My Childhood Cake–Bee Hive Cake/Malaysian Honey Comb Cake or Kueh Sarang Semut (蜂巢蛋糕)


Please take note that there is an updated recipe of using golden syrup instead of caramelizing the sugar. So Recipe 1 is the traditional method of caramelizing the sugar and Recipe 2 towards the end of the post is using golden syrup. You can choose either one of the recipes.


I have repeatedly said this many times, in the 1970’s and 1980’s, all traditional cakes and cookies recipes  in this region are rather simple, using simple ingredients, simple cooking method  and baking equipment.


This is a childhood cake. I remember very clearly that my I first tasted the cake 35 years ago prepared by my eldest sister in law. Then, she just “befriended” with my eldest brother. We did not have any oven, no mixer or even measuring cups. What she did was using the simplest mixed and steamed method to prepare the cake. I can only recalled it as a moist, dark colour, spongy cake. 


The cake is called honey comb cake or bee hive cake or kek sarang semut (literally translated as ant’s nest in Malay Language). Some may misunderstood the cake as Bingka Ambun, another Indonesian cake that have a bee hive cake structure. However, they are different. In fact, I have suspected another Chinese cake, white sugar steamed cake (白糖糕)is also related. I honestly believed that these 3 cakes are interrelated, at least from the aspect of food histories. All the 3 cakes have  some common cake characteristics, an “airy” bee hive like structure and spongy cake texture.


A brief analysis on the differences is provided as follows:

Kek Sarang Semut/ Bee Hive Cake Bingka Ambun White Sugar Steamed Cake
Caramelization of sugar Yes No No
Flour used Wheat Flour Tapioca Flour Rice Flour
Leavener Baking Soda Yeast Yeast
Fats Butter Butter None
Eggs Yes Yes No
Method Baked/steamed Baked/grilled Steamed
Colour of cake Dark brownish Light Yellowish/Green


I like the cake, so is my wife who is also from Sarawak. She told me that she craved for the cake a while ago and we cannot buy it from Singapore bakeries as it is definitely not a common cake. Months ago, I have tried one recipe from the internet but failed terribly. Since then, I have not tried any other recipes until the New Year Eve 2013. On that day, I invited my brother’s family to have dinner with us. After the dinner,  my sister in law and I talked about the bee hive cake that she prepared about 35 years ago. Based on her memories and what she had described, we managed to come out this bee hive cake. All are using simple measurements such as 1 can of condensed milk, 2 cups flour, 2 cups sugar, 2 cups water, 8 eggs , 1 teaspoon of baking soda etc. I am very happy to have successfully bake this cake even though it is slightly burnt on the top as she can’t really recall the correct temperature (note that at her time, she is using the simplest movable oven or steaming).





Servings: an 8” x 8” cake


  • 180 grams of butter at room temperature
  • 1 can of condensed milk or sweeten beverage creamer (380 grams)
  • 2 cups of self raising flours
  • 2 cups of water
  • 2 cups of castor sugar (note: if you are using golden syrup, please refer to recipe 2 at end of the post)
  • 1.5 teaspoons of baking soda
  • 8 eggs



  • Lightly grease a baking tin and pre-heat the oven to 160 degree Celsius.


  • In a sauce pan, heat the sugar under medium to low heat. Continue stirring until all the sugars have melted. You have to be patience. If you use high heat, the sugar will be burnt and you have to throw away as it will be very bitter. It will take about 10 minutes but that very much depends on your heat. As long as the syrup have turn light brown, you can off the heat.


  • Add 2 cups of water to the melted sugar CAREFULLY. As this is hot melted sugar, it may splash out.  Let the syrup cool at room temperature. If you can’t wait, put the syrup in a pool of cold water to release the heat.

  • In a mixing bowl, cream the butter slightly. Add in 1 can of condensed milk, beat until well combined. Add in one egg at a time and beat using slow speed until well combined. Repeat the same until all the 8 eggs are added.


  • Sift in the flour, use slow speed to stir until well mixed. Add in the COOLED syrup and baking soda to the batter, stir until well combined.


  • Transfer to the baking tin and bake in the pre-heated oven at 160 degree Celsius for 45-60 minutes or until a skewer inserted comes out clean. Let it cool completely before cutting into desired sizes.




This is another traditional verbal recipe that turned out to be a success. I have been looking for this recipe for a long time but none is as easy as what my sister in law had shared with me. I appreciated traditional verbal recipe and I must document down and keep it as a record before every body forget about it again. Sponginess, soft, moist, buttery with mild caramel aromas are the characteristics of this simple cake. Trust me, it is not as sweet as you think it should be. The sweetness is just nice for an average sweet tooth.

Hope you like the post today. Cheers and have a nice day.




Subsequent to my issuance of this report, a number of readers are trying out the cake. Some of them are getting the beautiful patterns and some of them only get minimal holes and one reader is complaining about the bitter taste of the cakes that she prepared every time. The bitter taste is most likely due to the burnt syrup in the cake. Note that in the above method, as long as the syrup is lightly brownish, you have to off heat immediately, otherwise it will be burnt and become very bitter.

Because of this, I have decided to bake another cake on 12 January 2013. by using ready made golden syrup instead of caramelizing the sugar our self. In fact, I have to admit for the preparation of this cake, I hate the syrup preparation process as it is quite time consuming and it will splash if not careful. With the use of golden syrup, the procedures,  the water amount and other measurements have to be amended accordingly.


  • 180 grams of butter (melted)
  • 1 can of condensed milk or sweeten beverage creamer (380 grams) – not in picture
  • 2 cups of self raising flours
  • 400 grams of water (about 2 cups minus 4 tablespoons of water)
  • 1.5 cups of golden syrup
  • 1.5 teaspoons of baking soda
  • 8 eggs

golden syrup 2

  • Mix the golden syrups with the water. Stir until dissolved. Add in condensed milk, melted butter and eggs, stir until well mixed. You can add in stages. Sift in the flour and baking soda, stir until well mix. Transfer to the baking tin and bake in the pre-heated oven at 160 degree Celsius for 45-60 minutes or until a skewer inserted comes out clean. Let it cool completely before cutting into desired sizes.





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