BBC lauds kek lapis crafted by Sarawakian bakers as ‘Ramadan’s most beautiful cake’

Seri (top left) and Chai (bottom right) with their kek lapis creations. Photos credit: Lapis by Seri and Kitchen Confidante/Facebook

By DayakDaily Team

KUCHING, April 12: The BBC hailed Sarawak’s kek lapis as ‘the most beautiful cake for Ramadan’ when the world’s leading news provider featured two Sarawakian kek lapis artisan bakers, Sharifah Zainon and Karen Chai, in a recent feature article.

Both Sharifah (in short, Seri) and Chai were originally engineers before becoming bakers. They now craft their delectable creations in their respective baking studios in Kuala Lumpur.

Chai, the founder of Kitchen Confidante, holds a degree in the sciences and pursued pastry arts at Le Cordon Bleu in Paris before returning to Malaysia, where she decided to focus on kek lapis by refining her mother’s recipe.

The BBC’s correspondent, Charukesi Ramadurai, delves into the intricate art of baking Sarawak’s kek lapis with these bakers and likens the process to conducting a scientific experiment.

She noted, “Preparing this multi-layered Malaysian cake with colourful and complex patterns not only requires knowledge and skill, but also oodles of patience, an eye for precision and a steady hand.”

Both Seri and Chai have contemporise and elevated this traditional cake into a sublime culinary art.

The kek lapis creations featuring beautiful batik art by Seri. Photo credit: Lapis by Seri Facebook
A full cake-size kek lapis with flower art on top by Seri. Photo credit: Lapis by Seri Facebook

Seri’s Facebook page, Lapis by Seri, showcases her unique creations featuring batik and floral designs alongside traditional ketupat and weaving patterns.

Meanwhile, Chai incorporates diverse cultural elements into her kek lapis, experimenting with flavours such as Japan’s Kougyoku apple puree and crafting designs inspired by Super Mario Bros using pixel art ideas and a Lego-inspired system.

Chai emphasised to the BBC the challenges of crafting kek lapis with intricate designs, remarking, “The error often becomes apparent only after the baker has finished assembling the pieces, so all the hard work goes down the drain.”

The process of baking and crafting kek lapis, especially with complex patterns, is labour-intensive, meticulous and time-consuming, with errors risking the loss of considerable effort.

Nevertheless, kek lapis remains an essential part of Sarawakian festivities, gracing celebrations from Chinese New Year to Christmas, symbolising unity across ethnic and religious lines.

Kek lapis, a beloved delicacy in Sarawak and Malaysia, is crafted by meticulously layering thin sheets of cakes, blending various colours and flavours to create stunning patterns.

In Sarawak, the sweet treat is a must-have for every festive celebration, from Chinese New Year, Hari Raya Aidilfitri, and Gawai Dayak to Christmas and countless other occasions.

Reflecting the unity amidst diversity in Sarawak, where people of different ethnicities, races, and religions come together to celebrate every festival, Sarawak kek lapis symbolises the spirit of transcending communal and religious boundaries.

A loft of kek lapis made using Sunny Hills Japan Kougyoku Apple Puree with the Abstract 8 Lapis Geometry by Chai. Photo credit: Kitchen Confidante
A container of creatively baked kek lapis by Chai. Photo credit: Kitchen Confidante

Traditionally boasting a minimum of 12 layers, the plain kek lapis showcases alternating light and dark strips of cake batter, while the coloured varieties feature intricate geometric designs, often comprising 20 or more layers, resulting in captivating final patterns.

Complex patterns entail baking multiple cakes, slicing them into strips, and meticulously reassembling them using jam or condensed milk as adhesive, akin to solving a jigsaw puzzle or Rubik’s Cube.

According to the BBC, kek lapis Sarawak originated from Indonesia and was introduced to Malaysia through Sarawak in the 1970s. During the mid-19th century, Dutch colonisers introduced the plain European spit cake—a delicacy crafted with layers of dough deposited one by one onto a cylindrical rotating spit—to the region then known as Batavia (now Jakarta).

Today, kek lapis has evolved into an art form and boasts a plethora of flavours, including hawthorn fruit, chocolate, vanilla, strawberry, red velvet, pandan, Horlicks, and Milo, showcasing the creative prowess of the locals. — DayakDaily

A screenshot of BBC’s feature story on Seri and Chai.