[dropcap size=small]S[/dropcap]uharto was a fan – and so is Jokowi. Baked by hand and in small batches, the humble kueh lapis made by a tiny patissier in Jakarta has captured the hearts – and filled the stomachs – of generations of Indonesian presidents and their guests.

The cake may look deceptively simple, explains Ng Tian Wee, but each one takes four to five hours to make, with each of its 18 layers tediously added on one by one. The cake is returned to the oven each time for the layers to be caramelised separately. The 49-year-old former regional director at a pharmaceutical firm discovered the delicacy on one of his business trips and established the Royal Istana with two partners, in order to bring in limited quantities of the rich confection here. The recipe has remained the same for the past 20 years, he says, with small tweaks to accommodate the preferences of each president.

Only the most luxurious ingredients are used. The butter, for instance, is imported from Holland. The whole wheat flour comes from the UK, and the milk, New Zealand. The mixed spices are sourced from Indonesia.

The exquisite treatment extends elsewhere. The cake is presented in a velvet-lined box designed by branding agency 360&5 and – when the occasion calls for a personal touch – the founders will deliver the wares in their Jaguar cars.

The Jakarta outfit can only cope with a few hundred cakes a month, and the initial order has already been sold out to partners such as American Express and Lexus. To find out what the fuss is about, head to Royal Istana’s website.


The origins of this cake is, in fact, European. In the 17th century, the Dutch brought to Indonesia, which would become part of its East Indies later, their recipe for a layered cake commonly made in their homeland using a cylindrical spit. This evolved to become kueh lapis. The German baumkuchen is a close relative.