Tuesday, March 2, 2010



How different can two be? From the start they were like black & white, one bouncing inside, the other quiet as a mouse on Christmas Eve. I remember when JP and I, heavily pregnant, nearing the end, went to see Hairspray. Sitting in my movie theater seat Clem would lie quietly, patiently during the dialogue but each time the first chords of the music would begin, the singing and dancing start, my belly would bounce, baby swinging, turning, twisting this way and that to the music. And every night exactly at 10, as I was resting my book on my mountain of a belly, my eyes heavy, off he would start, like clockwork, swirling and twirling, letting me know he was there and wide awake. Simon, on the other hand, hardly moved, still as the night. In the evenings I would get nervous and start to punch and push and pound trying to get some kind of reaction to make sure he was all right and still there. And, of course, Clem popped out according to schedule, right on time, while Simon, tricky little fellow, kept teasing, playing hide and seek, being sneaky until he decided that he was ready to grace the world with his presence. Clem arrived like a little roly-poly bundle of joy, eyes squeezed shut, sleeping like a little angel, while Simon, like a long, tall drink of water as my mom would say, came out awake and alert, eyes not only wide open but staring at each of us present, tiny dark eyes boring into ours, appraising, judging, soaking it all in as if he were master of the situation.

When they were very young, people mistook them for twin brothers, but more like night & day you wouldn’t find. Clem was a bundle of energy, anxious to take his first steps, impatient for his independence. He never walked, he stood up one day and shot off, running like there was no tomorrow, as if he knew that life wouldn’t wait. He chattered and babbled on and on, non-stop, always stories to tell. And mischievous in a playful way. As I lay flat on my back like the beached whale that I resembled, days from giving him a baby brother, he would pull open the doors of the “meuble bleu”, the funny, lopsided old cabinet I used to store my baking supplies, and, glancing in my direction and gigglingly making sure that I was indeed totally indisposed, he would begin pulling out bottles of spices, opening them and tasting, pouring the contents out onto the floor, eating bouillon cubes and wreaking havoc gleefully, joyously. His brother, on the other hand, at the same age was quiet and thoughtful, observant, eerily observant for someone so young and tiny. He would plant himself discreetly in the corner of a room and listen, watch, and looking into his piercing hazel eyes you just knew that he understood, that he was following the conversation, was reading each person and filing away the knowledge gleaned. Tiny, innocent, silent, nothing like his brother. One splashing happily in the water, water baby that he was, running carefree through the waves, digging in the dirt, the other cautious to a fault, fearful of the water, hating the feel of the hot sand between his toes.

And one so carefree, the other so stubborn. One more confident in groups, the other more at ease one on one. One stuck to his best friend or two, the other surrounded by his gaggle of admirers, his groupies. One jumping into the middle of the group whether in school or out, even the first day with new people, and waving his arms, making friends, letting the others see he is there, learning the rules as he goes, the other hiding in his coat, off to the side, by himself, observing the comings and goings of the others, learning the language, the hierarchy of the group, who is who and who does what, taking days or weeks before infiltrating the group slowly, carefully but assured of where he may fit in.

One hesitant, doubting, ill at ease with things he doesn’t understand, judgmental, refusing what he doesn’t agree with, turning dark and moody, the other brushing these things off with nonchalance, with his “anyway….” and his “not interested….” And his “so what?” followed by a shrug of the shoulders and a roll of the eyes and he’s off onto something else. One retreating into himself, trusting only himself, the other marching to his own tune, picking and choosing, ignoring the rest, making his own rules as he goes along. One flitting from thing to thing, interested in this and that but never tied down to one, creative, physical, the other concentrated, working at something until it is done, symmetrical, organized, matter of fact, analytical.

And their tastes as different as vanilla & chocolate: one loving to eat, willing to try anything, chewing garlic, sucking on lemons, scooping bits of cheese into his mouth from the get go, enjoying every little thing, every gorgeous flavor, the other clamping shut his tiny rosebud lips, refusing entrance to more and more as the months and years passed. One growing to eat to his mother’s delight, the other breaking his mother’s heart with each shake of the head “no”. One loving chocolate, the other strictly vanilla, the one embracing all things luscious and gooey, creamy and sweet, the other demanding the plain and the simple, cake, just plain cake, if you please, and the same things over and over again.

But, brothers, my babies, all grown up. So different, like night & day, black & white, vanilla & chocolate, but both warm and generous, wickedly funny, smart as whips, worldly from all the traveling they’ve done in a way their friends are not, able to slide from one culture, one language into another, as easily as some boys change their clothes. So different, one working hard and excelling at school, starting his own business, the other off to do volunteer work, trying to figure out where he fits and what he can do with his life in this wide world. One here in France, one soon to be making his home in the States. So different, but so alike, pushing and pulling and trying to become their own person, each in their own right, not a shadow of the other, and side by side the perfect pair, complements, two halves of a whole, like the perfect cake, layers of chocolate and vanilla, side by side, sweet and delicate, separate but creating one.

My dear friend Lien of Lien’s Notes recently shared with me the recipe for this extraordinary cake, an Indonesian treat, intriguing layers of batter each cooked quickly under the grill and separated by a quick brush of melted butter. This is a rather rich cake made with lots of eggs and butter, and rather time-consuming considering you must sit and watch the cake and pull it out of the oven every 2 or 3 minutes to brush with butter and add more batter, but it is so worth it! It is truly fantastic! It has the taste and texture of a stack of crêpes, and although this treat is usually simple layers of plain vanilla batter or alternate layers of vanilla and spiced batters, I decided to create a vanilla-chocolate version by dividing the batter into two and stirring cocoa powder into one. And as you can see, it was fabulous! A rich flavor, elegant and impressive, but simple and light enough to have with coffee for breakfast or a glass of milk or a mug of tea for a snack. Beautiful!

("Spekuk" or Indonesian layered cake)
from Lonny Gerungan’s "De complete Indonesische keuken"

7 eggs
17 ½ Tbs (250 g) unsalted butter, softened
7 oz (200 g) light brown (or white) soft sugar *
3 ½ oz (100 g) flour
1/4 tsp salt
seeds from one vanilla pod

3 ½ - 4 Tbs (50 g) unsalted butter, melted (for brushing)

* This is light brown packing sugar, Vergeoise blonde in France

2 Variations : Chocolate or Spice (traditional)

For the Chocolate version :
1 ½ Tbs unsweetened cocoa powder

For the Spice version (I have not tried this version but Lien has) :
8 tsp ground cinnamon
3 tsp ground cardamom
3 tsp ground nutmeg
2 tsp ground cloves
1 tsp ground anice seeds

Blend the spices together.

Butter an 8-inch (20 cm) springform pan.

Separate the eggs. Place the whites in a large metal or plastic bowl and, if you like, add a few grains of salt and 1 or 2 drops of lemon juice to help stabilize them. Set aside.

In a large mixing bowl, beat the butter with the sugar until light and creamy. Beat in the yolks one at a time, beating well after each addition. Sift the flour and salt over the mixture, add the scraped out seeds from the vanilla pod and beat briefly, just until blended.

With very clean beaters, beat the egg whites until stiff peaks hold. Fold the whites gently into the cake batter, about a third of the whites at a time, just until well blended.

If you want to make either the chocolate or the spice version, divide the batter into two bowls, weighing the batter if necessary to make sure you have equal portions. Gently fold either the cocoa powder or the spice blend (to taste) to one half of the batter.

Heat the oven to grill and place your oven rack 4 inches (10 cm) below the grill. Have the melted butter and a brush at hand.

Scoop a few tablespoons of the vanilla batter into the buttered pan and, using the back of the spoon, spread around the bottom of the pan as evenly as possible, all the way to the edges. Place the pan under the grill and bake until the batter is firm, begins to puff up and is golden brown. This will take only 2 to 3 minutes, so do not take your eyes off of the pan!

Grab the pan and take it out of the oven. Quickly brush the entire surface of the baked layer (it will look like a crêpe) with melted butter then scoop up and add another layer of batter – if you have flavored half the batter with cocoa or spices then alternate the flavored batter with the vanilla – just 2 or 3 heaping tablespoons, and quickly spread the batter as evenly as possible over the cooked layer. The batter will begin to melt as it hits the hot cooked layer but don’t worry, just spread it around quickly. Then pop it back under the grill for another 2 to 3 minutes until this layer is baked, puffed and golden. Remove from the oven, brush with melted butter and repeat the process, alternating vanilla and cocoa layers as I have done, until you have used up all of the batter.

Be very careful, because as you add layers and each layer moves up the pan and gets closer to the grill, the batter may cook more quickly so it is important to watch the baking process! Don’t walk away from that oven!

Let the cake cool completely in the pan on a cooling rack before sliding a knife around the sides to loosen then removing from the pan. The cake stays perfect and moist for a few days.

Results: What a fabulous cake! As I said, it is like eating a stack of perfect crêpes, is impressive to look at and can be served simply, as is, for breakfast or a snack or can be dressed up with whipped cream or crème anglaise when you want an elegant dessert. And what a wonderful cake that comes in 3 versions – all vanilla, vanilla-chocolate or vanilla-spice!

Thank you, Lien, for a fabulous recipe!

FYI : The H2Ope for Haiti raffle has been extended! You can now purchase raffle tickets here until Midnight Sunday 7 March so don't miss out on the chance to win one of the fabulous prizes while donating to an excellent cause. For the list of prizes as well as all the information visit Jeanne's blog Cook Sister!


Barbara said...

A lovely post Jamie. My two boys are very different too.Strange how they can have the same upbringing but be such opposites. Nice cake too. I have heard of this cake but have not made it.

Sarah, Maison Cupcake said...

What a genius technique for building up layers in a cake - I can see all sorts of potential for different versions of this.

Lovely pictures of your boys. I remember Ted used to jump about a lot if I played Amy Winehouse "Rehab" in the car when I was pregnant!

French Cooking for Dummies said...

I could kill for a piece of that cake!... It looks sooo good :D

Rosa's Yummy Yums said...

It is true that they did look like twin brothers...

That cake is a beautiful ode to your children. So pretty and delicious!



Bethie said...

Wow, that cake looks delicious. Wouldn't it be lovely with a big cup of coffee or tea? Oh yum.

Debbie said...

Love reading about your boys...just like my 2 girls, night and day...complement each other nicely(note I didn't say compliment..haha!) Hope to meet them this summer. Gorgeous cake! Be well :)

gastroanthropologist said...

The layer cake looks so great! I think I might really like the spice version...I don't have children but have had puppies from the same litter with quite different temperments. Vanilla and chocolate, so different, but so good together!

Nate @ House of Annie said...

I like that you used real vanilla bean for the vanilla part. I do recommend trying the spice version - it is a revelation!

We went behind the scenes at a Sarawak layer cake shop here in Kuching. Kek lapis is derived from the Indonesian cake, but includes more colors and flavors. Come check it out!


Sophie said...

Waw,...Jamie!! The layered cake looks fabulous!!!

Waw,...Now, I would like to eat one large big piece, please???

shayma said...

a beautiful post, i loved the story about your children, how sweet that story about watching Hairspray is! it's really lovely to read posts which related to family in one way or another. as for the cake- it looks delicious, i would never attempt to make it i am SURE i would burn a layer. x, shayma

kudoskookies said...

Loved your post! Your writing about your kids is wonderful with how different they both are. As a mom, I totally understand how two can be so similar and yet so different. Anyway, lovely job! Also, your cake looks sooo pretty and very tasty. I've not seen anything like it. Makes me want to try and make one but it also looks like so much work. Well worth it I'm sure! Great job!!!
Renee of Kudos Kookies

Anonymous said...

V was a very sweet baby in the stomach - never bounced endless or give me sleepless night but she did once love the voice of my professor. Each time he started his lecture, she would moved a lot. Otherwise, she quiet. On my advance stage of pregnancy, I haven't felt her move for a while, so gave her a little squeeze like I read in the book, took her a while to answer me. Phew! I was relief. She too came out with wide eyes open and very alert. Boundless of energy and can't sit still. LOL! I called her wiggly worm.

Hub had the original spiced version in Singapore and didn't like it at all. If you do it the original way, it's a very caloried cake - heavy but tasty tea treats. In Asia, we eat it little pieces by little pieces. It's very filling. Next time try put prunes inside - it's delicious too. :)

Deeba PAB said...

Beautifully written sistah. It's absolutely gorgeous. Brought back memories of mine too when they were younger.
Will try and make the cake, maybe half. Pam just told me the DB this time isn't buttery... so maybe!

lisaiscooking said...

Beautiful layers! Sounds like a fun cake to make too. I love watching my nieces and nephews to learn their similiarities and differences. They're each so unique like your sons!

Elra said...

Amazing cake jaime, I used to have this on a special occasion. It looks super!

Barbara Bakes said...

What a nice tribute to your sons! The cake is so pretty. Glad to hear it's scrumptious as well1

Sippity Sup said...

I never had the pull towards procreation, but this lovely tribute reminds me that there must be something about this parenthood thing... GREG

Ino said...

Ah, I always wondered how they made layered cakes! I'm definitely giving this a go. I'm also thinking you could turn the vanilla mix into an orange flavoured mix and have an orange-chocolate cake! :D

Jamie said...

@Ino - Great flavor idea! And that brings into mind so many delicious flavor combos!

Fresh Local and Best said...

I have only experience with observing the personalities of friends' children. The differences are truly interesting.

That is such a beautiful cake!

Junglefrog said...

What a wonderful post Jamie! I feel like I am getting to know your boys a little bit. Well at least their childhood.. :) Lovely is also that gorgeous cake!!

Barbara @ VinoLuciStyle said...

As always and yes, now as expected...a great story to accompany this beautiful cake.

You know I've not been cooking much lately because of my stupid knee injury...but thinking a cake that requires constant watching might be right up my alley, since I'm stuck chair height anyway!

Beautiful boys; you did good Mama!

buffalodick said...

I had two sons, and both births were as different as night and day! They grew up taught the same, ate the same, were treated the same- they couldn't be more different! Viva to individuals!

Baking Soda said...

Lovely tale and beautifully written Jamie, could be my twins. One blond one dark, one observant, one jumping in. I smiled through the post.
Lovely layers!

Natashya KitchenPuppies said...

My boys are night and day too. Poor things!
Beautiful lapis legit! Your layers are so perfect. I am much more slapdash - I should probably stick to bread! :)

Adele said...

What a beautiful cake, Jamie. My mind is leaning towards having alternating chocolate and spice layers. Wonder if that will be too much?

Beautiful boys you've got yourself there. You must be proud.

Heather said...

I really like the way you juxtapose the differences between your two sons and the layered cake. They should be honoured. Hope they enjoyed eating it!

Mary said...

What a lovely post, Jamie. Your affection for them shines through every word you write about them. The cakes are lovely, too.

Katy ~ said...

Isn't it amazing how siblings who come from the same gene pool can be so different. Talk about the miracle of birth.

And that cake...ooooh la la. A miracle in the baking!

Anushruti said...

Oh Jamie your boys seem so interesting although different. You seem to have had a whale of a time as mother.
I adore the pictures. I'm cherishing each moment with my little one and dreading the day he'll be grown up and gone, first to school then out in this big wide world. Life has to take its own course after all.

catty said...

what a GORGEOUS story about Clem and Simon, and I love that even now, they are still different, still their own person.

And the cake is also pretty gorgeous ;)

Greg said...

That is absolutely amazing, Jamie. I promise to try and make it.

Mowie @ Mowielicious said...

Jamie - I love this post as I just had a trip down memory lane, not just remembering my brother, but also because I instantly recognised that cake! My first partner was Dutch/Indonesian and showed me how to make this - i couldn't believe it when he explained the method to me. If I remember correctly, he made his with 50 layers. Needless to say I haven't attempted it since =) But the taste and textures of this are sublime. Thanks for sharing xxx

Nina said...

Thats a lovely technique on layering cakes.This Cake is new to me...sounds very interesting.Your boys look very cute:)

Aparna said...

The layers look so pretty. We have a version of this cake here in Goa and that's on my list to bake soon.

Cristie said...

What a sweet post about your boys- I loved the pictures. My sister and I are only 13 monts a part and were always being cast as twins and we ate it up for all it was worth. However, we both love chocolate and this cake is something I'll have to try.

Kitchen Butterfly said...

Love the first photo....and what a bold woman you are to make Spekkoek.....I keep dreaming....about it, someday perhaps!

Soma said...

Looks amazingly good.

asiangrrl said...

What a wonderful story of your two night-and-day boys, and that cake looks delicious enough to tempt both of them!


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