Crazy Rich Asians · Kwan

Ah Ma’s Kueh Lapis

Author: Kwan, Kevin
Book: Crazy Rich Asians
Difficulty rating: Pride & Prejudice
Deliciousness rating: Outstanding

Kueh Lapis

Alexandra approached the wrought-iron table where sweetly aromatic kueh lapis* and pineapple tarts were arrayed on Longquan celadon dishes. 

* Also known as “thousand-layer cake,” this decadently buttery cake with dozens of thin golden stripes is created by baking each layer of batter separately. Extremely laborious, but sinfully good. (Kwan 295)

Happy Year of the Monkey! We had thought for a second about making this cake for our Crazy Rich Asians Dinner, but creating the terrine was so daunting a task that we decided to save it for later. According to sources on the interwebs, kueh lapis is often made for Lunar New Year celebrations.

Did it measure up?

A thousand times, yes. It is very similar to Baumkuchen — a little less fluffy, maybe — with added spices. It wasn’t as difficult as we expected it to be, especially compared to other cakes we’ve made. It’s just a long, tedious process.


From Food Manna’s recipe


  • 8×8 cake pan
  • Foil
  • Metal fondant press (or concrete trowel)
  • 500g salted butter
  • 280g caster sugar
  • 120g cake flour
  • 15 egg yolks
  • 6 egg whites
  • 3 tbs condensed milk
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1.5 tsp rempah lapis (mixed spices). If you can’t find it mix your own from ground spices (and it smells AMAZING):
    • 2 tsp cinnamon
    • 1 tsp ginger
    • 1 tsp aniseed
    • 1/2 tsp nutmeg
    • 1/2 tsp cardamom
    • 1/4 tsp cloves
  • 1 tbs brandy
  • 1/4 tsp salt

Notes before starting:

  • Make sure to read the recipe once through before starting. It’s important to have a pretty good idea of the steps ahead of time.
  • The whole process will take about 3 hours. And do keep watch on the batter in the oven as it’ll brown very suddenly. Don’t try to do anything else but make the cake!
  • The kueh lapis keeps well for 10 days in fridge or if you are making in advance, you can freeze the cake wrapped in plastic for up to a month ahead. Don’t serve it straight out of the fridge — let it sit till it gets to room temp.

1. Cream the butter and sugar together in an electric mixer with the paddle attachment until light and pale. This should take about 10 minutes on medium speed. (Let’s hope you have a stand mixer for this part.)


2. While the butter and sugar is beating, separate the yolks and whites. With such a large number of eggs, make sure to crack one egg at a time and separate it in a third bowl — that way, if the yolk you’re working on breaks, it won’t ruin the whole batch of whites.

Separating Eggs

3. Grease an 8×8 inch aluminum pan. (Aluminum pans, which can be found at craft stores, are better than glass or non-stick pans for this cake).

4. Set the oven to broil. Put the rack not on the topmost level, but the one just underneath.

5. Beat in the egg yolks one at a time. Then add the condensed milk, brandy, and vanilla extract.

6. Sift the flour and spices together and set aside.


7. In a clean bowl, whisk the egg whites and a pinch of salt till you get stiff peaks.


8. Start by mixing 1 tbs of egg white to the butter mixture to loosen up the batter.

9. Lightly fold in 1/4 of the flour and 1/3 of the egg whites. Always end the folding with flour.

10. Put the pan in the oven to heat. Then, pour about 1/2 cup of the batter into the pan, spreading with a spoon to form a thin layer. The first layer will be thicker than the other layers.

11. Place the pan under the broiler for 2 minutes or until the layer is firm and very lightly browned. (You can leave the oven door open so you can watch it.) Turn the pan every 30 seconds.

12. Repeat layering until you reach the top:

Between each layer, poke the surface or any air bubbles with a toothpick and flatten lightly with a metal fondant presser (or a concrete trowel in our case).


Pat Down

Once you’ve pricked and patted, spread 1/3 cup of the batter over the top (a pie server worked well). The hot pan and last layer will melt your batter as you pour it in, which results in nice smooth layers. If it cools too fast and the new layer of batter doesn’t melt smoothly, pop the pan back under the broiler for a few seconds to melt a little, and then smooth with the pie server again.

Melty Butter

Broil until the top layer is firm and golden brown. Make sure to keep turning the pan every 30 seconds, and broil until firm and browned, when it starts getting bubbly and a little rough at the edges.

13. If you’ve finished your layers and find that the sides are still wet, turn the oven down to 350F, cover the top of the pan with foil, and bake for a further 5-10 minutes.

14. Leave the cake to cool for 10 minutes, loosen the sides with a knife, then invert the pan onto a wire grid rack to give a nice pattern to the top.

Ugly Bottom
Wow, this cake looked absolutely hideous straight out of the pan.

15. Turn the cake right side up.

Luckily, once you turn it right side up and trim the edges, it’s gorgeous, if we do say so ourselves.

16. Wait till the next day to serve. Trim off the edges and cut in thin slices. Serve with tea or coffee.

Proper Tea

Kwan, Kevin. Crazy Rich Asians. New York: Doubleday, 2013.

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