Grandmother originally titled this recipe ‘Marmer Cake’ and later changed it to ‘Marble Cake’. A search for Marmer Cake recipes on the internet threw up mostly Indonesian websites and a couple of Dutch ones, so I used some online dictionaries and confirmed that marmer is indeed the Dutch word for ‘marble’. I wonder if this cake has Dutch origins? In any case, it has firmly passed into the staple of local kueh – I remember regularly eating slices of marble cake in the primary school canteen.
Some Indonesian recipes for Marble Cake use the word kue, which simply means ‘cake’, but this made me think how when we use of the word kueh (or kuih) in names of foods whilst speaking English, it emphasises the very local origins of the cake; mostly, it’s nonya or Malay/Indonesian desserts that have names which include the word kueh, such as kueh bangkit, kueh lapis, kueh bengka, kueh Ambon etc. But then kueh is really a Hokkien Chinese word 粿, think of ang ku kueh, soon kueh, huat kueh, chye tow kueh, char kway teow (and note the different spellings that have become the norm for different dishes – plus Malaysians and Indonesians each have their own way of phoneticising Hokkien which I’m not so familiar with). [See entry on 'kueh' at SinglishDictionary.com]
And so the name Marmer Kue leads us on a historical journey through the making of hybrid (food) cultures and languages in a Southeast Asia shaped by immigration and multiple European colonialisms.
Condensed milk – another off-the-shelf commercial food product with a very long history, the first successfully canned condensed milk dating to 1885. Read about the history of condensed milk and how it is prepared, how the need for hygenic, shelf-stable milk led to the popularity of condensed milk at the turn of the century, how condensed milk can improve cooking, and the history of brands that are still sold today from two American-origin companies: Eagle (1856) and Carnation (1899, acquired by Nestlé in 1984; Nestlé had previously merged with the Anglo-Swiss Condensed Milk Company in 1905).
Do have a look at this wonderful digitised book, The Story of Carnation Milk (1915), which includes all kinds of recipes. Here is the cover:
Here are some advertisements for evaporated and condensed milk that I’ve found in Singapore newspapers from 1931. The variety of international brands, and the existence of even local trademarks indicates what a popular food product it was. Click on the links for images:
Libby’s Evaporated Milk
Milkmaid Sweetened Condensed Milk
Nestle & Anglo-Swiss Condensed Milk Company
and local trademarks of the East Asiatic Company (Aktiselskabet Det Oestasiatiske Kompagni)
What this looks like is the original recipe written up first, and then after experimentation, grandma revised the quantities and noted down the new version on the left hand side page (indicated with arrow). I’ve appended this at the bottom of the main recipe. That is a scary amount of eggs! I never realised Marble Cake was so rich :/….. Plus there are no instructions for cocoa powder to create the marbling effect (*puzzled*)?
[15/1/08 Update: do check grandmother's alternative recipe for Marble Cake here.]