The name "spekkoek" initially doesn't sound very enticing: "spek" means bacon, or fat, and "koek" is cake or cookie. Fat cake just doesn't have that sort of a ring to it where you want to drop everything you're doing and get yourself a slice. Much less two.
And yet, the Indonesian layered spice cake that is graced with such a...shall we say, unfortunate name, does look a little bit like bacon at first glance. The alternating light and dark layers could very well be considered a modernist rendition of a slice of bacon, but that's where all similarities end. For the rich, flavorful cake does not taste anything remotely like bacon, but contains a wonderful mixture of spices and sweetness instead.
The spekkoek is thought to be a Dutch adaptation to an Indonesian recipe, or perhaps a Dutch invention or an Indonesian rendition of a Dutch spice cake....who knows. Regardless of the fact how this tastebud-teasing cake came to be, it is a small work of art and a feat of patience. For each layer is to be baked separately, painstakingly slow. But not so slow that you can walk away from it. Because if you do.....dang! The whole thing burns and you have to start from scratch. Which is no fun.
This "thousand layer cake" is incredibly rich, and that's perhaps where its "fat" name applies. Ten eggs, two sticks of butter on merely two cups of flour, and a cup and a half of sugar......this cake is not for the faint of heart, neither in preparation nor in consumption. No wonder the layers are carefully counted in certain circles and if found lacking, considered to be the work of a "lazy housewife". Cakes should have at least ten layers or more in order to be respected and appreciated!
So, this time, no slicing thick pieces of spekkoek and devouring it in two bites or three. Neither the richness of the cake nor the time spent to make it allows for a quick snack. It is a cake to be taken in carefully, small bite by small bite, and shared with those we care most about.
1 1/2 cup sugar, separated
10 eggs, separated
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg, ground
1/2 teaspoon cardamom, ground
1/4 teaspoon cloves, ground
1/4 teaspoon ginger, ground
1 tablespoon powdered sugar
1 tablespoon of flour
For brushing: melt 3 tablespoons of butter
Cream the butter with 1 cup of sugar until light golden and creamy. Carefully mix in two egg yolks at a time until all 10 have been blended in well. Mix in the vanilla extract. In a separate bowl, squeaky clean, whip the ten egg whites with the remaining 1/2 cup of sugar until stiff. Rub a little bit of whipped egg white between thumb and index finger to see if all the sugar dissolved: if not whip a little longer.
Sift the flour above the creamed butter mixture and carefully fold it in, until well blended. Then spoon the egg whites in the mixture and fold in. You should have a light, scoopable batter.
Divide the batter into two bowls, and assign a half cup measuring cup to each batter. Sift the spices above one and fold them in. Sometimes the fine spices do not fold in fully and create lumps: just squish them on the side of the bowl and fold them right back in.
Grease and flour an 8 inch spring form pan (the traditional form is round, but you are also welcome to bake the spekkoek in a bread pan or a square pan). Cut a circle out of parchment paper to cover the bottom of the pan and grease it as well. Flour the pan with a tablespoon of flour, tap the pan and remove any loose flour.
Heat the oven to 325F. Spray the inside of the measuring cup and scoop half a cup of spiced batter into the pan. Spread it along the bottom, so that it covers the whole pan. Now place the pan in the oven for several minutes and bake the first layer. Since it's a very thin layer, it only takes a few minutes. You want the layer to be baked and have a slight toasted top.
Remove the pan from the oven and carefully brush the layer with melted butter. Spray the inside of the second half-cup measuring cup and scoop out half a cup of the light batter on top of the baked layer, spreading it and making sure all areas are covered, preferably with the back of a spoon so the bottom layer doesn't rip. Put the pan back in the oven, but this time turn on the broiler.
Wait several minutes, remove the pan from under the broiler and check to see if the layer is baked and is lightly golden on top. If yes, brush with butter and add a layer of spiced batter. If not, return it to the oven and bake for a little while longer. On average, between brushing, spreading and baking you need about 8 to 10 minutes per layer. Keep track of which batter goes on top of which, you want to make sure you alternate the colors and flavors!
When the last layer is baked, brush it, and use a skewer to test the done-ness of the cake. Insert it in the middle, and if the skewer comes out clean, it's ready to cool down. If there is still some batter clinging to the skewer, turn off the broiler and bake the cake for several more minutes. Sprinkle the top with the powdered sugar.
Cool the spekkoek in the form, then carefully insert a knife around the edge and cut the edges loose: sometimes it will not release by itself. Carefully slice a piece of cake to admire and taste your hard work, then wrap it in plastic film and cover it with aluminum foil, to avoid the cake drying out.
Serve a thin slice with coffee, or as a well-deserved ending to a rijsttafel.