes by hand).
Add the flour mixture to the butter mixture in 3 equal parts, beating on low speed or stirring with the wooden spoon until the batter is smooth and the flour is well combined with the butter mixture. Add the egg yolks and vanilla and continue to beat or stir until they’re well mixed into the batter.
Pour the batter into the prepared pan, smoothing the surface. Place on the middle oven rack and bake until a toothpick inserted into the thickest part of the cake comes out clean, about 1 hour (though I’d recommend checking it after 45 minutes).
Remove the pan from the oven and let the cake cool in the pan on a wire rack for 10 minutes. If necessary, carefully run a thin knife around the perimeter and the inner rim of the cake to help loosen it from the pan. Invert the pan onto the rack and lift it off of the cake. Turn the cake right side up and let it cool on the rack.
Transfer the cake to a serving platter. Using a fine-mesh sieve, dust the top with the powdered sugar, if desired.
Indonesia Spice Cake Recipe © 2006 James Oseland. Photo © 2006 Christopher Hirsheimer. All rights reserved. All materials used with permission.