Friday, July 17, 2009

Malaysian Honeycomb Cake

My Mum has been going on about this recipe for months, ever since she figured out how obsessed I was with baking. She insisted over and over that I had to try this recipe because it was so easy and delicious. Finally, it seems she could wait no longer for me to ask for the recipe and I had an email from my Dad which contained the recipe in a Word document that she had made my Dad type out. Hint hint, make the damn cake!

I remember eating this honeycomb cake (also known as ant nest cake or kuih sarang semut) as a child. It's different to a regular caramel sponge or mud cake, with a very firm, springy texture which is closer to the texture of a kuih than a crumbly cake. The interior is riddled with 'tunnels' and is dark and rich in flavour from the caramelised sugar.

I was nervous about making this cake for a few reasons. First of all, while I could remember eating it as a child, I couldn't remember if it was actually nice or just something full of sugar that anyone would like as a child. My Mum's instructions were a bit vague so I was worried I would end up with a flat pancake rather than a high, bubbly cake. And would other people even like eating it, with its strange, almost gelatinous texture?

Ooh yeah look at those tunnels!
Turns out I had nothing to worry about. A quick phone call to Mum to step through her instructions and it turned out perfectly. It was a little painful because I stirred my sugar a little too vigorously and splashed it on my hand a couple times, ow. But it was worth the pain, because the end result was SO much better than my faded childhood memories. The cake was dark and so moist. It was rich in flavour without being heavy, in fact it was quite light and moreish because it was so full of bubbly tunnels. And it was so exciting to cut out that first slice of the cake and to see those long tunnels running through the cake just like I had wanted. A was a big fan of this cake and so were my friends, much to my surprise. A preferred it when it was hot out of the oven with a crisp dark brown crust around the outside, whilst I preferred it a day later after leaving in a container overnight to become more moist and springy (as recommended by Mum).

Malaysian Honeycomb Cake (Kuih Sarang Semut)
(recipe from my Mum)
1 & 3/4 cups sugar
2 cups water
½ tin condensed milk (approx 200g)
170g butter, softened
2 cups plain flour
4 tsp bicarb soda
8 eggs
1 tsp Vanilla essence
Note: These measurements will either make one very large cake or two medium cakes. Feel free to halve the quantities

Place sugar in a medium saucepan and gradually heat, stirring regularly so that it caramelises but does not burn.

When all the sugar is dissolved and brown, add the 2 cups of water. Do this very carefully as it may spit when the water hits the hot sugar. At this point you might freak out because the sugar will instantly crystallise and look a bit like this:

Don't worry, it was meant to do that! Just keep stirring over the heat until the sugar dissolves back into the mixture. Take off the heat and then place aside to cool.

Preheat your oven to 180 degrees C. In a large mixing bowl use an electric mixer to beat butter and condensed milk & mix until well combined. Add eggs one at a time to butter & milk mixture, beating in well. Sift flour & soda bicarb together, then fold into mixture. Add vanilla essence and stir until combined. Add the cooled sugar syrup to above mixture and stir gently until just combined.

Pour into a greased and baking paper lined bottom, large springform tin or two 20 cm round tins. (Whatever tins you use make sure not to fill past the 3/4 level as these cakes will rise a fair bit) Bake for 45 minutes or until a skewer inserted into the centre of the cake comes out clean.

Smaller, thinner cake which turned out darker but less gelatinous

Thicker, lighter cake with more tunnels and springy texture

In other news, thank you to the amazing Ellie from Almost Bourdain for passing on this Kreativ Blogger Award to me. It's very sweet and it totally made my day to receive it for my silly blog, which only started up at the end of March in an attempt to hold on to my favourite food memories from my trip to Malaysia and Thailand. It's quite amazing how things have changed since then! So thanks again to Ellie, and to anyone who bothers to read this random blog :)

The Kreativ Blogger award comes with some rules:
  1. You must thank the person who has given you the award.
  2. Copy the logo and place it on your blog.
  3. Link to the person who has nominated you for the award.
  4. Name 7 things about yourself that people might find interesting.
  5. Nominate 7 other Kreativ Bloggers.
  6. Post links to the 7 blogs you nominate.
  7. Leave a comment on which of the blogs to let them know they have been nominated
So here are 7 random facts about idea if they will be interesting to anyone or not!
  1. I was born in Perth but have also lived in Qatar and Malaysia. The Pizza Hut in Qatar was the most popular restaurant in town when I was there (about 15 years ago), haha!
  2. I've been with my boyfriend for nearly 8 years. He took me to my first formal when I was 16 and got his eyebrow pierced for it as a surprise because I had mentioned they were hot
  3. I have a Master in Biomedical Engineering. I was a couple years into my degree before I totally grasped what Biomedical Engineering was. Apparently this is pretty normal though!
  4. My favourite fake word is 'abortional' (I picked it up from A), which roughly translates to "a poor effort", e.g. "The Ashes have been abortional so far" or "That BOFAG was abortional".
  5. I sometimes eat scones for dinner.
  6. As a child I was so shy that I was scared to answer the phone.
  7. I have a pet cockatiel named Doodle. He's a total bogan, when you walk past him he will wolf whistle at you and say "Hello, howya goin mate?"
Aaaand in no particular order (of course), I would like to pass on the Kreativ Blogger Award to these wonderful bloggers:
Leona & Lis from pigged-out
Anita from Leave Room for Dessert
Betty the Hungry Girl
Jackie from Pham Fatale
Rilsta from My Food Trail
Chris & Time from the way it crumbles
Babs from Love2Bake
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  1. Have I been missing out? I have never heard of this cake before! Ummm honeycomb...

  2. Fab! I missed honeycomb cake recently, and made it. Unlike your friends however, the people I gave it to, did not quite like it as much. I think the texture was a bit too weird for them.

  3. PS: I haven't been known to eat scones for dinner, but I did do one year of Biomedical Engineering, and didn't know what it was either! :D

  4. wow! those tunnels in the cake! sounds like this cake is quite sweet?

  5. Karen - Oh you have to try it sometime!

    Y - Ooh I would have loved to see how yours looked! The texture is a bit different, I warned everyone who tried it that it was a bit funky haha. Hey that's awesome, what a coincidence! haha seems no one knows what it is!

    panda - Actually it's not that sweet, just the right amount of sweetness. I usually avoid caramel and honeycomb cakes because I find them sickly sweet but this is more dark and treacle-like. Plus my Mum also reduced the sugar from the original recipe :)

  6. This looks so interesting. Like a rich, sticky pudding full of treacle! I would love to try it. I am intrigued!

  7. The texture of the cake is so different! It actually does look a bit like honeycomb! I think the springy texture is an acquired taste but it was good that your friends liked it!

    P.S. Thanks for the lovely award! :) I suck at these tell me about yourself questions because I am quite uninteresting but I will give it a go!

  8. oh yum. you had me at condensed milk. lol. i love the tunnel effect. i'm a pull-apart kind of eater so i will definitely have to give this recipe a go!

  9. Julia - Thank you! It did remind me of treacle too! Ooh let me know if you try it out, the texture can be quite odd to some!

    Rilsta - You're so welcome! Hehe I'm sure it will be interesting :)

    Helen - Hehe the wonders of condensed milk are endless! I'm a pull apart eater too, I totally know what you're talking about there!

  10. I have been waiting for this post since you announced it on twitter. What a lovely masterpiece..... you got me wanting to make it too! Your mum's recipe is very very good! Can I borrow? ;-)

  11. This is the first time I hear about that cake and it looks delicious!

  12. Thanks so much Steph for the award!!! That's lovely. I will try and get around to passing it on in the next few days hopefully. I've been loving your blog and think this honeycomb cake looks very interesting.

  13. Yay! I've finally gotten round to checking out the honeycomb cake! Wow - I love the tunnels! Looks awesome! And thanks again for passing the award onto me :) Your pet cockateil sounds like a winner!

  14. Ellie - Hehe I hope it lived up to expectations! Of course you can borrow!! I'd love to know how yours turns out :D

    Karine - Thanks! You can normally only find it in Indonesia and Malaysia :)

    Anita - You're so welcome! :D

    Betty - Hehe yay! They tunnels are my fav thing about it :) He is a bit of a winner, but really annoying when he doesn't shut up!

  15. Interesting! This dessert looks quite like a white coloured Chinese dessert called "white sugar cake" (bak tong gou). I'm not sure of its origins, whether it's Chinese or Malaysian. It has the same tunnel effects. I think you can buy them at most Chinese groceries, at the counter, delivered fresh by small-time bakers.

    Oh and congrats on your award!!

  16. Ooh I had a look at that cake and it looks very similar! I will have to try it sometime. Hehe thank you :)

  17. Hi, I have to cook a Malaysian dessert for a group of 10 arriving from Malaysia and thought this might be appropriate. Do you serve it with cream and fresh fruit or can you recommend another dessert? This seems easy as the ingredients are in my cupboard and I don't have access to Malaysian products/ fruit here in Australia.
    Thank you,

  18. Hi Angela, to be honest I'm not sure what you would serve along with this cake, I've always eaten it on its own. You should be able to find malaysian products (like coconut cream, pandan leaves, palm sugar, condensed milk, tapioca) in asian supermarkets in Australia such as Miracle if u need inspiration. Another fav of mine which you can definitely make is pisang goreng (fried banana), but it's super naughty!

  19. hey steph - i'm going to give it a go! what temp do you bake it for & do you preheat the oven?

  20. Argh so sorry I can't believe I forgot to mention the oven temp. Updated the recipe, yep u need to preheat to 180 degrees though it might be higher or lower depending on your oven, good luck!

  21. love ur recipe+photos! nice one. i love this particular cake too. :)

  22. love this cake too! i like how you put pics on the stpes to bake it

  23. Thanks very much! It's a definite favourite of mine :)

  24. Hi Steph

    I tried them making it last night and the honeycomb cake turned out gorgeous although initially I hadnt any confidence of getting good results with the batter having a layer of curd like watery texture. Any advice on this for further improvement? Thanks anyway, everyone at our year end party enjoyed the Malaysian cake. Greetings from Donna, Wellington

    1. Hi Donna,

      The only suggestion that comes to mind is to add the flour to the batter more gradually, say a third at a time, mixing until just combined after each addition. Hope that helps!


  25. I am falling so inlove with your blog! I cant wait to try some of your recipes! Quick question: Is bicarb soda baking soda? Just wanted to know!!! Thank you for contributing your lovely recipes!

  26. Made this today and it was good! I do have one question though. My sugar syrup and the mixture seemed to be immiscible, leading to the sugar sinking to the bottom of the mixture so that when its baked, the bottom part was springy and dark but the top was spongier and lighter in colour. Do you have any ideas how this can be improved?


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