Sunday, August 24, 2014

Spekkoek (Dutch-Indonesian Spice Cake)

SPEKKOEK // Dutch-Indonesian SPICE CAKE

Back home, back to work, back to blogging.

I know I've been away from the kitchen for a while, spending most of my summer reading and traveling, but I've collected an exciting list of foods to make from all over Europe.  First up this week is a Dutch spice cake I discovered in Amsterdam called spekkoek.  It's been fun trying to track down the name of the cake and how to prepare it (I couldn't understand the exact word when I initially asked the waitress).  Sure enough, a search for everything I knew about the cake - "layered spice cake, Dutch" - turned up precisely the results I needed.

Of course, I was tickled by also learning that the cake is a cultural diffusion recipe, because all historian cooks love those.  For the non-historians out there, the rich and heavy mixture of spices is historical evidence of the Dutch East India Company's seventeenth-century command of the spice trade with the East Indies, and particularly the Dutch colony of Indonesia (which they nabbed from the Portuguese).  I actually intend to use this recipe as a classroom discussion piece this week, since we dive right into the rise of Europe through control of spice routes during the "Age of Exploration."

But back to the present, and present-day Amsterdam.  Believe it or not (which is obnoxious for me to say), I had never been to Amsterdam before this summer, and spent much too little time in this friendly place.  Amsterdam is probably the most "user friendly" city I've ever been to, and by that I mean its so evident that the planners of Amsterdam (past and present) have the human - the pedestrian, the cyclist, the child - in mind at all times.  The spaces are designed to engage humans with the space, and with each other, and in this way the city births society.  I'm hard-pressed to find outdoor seating at even the most cosy cafes in Chicago that are free from the visual, auditory, and olfactory pollution from cars.

It was on one of the quiet pedestrian streets that I discovered spekkoek.  It was the first "I'm making this when I get home!" moment from my travels.  

As a warning, this recipe only appears complicated, and is actually really fun to make.  So, don't be deterred by the process of cooking each alternating layer (or that it calls for lots of butter and eggs).  It comes together more or less like cooking many crepes on top of one another.  And, again, I had a blast doing it, as if I was partaking in some cooking challenge (that you can't really mess up).  If you're ready for fall, this is a perfect recipe to try (and if you stow it away for later, that broiler will really keep the house warm once the weather cools).  

Ingredients: (makes an 8"-9" round cake)
  • 2 tsp. ground nutmeg
  • 2 tsp. ground cinnamon
  • 1 tsp. allspice
  • 1 tsp. ground ginger
  • 1 tsp. ground cardamom
  • 1 tsp. ground cloves
  • 1 tsp. ground anise 
  • 3 sticks/1.5 cups unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 12 eggs, separated
  • 1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • for garnish: 2 tbsp. confectioners sugar

Helpful (but not required) Tools:
  • springform pan
  • offset spatula (such as for frosting cakes)
  • powerful hand blender

Optional Toppings:
  • maple syrup
  • whipped cream
  • fruit preserves
  1. Prep: Line the bottom of a springform pan with parchment paper, and butter well.  Set the oven to broil.
  2. Combine all spices in a small bowl, set aside.  Separate the eggs.
  3. Cream the butter, 1/2 cup of sugar, vanilla, and salt.  Add the egg yolks, and mix until smooth.
  4. Fold in the flour by hand with a spatula.
  5. Combine the egg whites and remaining 1/2 cup of sugar, beat with a hand mixer until very stiff.  In four parts, fold the egg whites into the other batter.  Do not over mix.
  6. Divide the batter into two large bowls, stirring the spices into one.
  7. Add 1/2 cup of the spiced batter to the bottom of the buttered pan, spreading it evenly over the bottom.  Cook under the broiler for 2 minutes, or until lightly browned.   Spread a 1/2 cup of the plain batter on top of the cooked layer, broiling again for 2 minutes.  Repeat this process of layering/cooking with alternating batters until the pan is full.
  8. Allow to cool completely on a wire rack before removing from the pan.
  9. Dust with confectioners sugar and serve with maple syrup, whipped cream, or fruit preserves.  Wrap tightly in plastic wrap to store.

Step-by-Step Images:

Prepare your pan by lining the bottom with parchment paper and buttering it well (I buttered underneath the parchment paper, as well, to keep it in place).  Set the oven to broil so it is very hot by the time your batter is ready.
Combine the spices in a small bowl and set aside for later use.  
In a mixer, cream the butter, 1/2 cup of sugar, vanilla, and salt.  Add the egg yolks, and mix until you get a completely smooth batter.  Then, using a spatula, fold in the flour by hand.
In a large, clean bowl, combine the egg whites and remaining 1/2 cup of sugar.  Beat with a hand blender until very stiff peaks form. This takes about 10 minutes to get really stiff egg whites.  Fold the egg whites into the batter in four stages.  With each, fold until just incorporated.  Try to avoid over-mixing.  You'll then divide the batter evenly in two bowls, stirring the spices into one.
Add about 1/2 cup of the spiced batter to the bottom of the cake pan, and spread evenly over the parchment paper with an offset spatula.  Place under the broiler for 2 minutes, until slightly browned.  Spread 1/2 cup of the plain batter on top of this layer, and continue to repeat the broiling/layering process until the pan is full.  Keep your layers as thin as possible, and don't worry that the raw batter gets runny when it comes in contact with the hot layer below.  Keep in mind that as your pan continues to fill and get hotter, the layers will begin to brown faster.  
When done, place the pan on a wire rack and cool completely.  Dust with confectioners sugar and serve as is, or with maple syrup, whipped cream, or fruit preserves.


  1. WHOA. This looks amazing. Any tips for making it if you don't have a springform pan? Just gently inverting it?

    1. Yeah I think it will actually be very easy without a springform...By the time I "unsprung" the cake it had already peeled away from the sides from cooling. Just butter it up real good!

  2. oh yumz! sees worth getting over my fear of baking to try this someday.

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