1000 Layer Therapy
(or how I Crush my Stress)
When it comes to baking, there are a couple of recipes we as a family consider to be of epic proportions. The thousand layer cake is one of them. When I knit, it’s not some straightforward piece, no, the more difficult the pattern, the more joy when I succeed. So when I seriously started baking, a simple cake just wouldn’t do.
The Dutch name is ‘Spekkoek’ (good luck with that one!), which would literally translate to ‘bacon-cake’, which is weird I know, but the ‘layers’ in bacon relate to the layers in the cake. People actually got grossed out, when mentioning the cake, thinking there was actually bacon in it… Well, we do love bacon, but… ** insert rolling eye emojis here **
Steve was born in Merauke, Indonesia and his Mom was an awesome cook, as was my Mom. They came from totally different regions and this reflected in their cooking, one and the same dish, would taste totally different. Safe to say, both our expectations are just a tad high when it comes to food. We don’t need fancy food, but we do appreciate Good Food. I pretty much learned how to cook from Steve after we got married.
It’s not that I did not want to learn before, but well, my Mom ruled the kitchen and let’s say, that was just FINE by me. Of course I did learn some basic stuff, but no Indonesian dishes or anything too complicated and no baking at all, yet.
If you’re a foodie you’ve got to love our culture though; if you would ever visit, even unexpected, you will always be expected to stay for breakfast, lunch, dinner or all three. This could, however, also lead to major awkwardness. During that time in history (when I was a young girl), the Dutch were not that much used yet to our customs.
It has gotten better now, but then… It wasn’t done to just stay for dinner, even when invited and reassured it was ‘no problem at all’ because; they would feel the obligation to return the favor, and this was not their custom. For us, it is not about expecting the favor to be returned, it is plain hospitality and is part of the culture.
There has been a joke going around about the Dutch for many years, I am pretty sure most people have heard about the Dutch tendency to be economical… (NOTE; a lot has changed since then…) I learned this when visiting with some Dutch school friends, very awkward for me at the time..The Dutch people love their coffee (and thee) at specific times, I still won’t get that ritual right. Along with their cup of hot liquid, there was always some sort of cookie served, the Dutch love their cookies. And everybody got exactly 1.
This joke got worse through the years of course… People would add, that you had to grab that cookie really quick, before your fingers would get caught between the jar and the lid…
Ever since my first taste as a little girl, I had one cake I would do almost anything for; the Indonesian thousand layer cake. I was not that fond of any other cake and did not like cream at all, although that has dramatically changed through the years. But my love for thousand layer cake remained the same. Any one who has ever attempted to bake one, will know what I am talking about, when I say, it’s quite a challenge. As with all Indonesian dishes, there are many variations, this is also true for this cake. I am talking about the (in my eyes) original one. I had only one Aunt who was quite experienced in baking and her thousand layer cake was AMAZING.
My Mom, although a very skilled cook, always wanted to try and bake one. She actually purchased all the ingredients, so she would be ready to go, but the attempt was never made. She made almost every other Indonesian snack we can think of, but…not that cake. This is when I realized, if I ever wanted to be sure, to be able to eat that wonderful cake whenever I wished, I had to learn to bake it myself.
I know, I know, the more accomplished bakers among us, would just shake their heads about now, but I was NOT an accomplished cook, let alone baker, just a very accomplished eater!
My first attempt, was when the kids were still small – can’t believe I even waited that long. My Mom already had everything I needed to get started. She also owned a rather old Indonesian cook book, with – yeeey – the recipe for a thousand layer cake. (OH JOY; find my recipe below!)
I had learned how to cook some in the meantime, I mean, hubby, kids, me…we needed to eat right. I also baked a cake or two, but nothing complicated as this. I can still remember going through that recipe so many times, just so afraid I would forget something crucial.
The description said, the cake should be baked in an hour and a half at the most, for the best result.. Well…the first time it took me over 6 hours… That’s like an achievement in itself right? Only to find that, yes there had to be a time limit for the baking, because mine was just a tad dry… Don’t worry, the cake disappeared anyways, straight to our bellies hahah.
I am not going to sugarcoat it – pun totally intended – but it took me years to get this cake right. Now I can bake this by heart. To be honest, it is not a cake you should eat every week, even though wonderful, it should be a real treat. I can so hear my family totally disagreeing with me right now… It also isn’t a very cheap one to make and as mentioned, pretty time consuming to bake. Although, once you’ve managed to get all the ingredients and specifically the spices, you can bake several of course.
I would highly recommend, to make sure you have everything you need upfront. Because if you look anything like me, what will happen is this; I would wake up and want to bake one ( I am totally an early morning person!), just like that. If, by that time , I still have to go out and find everything I need…major frustration might be the icing on the deflating cake of my brilliantly started day.
This cake I would usually only bake for special occasions, like birthday’s or holidays. So I would say I would bake it a couple a times a year maybe. I did improve on the baking time, much! I do manage to bake one now within 2 hours, which is good enough for me. I am slow in everything else, so why not with this too.
Finding those spices can be tricky indeed, depending on where you live. There are 5 spices needed for this cake (well, that’s how I learned it anyway). Grounded nutmeg, cloves, cinnamon, cardamom and anise.
Holland is famous(?) for their ‘Speculaas’. Whenever (Dutch) people eat my thousand layer cake for the first time, they will often compare it to that…. If you ever want to really annoy me, just mention this, I assure you it will work. (If you wish to annoy my kids, compare a ready made cake to mine) Yes, there is a similarity in taste between the two, but…Just. No.
After moving to Ireland, I hadn’t been baking anything at all. With a shared kitchen the first couple of years and missing a lot of kitchenware later, I was slacking in that department. Also, finding the ingredients we were used to cook with, took a fair amount of time.
BUT, of course there is always that one moment you just have to go and do it! Baking always feels like therapy to me, so, when stress-levels are going up, this would work wonders (of course the eating afterwards is a major bonus too). Which really sounds like a contradiction when having to make the effort, but imagine the victory when you succeed!
So, as mentioned earlier; I woke up one day with this longing, only to remind myself, I actually had to go out and find stuff and not to mention the non existent kitchenware. After a quest, together with my Daughter, we came up with… kind of the right stuff **insert sad sighing emoji**
Still, we were up for the challenge, for me, because it had been a long time since baking the last one and not even having half the tools I was used to work with and for her, because she really wanted to learn for herself how to get this done. She had to whisk like crazy, to get a satisfying result. Luckily her education and experience in the catering industry, were a definite plus!
Now for the anise part..I might have cheated on that from the beginning. You see, the star anise is wonderful and you can really use it, if you are able to ground it really fine. Same goes for the anise seeds and cardamom pods. Nothing worse than little hard bits in this delicate cake, I know, because sometimes there’s some in the nutmeg or cloves too. So I’ve learned to sift that before using. (Keep in mind, that if you ground spices yourself, they taste way stronger than the ground ones you buy, which makes it hard to give you a specific amount to use).
Man…. It was hilarious really…. – we could only find the cardamom pods and no substitution for the anise, which meant we tried the star anise and the cardamom pods (peeling them is therapy on its own), with no means to actually ground it… I do not recommend this.
No, what I would use is an anise flavored powder that you can dissolve in a cup of warm milk, if you like and consists mainly of anise and a little sugar, which the Dutch really seem to like when unable to fall asleep. If there is something similar where you live… go for it, mine came from Holland…sorry.
The cake ended up being…just a little bit meh… drenched in the much richer Irish butter… eek… Well, that wasn’t nearly good enough. I craved revenge and fast! I really discovered, while working here, I am quite the perfectionist. AND, since I am in no way perfect, there is that struggle haha.
So after that little adventure, I made sure to get everything I needed for the next time, which was when one of our ‘extra’ kids visited us; Remy. The perfect reason for me to go all out. It was great, because he brought me the anise from Holland!
I got to know Remy through my work, which started of course, with phone calls. Soon our calls got more… informal – yeah let’s call it that 😉 and it all resulted in me visiting the location in Holland where he is working. Of course we took some pictures together, which ended up at my desk at work.
Colleagues wondered who he was and asked if he was my my brother (uhm… Really?) or my son (uhm… flabbergasted because of the obvious resemblance – not, but hmmkay).
Anyways, we gotten to know each other pretty well pretty fast and to be honest, Steve and I always felt really involved with the younger people. Maybe because of our own kids, but surely because we know God is looking out especially for them. But you could also debate the fact if it is because I just don’t wish to really grow up….
During our marriage, Steve and I have ‘hosted’ several young people, either because they really needed a place to stay temporarily and some comfort, or, because they just fit in so perfectly, they just become a ‘part’ of our family. We consider them family, hence the term ‘extra kids’. So yeah, in a way Remy feels like a son.
I brought him some thousand layer cake on my second visit, which he loved – I mean, come on… The first time he visited, the cake was already baked. The second time, we baked it together, well, sort of. At least we had great fun doing it and Remy was asked to take care of dessert at his upcoming family Christmas dinner. Which I basically also baked, under his supervision of course, but his dessert really looked awesome and tasty. (I didn’t need to tell him to take the credit 🙂 )
My recipe for a thousand layer cake;
Before you start, it is totally awesome, when your cake ends up looking exactly as it should, with straight, even layers. Don’t worry about it too much though when doing this for the first time, in the end, the taste is what really matters…
For a large spring-form 26 cm
12 large eggs 150 gr flour 500 gr butter 150 gr white or light brown caster sugar 2-4 table spoons of cream or try some Baileys About 16 grams of vanilla sugar
Spices – Tip; sift the spices before using to get rid of any hard bits. 1 full teaspoon:
Ground nutmeg Ground cloves Ground cinnamon Ground cardamom 4 anise pouches or around 20 grams freshly grounded Pinch of salt
3 large mixing bowls (egg whites!) Electric mixer Smaller bowls 2 serving spoons preferably the same Spring-form 26 cm Baking paper Spatula’s
Tip; the most important thing about a good thousand layer cake might be: use the mixer intensively, my preparations take 45 – 60 minutes before it goes into the oven.
And; develop feeling during baking: what does it look like, how does it feel, you can open the oven in between, it won’t affect the cake. Much depends on how the cake is baked.
Tip; break and split the eggs over a separate bowl before dividing into separate bowls, very annoying when you throw in a rotten egg at the end. Been there, done that.
Tip; use baking paper at the bottom of the spring form, ensuring that the cake comes off well.
Measure the spices (a lot of Indonesian cooking is done by feeling; use a good full teaspoon) – If you grind the spices yourself, use less, like I said, their taste is much stronger and it’s very hard for me to give you an exact measurement.
Mix them with anise (if not already done) in a separate bowl. You will mix this later through one half of the batter for the dark layers.
Butter the tin, put baking paper on the bottom. Melt the butter a little so that it is easier to mix, mix with the egg yolks and half of the vanilla sugar + half of the caster sugar.
In the other bowl, whisk the egg whites until peaks appear, mixed with the rest of the vanilla sugar + the rest of the caster sugar.
Slowly fold the egg whites into the egg yolk / butter mix (or use the mixer on a the lowest setting), slowly add flour and the cream (if the batter becomes too thick, use a little more cream).
Preheat the oven, depending on the oven I suggest somewhere between 160 – 180 degrees. Adjust if you think it’s going to slow / fast.
The more liquid the batter, the easier it will be. Divide over two bowls (yes a lot of washing up in between). Put a little less in one of the two bowls since you mix the spices through that one. Now you have a light and a dark batter, which you will use alternately, baking every layer separately. I usually start with the dark layer, but hey, that’s up to you. Then place the tin in the middle of the oven.
Use a timer, unfortunately every oven is different so figure out what works for you. For me, each layer takes between 6 – 8 minutes, use a fork to prick gently; if the layer is still too wet it will not work, but it should also not be overcooked, then your cake will be dry in the end (hopefully not after 6 hours) Don’t worry if you’re too fast with the next layer and the two get mixed up, you will do better with the next 😉
Sometimes air bubbles appear in a layer (which was quite common for me) prick some holes with the fork and use the rounded side of a tablespoon to gently flatten the layer.
Bake the layers alternately in color: I use 2 identical soup ladles, that usually makes a good layer, if needed, you can spread it with the rounded side of a tablespoon, the rest will melt and will even out automatically. This is why it is easier when the batter is at least slightly liquid. After the last layer, let the cake bake for a few more minutes, if necessary, turn the oven off before you take it out.
I wish you a lot of baking fun! A thousand layer cake is a bit of a challenge but can give a tasty result afterwards !! ❤️