Durian. Cake. Durian + Cake = ?
I honestly don’t know, because I’ve never had a durian cake. I don’t eat cake.
Don’t gasp at me. I know it’s weird, especially considering the number of recipe posts about durian cake I’ve put up recently. But just because I don’t eat it for personal health reasons doesn’t mean I don’t like it. Cake is beautiful. It’s elegant. It’s fun. It’s expressive and creative and it makes people happy.
Durian also makes people happy. Like me. Therefore Durian + Cake = what, Joy? Euphoria? You tell me after taking a look at (and craving a bite of) these amazing combinations of heaven.
|Dainty Durian Chocolate Snowskin Mooncakes|
I’ve decided that durian is the Asian version of chocolate. It’s a
strong, delicious, mildly addictive flavor that goes great with sugar and
basically anything else that chocolate would also complement (including
more chocolate). Durian also has undertones of vanilla, coffee, orange… do you get where I’m going with this? It’s a replacement for any cake flavor.
Asians eat a lot of cake. At one time this shocked me, I don’t know why. Maybe I assumed that the reason they all live to be 100 years old is because they don’t eat the diabetic shlop that we do in America, in which category I put cakes. They have their own series of sweets in local flavors like green tea, sesame, ginger, pandan, and the mighty durian. In the end cake may be the one thing that unites human kind, because who doesn’t like cake?
Some durian cakes are traditional things that don’t really resemble our Western fluff-ostrities, like mooncakes, steamed glutinous rice cakes, kue lapis (Malaysian layered cake), and lempok. But a lot of are decadent wheat-based layered creations that look just like boring yellow cake.
Some are cakes in the actual shape of durians. These look so cool!
Lempok was the very first durian cake, and is so old that it’s origins are lost in the murky records of the stone age. It’s a traditional method of preserving durians that goes back hundreds, if not thousands, of years. It has very little to do with cake as we understand it in the west, but locals do still call it durian cake.
Rob and I were lucky enough to watch the making of lempok in a village
way up river in Borneo. It was peak durian season, and the women were
busy stirring away at the enormous woks set up in the shade of houses on
Lempok is durian that has been heated and stirred over a fire for hours until most of the moisture has evaporated. The leftover paste cools to form a thick chewy log which is wrapped in banana leaves or plastic wrap and stored for weeks or months at a time. It has a moist density similar to our banana bread, although with a smokiness left by the fire.
It was a swelteringly hot afternoon, and already the women had been working the giant woks for several hours over the open wood fires. They let me help stir it for a few minutes, working the thickened paste back and forth with a large paddle, until I couldn’t stand the stinging blue clouds of smoke in my eyes.
Lempok takes hours to make and a significant amount of bicep to continue kneading the ever thickening goo. Since women are usually the ones who make it, there are a number of jokes abut wimpy men and their Rosie-the-Rivetter wives. In Indonesia, I even watched a child’s animated television program that featured the making of lempok. I didn’t understand anything else going on, but I recognized the joke – and the oozing green waves representing the durian stench.
Kue Lapis is another traditional cake that is incredibly labor intensive. It originates in Malaysia and Indonesia, but is now a common snack in the Netherlands. It’s usually reserved for special celebrations, because it takes so long to make. It’s like Baklava but worse because you have to add each layer one at a time, cooking for 2-3 minutes before adding another and cooking it again. In my opinion, people who make these things for their loved ones should be canonized.
The trick is patience.
Like other Asian cakes, Kue Lapis is usually steamed instead of baked. The steaming method makes a wonderfully moist, dense cake that’s very different in texture from our dry, fluffy mounds. It’s usually cut in a square or a diamond to show off the beautiful striation of many many multi-colored layers. I especially love these heart-shaped Kue Lapis.
Not all traditional Asian cakes are so time-consuming. Take this recipe for Durian Steamed Cake, which takes 15 minutes and looks wonderful.
Once I started looking into durian cakes, I realized that there are far more types of cakes than I ever dreamed could exist, and almost all of them have been converted to durian flavor. I guess that makes sense: durian is the best flavor on the planet.
As I mentioned above, cake may be the one thing that unites all of humanity. Every culture on earth has come up with some kind of cake, including the Eskimos. Okay, I admit that fry bread doesn’t quite count as traditional cuisine, but you get my point. Someone has even created a Durian Bombe Alaska, although I’m honestly not sure of the wisdom of adding the Bombe part (usually rum).
|It even looks like a durian! Awesome.|
As an American, I tend to think of my country as being the most mixed-up cultural melting pot, but that’s totally wrong. Over the years, Asia has been inundated with foreign influences from all over. Long before West Side Story, the British, French, Dutch, and Portugeuse were marauding Asia and bringing all their cakes with them. Even before that, the Chinese had left their moon cakes and steamed cakes.
I think they all stayed around primarily for the durian. Once you’ve tasted durian, who could leave?
This is why there are such East-West fusions as Durian Chiffon Cake, Durian Butter Cake, Durian Coffee Cake, and a Durian Yogurt Cake, which has its roots in Persia and the Middle East. I don’t the think the Greek made it to Asia in recent times (although I hear they started trade with Arab shippers in the BC period), but somehow cheesecake made it to Asia and became one of the most popular durian cakes of all: Durian Cheesecake.
Any of these cakes are complemented by coffee or chocolate, or both, like in Durian Tiramisu (an Italian cake!). There are even chocolate durian cheesecakes for those so inclined.
Some people just add a durian frosting to their basic chocolate or vanilla cakes, like this decadent Durian Cream Frosting layered on sponge cake from the Hunger Hunger blog.
Durian Ice Cream Cake, Durian Cupcakees, Durian Fudge cake, Durian Pudding Cake, and even Raw Vegan Chocolate Durian Mousse Cake…
I think that’s enough of cakes.
Decorating a cake is an art. Recreating the spiky shape of durian in frosting allows for some major creativity. I think these are just so fun! There are so many good ones, I don’t know which one I like best.