Pastry chef Ollyvia Putri’s 20-layer cakes are legit

0

Ollyvia Putri insists on canned Wijsman salted butter only for her “bacon cake”.

“I can’t change that,” she says of imported Dutch butter. “My grandmother would kill me.”

“For trouble-free use in tropical countries,” Wijsman’s distinctive red cans can cost up to $10 for less than half a pound. But that’s not the only reason Putri’s legit 20-layer kue lapis, aka “dense layer cake,” aka spekeok, aka “bacon cake,” sells for $88 apiece. Each takes about four hours to build, its successive layers of dough thinly rolled out and individually baked, pulled from the oven and pressed with melted butter, all looping until the result is something colonial housewives Jakarta Dutch girls – in their attempts to recreate cylindrical baumkuchen, or spit cake – thought to resemble slices of pork belly.

“They say it’s the diapers, but I think it’s because of the amount of fat in it,” says Putri, who bakes the cakes four at a time in a communal kitchen in Naperville. It primarily sells them online in four flavors, along with a variety of Indonesian cookies, under the Lapis312 brand.

Considering the volume she hauls – she ships to all 50 states – Putri is arguably the rightful kue lapis queen in America. Her sister Marcella, with whom she opened a pastry shop in Singapore, is her South Asian counterpart. But they owe everything to their late grandmother who passed on the recipe to them. “My grandmother was an excellent cook,” says Putri. But “growing up, I wasn’t very interested in cooking or baking. I was just an eater.

It wasn’t until she was an engineering student at the University of Michigan that she caught baking fever, eating away at exam stress while baking cupcakes and tiramisu for friends. “I was very lucky to have the support of my parents,” she says. “I guess being the youngest, I didn’t have any burdens or anything, and they allowed me to go to baking school.”

This is how she found herself in Chicago where she studied with Sébastien Canone and Jacquy Pfeiffer at the French Pastry School. “I didn’t really know any sophisticated technique like chocolate work or sugar work,” she says. “Going to school really opened my eyes.” After graduating, she worked for a year with another instructor at the peninsula – then executive pastry chef Dimitri Fayard – then landed a two-month stint in Paris at the pinnacle of French pastry and chocolate: Pierre Hermé, rotating through all cooking stations in the famous pastry.

In 2015, she returned to Singapore where she opened Ollella with her sister, specializing in French choux pastry and kue lapis legit (not to be confused with the multicolored steamed rice flour kue lapis sagu, which Marcella now offers). “My sister really wanted to incorporate Indonesian pastries and my grandmother’s heritage,” she says. “Apart from us, no one would have continued making kue lapis because it’s such a crazy cake to make,” she says. “I think the process is a dying tradition. The younger generation has neither the time nor the patience to make traditional cakes. And considering how labor-intensive kue lapis is, it’s not a common cake to make at home to start with.

They sold traditional kue lapis legit, spiced with cardamom, cinnamon, cloves, and a fourth “secret”—popular with older people—as well as the unspiced “butter” variety for young people; and another common variety made with prunes, each layer of the bottom two misted with dark rum. But they wanted to make an impression. “At that time, there weren’t a lot of funky flavors of kue lapis. It’s quite an expensive cake to play with. We really wanted to do a chocolate version, but everyone loves Nutella and I thought it would make for nicer layers. It was a huge success; our second bestseller behind butter.

In 2018, Putri got married and moved back to Chicago where her husband was working. “It’s been a while since I worked for someone else, so I decided to start something on my own. I saw that there was a need for good lapis in the United States”

She tested the recipes in her home kitchen, adapted to North American ingredients, but found there was no substitute for the 82% fat Wijsman. “When you open it, it smells a bit like very mild cheese,” she says. “But it’s not as greasy as normal European butter.”

She put her cakes up for sale on expat Facebook groups and set up a table at the annual Indonesian Independence Day celebration sponsored by the consulate. The news quickly spread among Indonesian, Singaporean and Malaysian communities across the country. Before long, more than half of its online orders came from the coasts, from Los Angeles, San Francisco, Seattle, New York and Philadelphia. His business exploded after the COVID hit, when people couldn’t go home to get their legitimate fix of kue lapis. Today, more than 80% of its orders come from out of state.

Putri also introduced sweet and savory cookies typically eaten during holidays like Chinese New Year and Eid. Nastar are orbs of crumbly shortbread-like dough encrusted with deposits of pineapple jam spiced with clove and cinnamon. Sagu keju are tasty gluten-free rosettes made from cassava flour roasted with a fragrant pandan leaf and tossed with cheddar cheese. She recently introduced a favorite: her grandmother’s kastengel, baked shortbread fingers with edam cheese.

“That one is personal to me because when we were growing up she made a lot of nastar and kastengel, especially for Chinese New Year. It really is something you can keep in your mouth.

Putri recently gave away her entire line of treats at a Monday Night Foodball pop-up, the Readerweekly guest chef series at the Kedzie Inn in Irving Park. You can still order online, but the only regular local outlet that offers it is Indonesia’s Waroeng Market in Schaumburg, where she also sells her kaya: pandan-infused coconut jam, usually eaten on toast with breakfast.

When you consider that she simmers coconut, eggs, and caramelized sugar for over three hours to get her exact consistency, a drive to the western suburbs doesn’t seem too heavy. “You have to cook it gently and slowly and keep stirring it,” she says. “But anything good always takes hard work.”

Share.

About Author

Comments are closed.