Saturday, May 21, 2011

Bold and beautiful Sarawak Kek Lapis

By Rosli Abidin Yahya

Layered cakes are usually featured during Hari Raya Aidlfitri and are mostly baked by housewives in Brunei.

I remembered my late mother usually baked the cakes during the festive season but somehow the cakes have evolved from homely cakes into signature tourism product of Sarawak instead.

It is now better known as Sarawak Kek Lapis and a visit to Sarawak is not complete without tasting these mouth-watering delicacies.

Perhaps the best-layered cakes can be found in Kg Gersik in Kuching.

Tourists come in droves to Kg Gersik just because the cakes tasted super tasty there.

I sampled one of the cakes and it is definitely tastier than the others. The cakes are made from butter instead of margarines.

Buyers who bought from Kg Gersik had their cakes packed into a super package.

I did ask my late mother why she did not make any more kek lapis during the festive season.

She said she did not have the patience to make layer cakes anymore and it was much easier to buy from the shops.

I cannot blame her as she was getting older and my sisters did not bother to learn making the cakes from her.

And in just a few years, Sarawak Kek Lapis is a well-known cottage industry product of Sarawak.

During a recent trip to Kuching. I fell in love with Kek Lapis Sarawak as it is bold in colour and design, and more tastier than other cakes imported from neighbouring countries found on the shelves of Brunei supermarkets.

However I refrained from eating a lot just because I believe it is high in calories.

I asked about the manufacturing process of the cakes from the woman who made the cakes at one of the stalls of Kg Gersik.

Yes, it takes a lot of patience to make layered cakes, said Siti.

Of course, a simple layer cake is self-explanatory. Mix two or three colours of batter and bake them layer by layer, pouring each colour in alternation to achieve the desired effect. But come the question of how the image of a flower, or perhaps a complex arrangement of geometric patterns in equally complex colour combinations is achieved and the head scratching begins.

"You have to imagine the forming of a picture in terms of squares and triangles in addition to having the ability to visualise the cake from all dimensions.

"Then you have to take an image apart so that you can put it together again," said Siti who has been making Sarawak layer cakes for eight years.

Then i asked why her cakes were tastier and moist.

"When you choose the best ingredients you get the best cake," said Siti.

A stickler to quality and taste, she revealed that they only used the best ingredients such as Golden Churn butter and Cadbury chocolate, which made her cakes stand out from others.

There is indeed a big demand for cakes but players like herself cannot meet the demand. The more detailed designs would take three days to complete, said Siti.

She said this challenge could be addressed if simple layered cakes could be done with automated machines.

Right now, all her cakes are just enough for local consumption and the tourism industry.

Another challenge is to prolong the cake's shelf life, which is why these cakes are not sold in local supermarkets, she said.

"We do not use preservatives in our cakes, so the shelf life is between two and three weeks in room temperature, and up to six months if refrigerated."

She said preservatives could spoil the taste so ways must be found to overcome this.

She said if the shelf life could be improved, they could penetrate supermarkets and the big hypermarkets in other countries. Her plan is to mass-produce the layered cakes but is still looking for ways to do so.

Courtesy of Borneo Bulletin Weekend

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