“Look at the colourful pattern and design!”
“This is impossible! How did they do it?”
“Amazing!! Is this really a cake?”
These are the remarks of flabbergasted visitors when they first set eyes on the kek lapis, or layer cakes. And you better believe it. Kek lapis is a specialty cake of Sarawak, particulary pioneered by the Kuching Malays, and has been a must-buy item of many visitors to Kuching.
What is so amazing is the intricate design and pattern of the cake as if it was a rattan woven into a colourful mosaic. The secret to this unique way of making this cake is the special arrangement of the layers of different colours to form a pattern or design in the cross-section when they are cut up. There are even some design that spell out words or flag of Sarawak, and it takes a special skill and creativity to produce them.
For those who have seen the cakes and are itchingly curious (like me) to know how they are made, I had the privilege of watching Encik Ismail Hanizam bin Safri, a professional baker specializing in Sarawak kek lapis, to “reveal” the secret of making this unique product.
The ingredients are the basics of most cakes like flour, eggs, butter, sugar, permitted colouring and flavour essences. First the egg and butter are beaten in an electric beater and the flour is then added in to make the base material of the cake, in our demonstration, they are then divided into four bowls consisting of the neutral colour and three other colours made from the permitted colourings of red, green and blue.
The mixtures are now ready to be put into the oven to bake. The green mixture is then applied thinly to a square pan and bake in the oven, when it is done, the pan is taken out and the next layer, the red colour mixture is applied thinly on top ot the baked green layer, then it goes into the oven to bake again. This process is repeated until it has a several layer, depending on the design it may have five, six or even nine layers. When this is done, the green-red layer cake is put aside first and another piece with different colour combination is made.
When the two different combination coloured layers are done, they are cut into equal width of strips using an aluminium “L-ruler”. In our demonstration, the cross section of the strips is square, it could be rectangle for other design.
For the purpose of our demonstation, we were shown with five layers only, as it is very time consuming to bake and spread the layers.
Next, comes the interesting part, the strip layer is enclosed in two L-shaped alumininium ruler and using a sharp razor, or stationery blade, it is cut diagonally all the way down through the opening of the two rulers, so that the result is a triangle cross section of the strip now.
The triangle strip of the layers are now arranged in a row forming a perfect square, like the roof of many rows of houses packed close together. They are then spread with jam, or butter, which will act as “glue” for the different set of coloured strip to be put on top of this row of “roofs” so that they fit together.
Now looking at the cross section of the fitted zig-zag layer, a pattern of design will appear depending on how you place the cut triangle strip. This is the most crucial part, for the placement of the strip will alter the apprearance of the cross section and this is how the patterns are design. Creative bakers must have tinker with so many designs that this form of cake making has been elevated into an artform already. A fascinating arrays of this design is best seen at the large numbers of kek lapis on display for sale at the Main Bazaar walkway of Kuching town, opposite the fame Waterfront.
Cutting the edge of the cake cleanly will only show out the cross section and thus the beautiful design
Next, two “plain” layers are need to sandwich this patterned layer. So, again the square pan is spread with the cake mixture and put into the oven to bake. When it is done, the patterned layer is put on top of this and another layer of plain cake mixture is spread on top and again goes into the oven. This alternate spreading the cake mixture and putting into the oven is the most time consuming process of making this cake, thus for intricate design, it may take up to three or four hours or even more to produce one with very intricate design and pattern.
When finally the top plain layer is baked, the “sandwich” is complete and the cake is again cut cleanly to reveal the cross section which form the design
Cut the four edges of the cake to reveal the design and pack up nicely. That’s it! Three hours of sweat and enthusiasm and plenty of patience beside the ingredients is required in this labour of love. Definately worth the time and the effort.
Some of the masterpieces of Encik Ismail Hanizam:-
And here’s the maestro himself, Encik Ismail Hanizam bin Safri, a very enterprising young man. Beside baking, Ismail’s name card says he is also into supply of bakery products, ration supply, cattle and goat supply, construction, computer hardwares and softwares and design of banner and buntings, he’s got his fingers into many pies! For those interested in learning to make kek lapis, Ismail does conduct such cake-making classes and can be contacted at 013-8019690.