Thursday, October 01, 2009

Caramel Honeycomb Cake/Kuih Sarang Semut

The name for this cake in Malay, Kuih Sarang Semut, is more appropriate as translated, is Ant's Nest Cake cos i don't see any honeycomb in the cake except for tunnels and holes. Trying to achieve the so called 'honeycomb' is not easy as i thought although most of the recipes say that this is an easy recipe. This is my third attempts and i managed to get some tunnels and holes after blaming on the baking soda being old for the first attempt and for the second attempt, i blamed on whatever i could think of, although i bought new baking soda which will only expire in 2012.
I am glad i failed, as it is time to learn about Baking soda as this is the only chemical leavener used in this cake. Baking soda(sodium bicarbonate) when used alone, breaks down when heated to form carbon dioxide gas, however, if baking soda is combined with an acid, carbon dioxide gas is produced much faster and only a small amount of a milder-tasting salt is left behind. Baking soda does not create new bubbles in a batter, the carbon dioxide that they release only enlarges bubbles that already exist in the batter. This means that bubbles created during mixing are a vital part of leavening. The other factor that will inflate bubbles is steam from liquids, including eggs and this too will not create a single new bubble.
The bubble-holding capacity of solid fats like shortening/Crisco, is a another vital part of leavening and Crisco has an advantage over other solid fats in that it already contains millions of fine bubbles to aid in leavening.
If leavener is unevenly distributed in the batter, the cake will have boles here and there, along with areas that are tightly compressed - this is exactly what this cake wants - uneven distribution of baking soda and that is why it is left to the last stage of mixing.
The cake is baked in a cold oven so as to allow the cake batter to warm up and allow the baking soda to produce gases vigorously to enlarge bubbles and create a good rise to the cake before higher heat starts setting(crusting) the top of the cake and holding it down.
With this knowledge, i think it is time for the third attempt to this cake. What i need to do is the opposite of how a cake - cake should be made. This cake should be chewy and have tunnels and holes - large ones, and i would have to create bubbles in the batter. The only way is - to beat the caramel into the flour until bubbles are visible. Whisking eggs and condensed milk will create a lot of bubbles too. I guessed i figured it right, now it is an easy recipe - the cake was chewy and had tunnels and holes.
Recipe source : Sunflower's Food Galore


1 1/3 cup/8 1/2 ozs/250 gm fine granulated sugar
250 ml of water
4 ozs/1 stick/113 gm Crisco - butter flavor
2 cups/8.8 ozs/250 gm all-purpose flour(for cup - spooned and level)
1/2 cup/4 fl oz/160g condensed milk
6 large eggs
1-1/2 tsp baking soda
Grease a 9" round cake pan, then line the bottom and sides with greased parchment paper. Make the sides higher than the cake pan.

In a small saucepan, add in sugar and heat at medium heat till the sugar begins to melt. As soon as the melted sugar has turned golden yellow, turn the heat to right low or remove from the heat if using an electric stove. Continue heating till the sugar turns golden brown and turn the heat off. Allow the caramel cool for 30 seconds. then add one tbsp of water at a time, the hot sugar will spit and splatter. Continue adding water one tbsp at a time till it stops sizzling, then pour in the rest of water. Turn the heat on, stir and scrape the side to release any un-melted sugar. Remove from heat and turn heat off . Add in the Crisco and stir till melted. Allow to cool.

Put flour in a large mixing bowl and pour in about 1/2 the caramel, beat with a electric beater till smooth, continue adding the rest of the caramel. Beat on medium speed until bubbles are visible, then let the mixture stand for about 10 - 15 minutes.

In another large bowl, whisk eggs and condensed milk until foamy with a lot of bubbles.
Beat the egg mixture into the caramel flour batter , lastly sieve in the baking soda and mix till well combined.

Pour into the the prepared cake pan. Leave it to stand in the cold oven for about 30 - 40 minutes.

Turn the oven to 300f and bake the cake from cold for 1 hour or till it is cooked. Check for doneness - cake is done when a skewer comes out clean and the center feels firm to the touch.



shaz said...

Wow! Thanks for those tips Lily. I've got a recipe of my Mom's for "honeycomb" cake that I've been meaning to try - good to know about the baking soda.

Your cake looks very good - really like sarang semut :)

Ube said...

I like your baking kind of spirit - never give up on failures but instead find solutions and remedies which involved a lot of work including research and actual running test in the kitchen. To me you are the Florence Nightingale of Baking! The closest honeycomb cake I recall I had is the one they sell in Chinatown which they call steamed rice cake. It is kind of off white in color. Thanks a lot for sharing your successful recipe to us.

Nathan said...

I'm interested in making this do you use single acting baking powder or double acting baking powder? When I make the Veitnamese Honeycomb Cake (Bahn Bo, you know the coconut and pandan flavored one that uses tapioca flour)I have to use single acting baking powder "Alsa" brand does this one use it to? and is the temp. really 300 degrees fahrenheit? that seems really low?

Pauline ~旆祤~ said...

Hi lilyng,

I was using this receipe to make my kek sarang semut:-
On my 3rd attempt, i finally successful... the secret is:
1) Add the "HOT HOT" sugar syrup to the flour batter. you then see the bubbles...
2) Leave on room temperature for at least 30 min to create the hole.
3) Set your oven temperature - use the "LOWER" heat only.
my conclusions:
I bake my cake using 180 degree for 1hr.. a bit "black" . so suggest to use 170 degree...


Sunflower said...

Guess this is from my recipe. Thank you for trying.

Just one comment do not whisk air into the egg or the cake mixture, this will create a lighter colour sponge like texture on top. Let the baking soda do all the work to create the tunnelling texture. That is the reason why I left the mixture stand for 15min to settle any bubbles created during mixing.

To the other reader, do not use baking powder for this recipe, only baking soda or bicarb.

lilyng said...


Thanks for sharing the recipe and the tip about beating the eggs. Will try not beating the eggs the next time around.

Sorry, i was too engrossed converting the ingredients that i forgot to mention the source. Sorry.

sue said...

Hi Lily, Thanks so much for sharing this wonderful recipe and tips...I have always wanted to try baking this cake, but do not have the right recipe, i can try your recipe, if my health permits...but unfortunately I can't take and don't like condensed there any substitute for it?..You are a very kind lady, always sharing your recipes after you have tried and perfected it....Since my health have deteriorated, i have stopped blogging, but I never stop visiting other blogger's page, and I love yours the best...thank you very much...

lilyng said...


do not thank me, the recipe is from sunflower's food galore, she is the one that all of us should thank for sharing.

the condensed milk is there for flavor and sweetness and if you can have milk, perhaps 2 tbsp of sugar will do.

Anonymous said...

Hi Lily,

I am looking forward to trying this recipe. I would also like to try two other cake recipes which you shared, which calls for ovalette. I have never used this and have not been able to find it at any of the supermarkets close to my home. What does ovalette or the packaging look like? Thanks for sharing.

Best Regards,

Lady in Red

Rina Adnan-Demade said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Lyndsey said...

I am so impressed, this cake looks wonderful, and I commend you on your effort! I would love to try this and love all the input. I am a good cook, but not such a baker. I love to learn.

lilyng said...


you are absolutely right - it is kuih gula hangus

annie said...

Hi Lily, When I saw the photo of your kuih gula hangus, I know I just have to make one, I miss it so very much and all those kuih from Bengawan Solo (chain-store selling kuih in Singapore/Malaysia)! Unfortuantely, here in Istanbul condensed milk is not an item u can find easily. Fortunately for me, you have advised Sue to subsitute it with milk+sugar. I'll experiment with it and feedback. Thanks for sharing all the wonderful recipes! Keep up the good work.


Libby Murphy said...

Interesting and now I'm tempted to try my luck. The name of your cake is such a conversation starter.
Happy Twirls

Doreen said...

Hi Lily,

From reading the recipe, it looks like I'll be using only half of the caramel?

Doreen said...

Hi Lily,

Never mind about my previous comment....I just read it again.

Anna @ Bakeryna said...

Thanks for the recipe Lily! Even my mom won't reveal her recipe for this cake (yet)... She'll just bake one for us whenever I asked

Anonymous said...

Hi Lily, cold we use butter instead of CRISCO for this recipe?

Alice snailly said...

Hi Lili, may i know which brand of cake mixer you are using currently?

lilyng said...


i am having a kitchenaid heavy duty

Richard Loh Y S said...

I love this menu since I hv tried my own but the tunnels & holes couldn't really seen it. Well thanks ur sharing.

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