Monday, April 21, 2008

Bingka Sarang Semut/Honeycomb Cake

Bingka sarang semut/honeycomb cake

Bingka sarang semut (Ants' Nest) is an Indonesian-Malaysian cake. 'Honeycomb cake' is a more befitting description of the appearance of this cake. Do not confuse it with the Jewish honey cake, which has honey and doesn't look like honeycomb, while this cake looks like honeycomb but has no honey.

This is the hardest cake to perfect for me. I must have attempted this cake at least 10 times through the years, quitting for long periods each time the cake is a failure. I have about 6 honeycomb cakes recipes from friends, who all warned me, "This is a difficult cake. Good luck." And they were right. I never got any combs. I got many air bubbles instead. In my frustration, I turned to the net and followed a You-Tube video recipe. It totally didn't turn out any honeycomb, and I was upset that people can post recipes that don't work. Still not giving up, I found a Chinese cake called bak tong go on a reputable food blog, and the cake had lots of comb but it wasn't the same thing as the baked honeycomb cake. I asked Nee, who obligingly made a beautiful honeycomb cake and posted it on her blog but her complicated steaming method and equipment discouraged me, plus I still wanted a baked honeycomb cake recipe. I then made Elaine's honeycomb cake, but although it tasted very good, it too didn't have honeycombs. In the last couple of months, many people whom I've asked gave me certain tips such as: you must let the cake sit undisturbed for 1 hour before baking; you must bang the cake tin a couple of times before putting it into the oven, you must cook it with heat from the lower element only, you must cover the cake with foil while baking...

Rather resignedly, I recently tried again using Elaine's first recipe because while it gave no comb, it tasted superb. This time I let the cake sit for an hour before baking. The result was better than all my previous tries, but still not there. Because it was a hit with my family (and me. Gosh, are my thighs happy!), I'm sharing this recipe with you. The texture was chewy but not hard, and the flavor caramelly and buttery. I think I am getting closer to perfecting it, and next time I bake it, I will use some yeast like for the steamed honeycomb cakes which gives more comb, bake it using the lower element, and cover it with foil. In the meantime, I am sharing this recipe because it really is very good. Elaine was given another recipe recently ("Hyatt's own honeycomb cake recipe, true!") and although it uses the exact same ingredients, but in different proportions, the cake (not very comby, like my cake) was harder and didn't taste as good. I've compared the recipes, and taste notwithstanding, I'd still use her 1st recipe because it uses less butter and eggs.

Here's my call to you out there. Do any of you have a honeycomb cake recipe that tastes heavenly and look like honeycomb?? Denise? Mandy? Rei? Hungry Hamster? Bee? Nee? BBO? Anyone?


Honeycomb cake
2 cups plain flour
4 t bicarbonate of soda
1 1/2 cups sugar (I've reduced from 2 cups)
2 cups water
8 eggs
100 to 120 g butter
1 tin (380 ml) condensed milk

1. Sift the flour with the bicarb. Switch oven on to 170 C. Line a 22.5 cm/9 inch square pan with baking paper.

2. Put sugar into a small pot and melt the sugar under low fire until golden-honey brown (you can caramelize it further but the cake will have a slight bitter taste) without stirring. Add the water carefully because it will sputter. Let sugar water (very watery, not syrupy) cool.

3. Cream butter and eggs, blend in the condensed milk and flour. Add the sugar water into the batter and stir well to mix. Cover and let stand at room temperature 1 hour.

4. Bake 1 hour 30 minutes. Maybe you can try baking the cake on the lower rack of the oven instead of the usual middle rack--tell me your result. Test with a wooden skewer which should come clean if cake is done. If not, give it another 10 minutes or more. Some ovens are hotter, some cooler so you just have to know your oven.


Hazza said...

I have not heard of this cake before. Is this something that can be bought easily. Would like to try it.

jeff said...

reminds me of childhood memories hehe

Moodie Foodie said...

oh yummm...those cakes are divine. i forgot where & when was the last time i had them. reminds me a bit like a sticky-date pudding though. i wonder if i can find this in shops around melbourne....then maybe i can try to manipulate the chef to gimme the recipe...hehehe

i'm sorry terri but i really don't know ur daughter. haha...maybe u could try ask if she knows jessica, laura or chloe. my sisters & i have all gone to SI.

triShie said...

y'know, i never really liked the taste of any honeycomb cakes... or maybe i've yet to find one that wows my sleeping tastebuds...

but reading ur post, it has opened my eyes to how difficult this cake is. thanks to you, i now have a sense of respect for any honeycomb cakes...and especially the baker such as yourself!!

i think the next time i bite into one, i'll do a rain dance/indian dance watever... :D

ps: you can do it!! these look good already!!

JOjo said...

OH my~ IN my hometown there is an aunty who bakes awesome honeycomb cake *drool*
But she bakes to sell, not sure whether if she's willing to share her recipe.
Will ask her when i head home next time ok? Meanwhile, urs look pretty lovely =) im sure it tastes good too!

Anonymous said...

my fren's mum has a bakery shop in Brunei, & she has good honeycomb cake! I try get it from her?

Eveline said...

Hi Terri, U may want to try the cafeteria on the Ground floor of Wisma Anglican, which is behind All Saints Cathedral. Its not available everyday but when it is, it sells like hot cakes!! Its the best baked honeycomb cake I've to try your luck from 12noon onwards since its baked in the morning..

Precious Pea said...

I have tried this before once many many years ago. But the version i had was really light in like the shade of honey. Nice. Will try it out one weekend.

julie said...

hi aunt terry, its julie (hy's ex roomie)

this cake is very popular in indo. its called bika ambon and has a more yellow-ish colour and rich flavour (from coconut milk?)

i think in indo people bake the cake on the stove.. with sand (gravel? like the ones for roasting chestnuts). and the pan on top of the sand.. but im no expert.. ill ask around =)

Anonymous said...

Have to beat the butter and egg & condensed milk until very fluffy and increase in volume. Then fold in flour. I managed to get the honeycomb using this method. It's actually the beating that makes nice honeycomb.

Terri @ A Daily Obsession said...

hazza: no it seems to have died out. it's really between a cake n a kueh.

jeff: lucky u :)

moodie: yi told me last night tt she knows ur sis, n i know too bc she has pointed her out to me b4 cos ur sis looks very much like a friend's daughter. truly small world.

trishie: could it be bc it's more kueh than cake? i'm happy to get some tips so i'm going to try it again. hey, ur photos r very good, n i can just imagine what u can do with a dslr.

jojo: is ur hometown across the border? i would be very happy if u can do tt for me, so thanks in advance! n hope exams were a breeze :)

denise: yes yes yes! thanks!

eveline: as in eveline lim? if so, my apologies bc my hub keeps telling me we owe u n B for the fishing trip. my older boy is sitting for his A Levels in 3 weeks so all entertaining is on hold, but after tt i'd love to have u n fam over. ok, thanks for telling me, i'll go get some soon:)

preciousp: try making it n tell me how u like it. don't give pea too much though, bad for her teeth.

julie: hi dear! we wanted to meet up with u when we were in melb but u'd gone home. how r u??

yes i gather frm the net tt in Indonesia it's called bika ambon. frm what u tell me, Nee's honeycomb cake is the authentic Indonesian version. wow, so hard to make.

anony: i must try tt, one more time b4 i give up. if it really works, i'll give u a medal :) thanks!

gerrie said...


May I ask where you find condensed milk? I have been searching high and low, and I get this response all the time: "it's no longer available". I don't normally consume condensed milk nor it's supposed replacement, the "sweetened creamer", but I have a couple of recipes including this one that calls for the real thing. Would appreciate if you know where to get it...I might just stock up!

Terri @ A Daily Obsession said...

gerrie: i don't know where u live but here, condensed milk is everywhere, in supermarkets, grocers, corner shops...there's really no substitute...

gerrie said...

hi terri, thanks for replying. I live in Kuching. I only see Sweetened Creamers here.
I've called up F&N Dairies, only to be informed that "Sweetened Condensed Filled Milk" has been discontinued. Apparently it's a price controlled item, and it is no longer feasible to produce due to rising costs of milk. They're substituting it with "F&N Sweetened Vitaminised Milk". I have not tried this.

Terri @ A Daily Obsession said...

gerrie, sweetened creamers r d same as condensed milk. new name, same product. good luck u can also check out denise chicky egg's link on my blog--she has a no-fail honeycomb cake recipe but it haven't yet tried it.

delia said...

is this cake also called hongkong cake? if so, i've made a few failures also. my mom told me that when making this cake, the most important thing is the bicarbonate of soda has to be a new pack. cannot use the one already being opened. i din listen to her at first and failed a few time. then i tried again, this time using a new one. comes out ok. mom said this cake can either be steamed or baked.

Anonymous said...

Hi Terri

Try this link from Jo's Deli Bakery: I've made the cake successfully many times from her recipe and it tastes similar to my grandma's.

Carol Doll said...

they look so yum, i have never had that before but have been looking for this recipe online..
definely will try to make that
thankyou for sharing =)

elle said...

Jodeli has a honeycomb cake recipe

I successfully baked this kek gula hangus. Recipe from Coretan di bumi tokyo blog
You have to put put 2 Tablespoon bicarbonate of soda, blend and sieve the batter (free from lumps) and rest for 3 hours before baking to get the honeycomb texture.

dt said...


Anonymous said...

Hi i tried using this recipe but how come the honeycomb is only at the bottom and not the whole cake like the one in your picture. Please advice.

terri@adailyobsession said...

anon: my honeycomb wasn't fully sucessful too. for a steamed version tt has more combs, check out greg n nee on my links. i was also told there's a good recipe at jodeli. pls check above comments for the add.

Bellameru said...

I forget what recipe my mom uses, but we've picked up on a couple methods that definitely makes the combs.

What you should do after mixing in all the ingredients, is strain the mixture, 2 or 3 times. And then you can let it rest for about an hour. When baking it, rotate the pan half way to ensure even rising. At my temple, I have ladies that always bring in this cake, and this is the method that they have passed down to my family.

But I also have to thank you, because until now, I never had a name for this cake! I always called it the name I knew in Vietnamese (banh bo) and now I can call it honeycomb cake and my friends can understand (:

Vivian Pham said...

Omg i just bake this cake..come out perfect, alot of ho ey comb texture thanks for the recipe

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