Steamed Honeycomb Cake – Whip It UP!

Steamed Honeycomb Cake 

By May MK Ng

Honeycomb cake is unlike any other cake in that the crumb is light, airy and bouncy and has tunnels. It gets its name from its honeycomb-like texture, the result of a chemical reaction when an alkaline rising agent like baking soda reacts with an acidic compound like salt (present in baking powder) when liquid ingredients like egg and water are added. Small bubbles of carbon dioxide gas trapped in the batter inflates the cake, creating tunnels that resembles an ant’s nest. Interestingly, this cake is also called – kek sarang semut – which literally means ant’s nest in Malay.

Total Time: 1 hour

Difficulty: 2/5

Cost: S$3.00

Serves: 6 persons

A: Cake Batter

130g granulated white sugar
120ml water
45g butter, unsalted
80g condensed milk
70g plain flour
½ teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon baking soda
3 eggs, lightly beaten

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  1. In a small mixing bowl, sift dry ingredients (flour, baking powder and baking soda) together. Set it aside.

2. Place sugar in a small saucepan over medium heat to caramelise. Keep a watchful eye on it. When sugar begins to caramelise, it will take on golden hues.

Pour in water slowly and gently, taking care as it will bubble up vigorously. Using a spatula, stir mixture.

3. Once sugar has turned into a syrup, remove saucepan from heat.

4. While it is still hot, add in butter and allow it to melt.

Next, pour in condensed milk, followed by sifted ingredients. Using a spatula, stir until the mixture becomes smooth.

5. Pour in beaten eggs. Using a whisk, mix until it is well incorporated. Pour batter into a greased round pan, measuring 18cm in diameter.

6. Let it stand for 5-10 minutes to allow bubbles to form.

7. Meanwhile, put steaming rack in a wok or steamer. Fill it with water until it reaches rack level. Ensure that the base of the pan does not touch water while it is steaming. Allow water to come to a rolling boil.

8. Place cake pan into wok or steamer. Steam on high heat for approximately 25-30 minutes. It is cooked when cake is springy to the touch. To test it, insert a cake skewer or satay stick into the heart of the cake. When it comes out clean, it is cooked.

9. Let cake cool down for 30 minutes before slicing.

TIP: Wrap pot cover with a clean dry dish towel. This prevents condensation that forms under the cover throughout the steaming process from dripping onto the cake.

TECHNIQUE: Resting the cake before cooking is a critical step. When rising agents such as baking powder and baking soda are combined, carbon dioxide is released and bubbles start to form, creating the honeycomb effect that is characteristic of this cake.

Photos: May MK Ng, Evonne Lyn Lee

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