Life Getting Bland? Make An Indonesian Spice Cake

James Oseland (new editor-in-chief of Saveur) has a spicy new cookbook called “Cradle of Flavor” that’s full of vibrant, exotic recipes from Indonesia, Malaysia, and Singapore. When it first arrived, I could’ve made Gado-Gado (a Javanese “potpourri” of raw and cooked vegetables) or The Soto King’s Chicken Soup (Soto Ayam Lamongan) but instead I made cake. I like cake very much, more than most things, and making an Indonesian Spice Cake (Spekkuk) was the thing I wanted to do.

To make this cake you need a tube pan. I bought one a few years ago when I was on a health kick–a health kick that involved Angel Food Cake. The health kick faded and so did the tube pan but it was great to drag it out for this dessert.

This dessert was a big success: the ingredients are simple and easy to find and the ratio of butter, egg, flour and sugar makes for a wonderful texture: crisp on the outside, soft in the middle. A famous Parisian food blogger came over for a bite and gave it a thumbs up. She wrote later, in an e-mail: “That is one buttery, flavorful cake!”

Lately I’ve been typing up recipes I love with the belief that this is good advertising for the cookbook author. As long as I don’t type up the whole cookbook, it creates an incentive–assuming you try this recipe and love it–for you to go out and buy it. If I hear from James Oseland’s people and they want me to take down this recipe, I will. But assuming they don’t write, you can find the recipe after the jump!

Indonesian Spice Cake (Spekkuk)

from James Oseland’s “Cradle of Flavor”


2 cups (8 1/4 ounces/235 grams) sifted cake flour, plus more for dusting

1/2 teaspoon baking powder

1 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg

1/2 teaspoon ground cloves

4 teaspoons ground cinnamon

Pinch of kosher salt

1 1/2 cups (12 ounces/340 grams) unsalted butter (3 sticks), at room temperature, plus more for greasing

1 2/3 cups (13 ounces / 370 grams) granulated sugar

4 large eggs, at room temperature

3 large egg yolks, at room temperature, lightly beaten

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

1 tablespoon powdered sugar (optional)

1. Position a rack in the middle of the oven and preheat the oven to 325 F (165 C). Grease and lightly flour a 9-inch (23-centimeter) tube pan with 3 1/2 inch (9 centimeter) sides (or, my preference, use a nonstick pan of the same size but don’t grease and flour it.)

2. Resift the sifted flour along with the baking powder, nutmeg, clove, cinnamon, and salt into a bowl. Now, resift the flour mixture and then set it aside.

3. In another bowl, using an electric mixer on high speed, beat the butter until it’s soft and very pliant, about 1 minute (or 4 to 6 minutes by hand with a wooden spoon). Gradually add the granulated sugar and beat on high speed until the mixture is pale and fluffy, 3 to 5 minutes (or 6 to 8 minutes by hand).

4. One at a time, add the 4 whole eggs and beat on high speed until the mixture is light and fluffy, about 2 minutes (or 5 minutes by hand).

5. Add the flour mixture to the butter mixture in 3 equal parts, beating on low speed or stirring with the wooden spoon until the batter is smooth and the flour is well combined with the butter mixture. Add the egg yolks and vanilla and continue to beat or stir until they’re well mixed into the batter.

6. Pour the batter into the prepared pan, smoothing the surface. Place on the middle oven rack and bake until a toothpick inserted into the thickest part of the cake comes out clean, about 1 hour (though I’d recommend checking it after 45 minutes).

7. Remove the pan from the oven and let the cake cool in the pan on a wire rack for 10 minutes. If necessary, carefully run a thin knife around the perimeter and the inner rim of the cake to help loosen it from the pan. Invert the pan onto the rack and lift it off of the cake. Turn the cake right side up and let it cool on the rack.

8. Transfer the cake to a serving platter. Using a fine-mesh sieve, dust the top with the powdered sugar, if desired.

11 thoughts on “Life Getting Bland? Make An Indonesian Spice Cake”

  1. That recipe is pretty standard and its spices aren’t so exciting…sorry to be bummer, but it falls short of being an incentive.

  2. Information wants to be free, and that includes recipes. I swear that if I make this cake and it turns out half as good as it sounds, I will purchase the book – I’ve got no problems with that whatsoever. At minimum, I think it is great free advertising – not to mention a wonderful excuse (as if one ever needs one) to make a tasty cake. Cheers AG, thanks for sharing.

  3. Well, I’m thinking a half-teaspoon or so of cardamom. I was actually surprised not to find it in the ingredient list; it just seems like an Indonesian-ish spice.

  4. I have to agree, the spice mixture doesn’t look too exciting, though it could actually be a smash hit. I think I’ll try baking it this weekend (it’s perfectly rainy and lovely) and add a little cardamom. Maybe I’ll come back and let everyone know how it went.

  5. I agree, cardamom would seem to be the missing ingredient. I like the concept, and the cake looks great, but the recipe looks like it needs a little extra kick.

  6. That recipe is basically an Indonesian Layer Cake. The tube pan must be a western simplification. Never seen this done in a tube pan before.

    In this neck of the woods, we usually divide the batter into 2 portions. spice and maybe a little cocoa powder for colouring goes into one portion.

    Then in a square or rectangular tin, you pour in one layer of white batter. Thinly.

    Bake under a grill but watch it. It should brown nicely.

    Remove from the heat and using a tumbler, press all the air out of the baked layer. Then add a layer of the coloured batter.

    Continue that way until you’re done. Pressing with the tumbler and adding layers.

    You’ll have a layered cake. Very traditional and very popular in Malaysia and Indonesia during the festive season of Ramadhan.

    Oh and by the way, people used to do this in charcoal ovens. So you’d bake with charcoals on top of the lid of the cake tin.

    As for the spices, they may not seem very exciting to most people but it’s presentation is as important. And I think it loses a lot in a tube pan.

    We have a supplier who ships them to us by the carton. They actually last quite a while if stored properly. And the eggs…well, they’re usually ALL EGG YOLKS. No whites.

  7. Dear Amateur gOURMET,

    I am a great fan of yours, but I must say that your recipe for spekkoek (spek=lard and koek=cake in Dutch)has not much to do with what my grandmother (a great cook from Indonesia)would have called so. She would make it for us kids, but not too often as it is LOTS OF WORK.

    Spekkoek should have the form and consistency of a flat round french cheese and made up of tiny darkbrown and yellow layers. Check for the recipe in Wikipedia (search for spekkoek).

  8. Hi Amateur Gourmet: Just started reading your blog and am enjoying it.

    Maybe the spicing of the cake isn’t “interesting,” but how can a cake with three sticks of butter possibly be bad?

    FWIW, the “authentic” version vaguely reminds me of our apple stack cake in the South.

  9. Hi, indeed spekkoek refers to a layered Indonesian cake with alternating brown and yellow layers, very rich in flavour and dense in texture. Indonesians hardly bake it themselves because it takes a lot of time and effort making the separate layers. Instead, they buy it from a good Indonesian store… I had one recently and made a picture of it, which I posted on Flickr : view more photos of spekkoek at Flickr. Love reading your blog!

  10. Maja Ferreira

    The Dutch name for this is Spekoek, meaning bacon cake, referring to the layered appearance. My mother made it creating about 40 layers, each briefly broiled until set. It was labor intensive but oh-so delicious with amoist buttery texture! Am ging to try this recipe though, as the flavors sound right!

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