Kuih Sarang Semut (Honeycomb Cake)

This is a Malay caramel cake very popular in Indonesia, Malaysia and Brunei. Commonly called honeycomb cake. In Malay it is called Kuih Sarang Semut translated as ant's nest cake. The cake is full of tunnels or holes and is quite chewy.

This cake is quite simple to make once you got the syrup sorted. The ingredients and baking method are quite different to a typical western cake. Burnt sugar syrup and condensed milk are the typical ingredients.

For the recipe: (make a 9" cake)

250g sugar
250 ml of water

100g butter
250g plain flour
160 - 180g condensed milk
6 large eggs (beaten)
1-1/2 tsp bicarb. or baking soda


  1. Tin size: 9" or 23- 24 cm round tin. If you use a spring form or loose bottom tin, line the whole tin with paper, see slide show. Don't just line the bottom the mixture will leak. If you use a cake tin without a loose bottom you can line just the bottom with paper.
  2. In a small saucepan, add in sugar and heat at medium heat till the sugar begin to melt. Stir once or twice with one single chopstick (don't use wooden spoon, too much area for the sugar to cool and crystallise), once the melted sugar has turned golden yellow, turn the heat to right low and continue heating till the sugar turns golden brown like dark tea, see slide show. Heat off and let it cool for 30 seconds. Then add one tbsp of water at a time, stand back the hot sugar will spit. Continue adding water one tbsp at a time till it stops sizzle, then pour in the rest of water. Turn heat on for about 1 minute, stir and scrape the side to release any unmelted sugar. Heat off and add the butter stir till melted.
  3. In a large mixing bowl add in the plain flour, pour in about 1/2 the liquid and mix with a electric beater till smooth, continue adding the liquid till all mix in. Let the mixture stand for about 10 - 15 minutes.
  4. Add in the egg, condensed milk and sieve in the bicarb, mix till all combined.
  5. Pour the mixture into the tin. Leave it to stand in the cold oven for about 30 - 40 minutes.
  6. Turn the oven to 150 deg C and bake the cake from cold for 1 hour or till it is cooked by sticking a cocktail stick in the centre and it comes out clean.


  1. I am so glad you have posted this, other instructions I have come across have been a bit hazy. I have been very intrigued by this.

    I notice in a lot of recipes 'Ovalette' is called for, I assume its like flour improver - any idea if that is the case?

  2. Hi Pinky,

    There are lots of recipes for this cake on the website, not found any I think is good enough to show the characteristic of this cake. Most of the ones I've seen used far too much bicarb which give a nasty aftertaste.

    Ovalette is a cake emulsifier, a very sticky orangy paste, only available in the far east like S'pore, Malaysian or Brunei. Ovalette should never be used for this honeycomb cake.

  3. Hi Sunflower,

    The amount of bicarb had put me off before so I shall try this one. I love the look of it and I love chewy cake (when its meant to be!)

    Re the Ovalette, I should have said that I had seen it in recipes for Lapis. I assume that the original recipe stems from Tree cakes so perhaps its not really necessary. As its such a lengthy process and involves about 2 doz eggs I would like some reassurance that it would be worth it. Perhaps when I have a spare day I shall have a crack at it.

    I've just finished my all-night Thursday bake so I'm off to bed. Thanks for all your help

    Take care

  4. Hope you like the honeycomb cake.

    Ovalette should only be used for super soft sponges only. Ovalette will bind cake mixture and whip up like mousse. There is no benefit to use it for honeycomb or kuih lapis.

    I may be making kuih lapis this week or next. My recipe use 15 egg yolks.

  5. Hi,

    Do you have a recipe for Ma-Lai Goh? The chinese steamed spomge you can get when Yum-Cha?
    My mum likes it and where I used to work, there was a lovely chinese lady (customer) who would bring one in for me. She said it was simple but I never managaed to master the recipe!

  6. You mean the light brown HK yum cha style?
    There are people confused this with the light yellow fluffy type called 'tan goh'

    I will make one and post later.

  7. Hi SUnflower,

    Thanks for the recipe and the detailed method. I've linked to this recipe from my blog, hope you don't mind :)


  8. Leave the syrup mixture with the butter and sugar to cool (lukewarm is fine) before stirring in the flour.

  9. Hi SC

    I've deleted your comment by mistake. Here is your question and answer on the comment before this.

    Hi Sunflower,

    Does the syrup need to be cool down or I have to use the hot syrup? Thanks.

  10. hi....
    can i subtitute condensed milk with evaporated milk ? if so, weight for weight? would it change the taste a lot??

    1. I have not done that before if you like to try you'll have to experiment.

  11. Thank you so much. This cake is excellent. It was my first time trying and I was worried that there will be trial & error, but surprisingly... it was perfect! It tasted so good, spongy and chewy with a hint of molasses (from the browned-sugar). I was worried when the browned-sugar tasted bitter, but when everything was incorporated and baked, it just turned out delicious. Top with vanilla ice-cream... it is to die for! =)


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