This decadent dessert gets its name from its region of origin, the state of Sarawak on the north coast of Borneo Malaysia, a verdant area known for its national parks and biodiversity. The recipe is influenced by similar desserts from 18th century Dutch colonizers, such as spekkoek and spit cake.
The defining feature of this sweet treat is its intricate and colourful geometric designs.
A piece of cake
In Malay, the national language of Malaysia, Sarawak cake is referred to as kek lapis, which translates to “layer cake.” Sarawak layer cakes are served in small portions, as recipes tend to be heavy on eggs, butter and condensed milk, making for a decadently rich piece.
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The defining feature of this sweet treat is its intricate and colourful geometric designs, which can take hours to create. The most basic versions feature layers of two alternating cake colours – red, green and yellow are common choices – but they can get elaborate, with many colours appearing in triangle and square shapes.
How it's made
Layers of different coloured cake batters are baked individually and then reassembled into a loaf shape using condensed milk or jam as an adhesive. Traditionally, the cake was made with ingredients like cinnamon, cardamom, clove and star anise, but more modern flavours like Cadbury and red velvet are popular, too.
When it's time to cut into the cake, the beautiful patterns inside are revealed. It is usually baked for birthdays, weddings and holidays like Eid, celebrated by Muslims worldwide, Gawai Dayak, a cultural festival that marks the end of a bountiful rice harvesting season, and Lunar New Year, a year–end celebration influenced by the Chinese calendar.
Related: 7 Ways to Kick Off the Lunar New Year Around the World
Where to get it
You can find Sarawak layer cakes in almost every bakery and cake shop on the north coast of Borneo Malaysia. In Canada, head to Blueridge Treats in North Vancouver or One 2 Snacks in Toronto.