Malaysian Honeycomb Cake (馬拉糕) aka Kuih Sarang Semut

I’ve been on an Asian dessert/snack kick recently. I love Western cakes, crumbles and bars but off late, I’ve been wanting a bit of a challenge. Crumbly cakes have their place but I have never mastered my own home cuisine! Savoury probably but definitely not the desserts and kuihs. So in the past few weeks, I’ve been trying out a couple recipes, all to good reviews. 🙂

Just in case you didn’t get the jargon, kuih is a Malay word used to denote cake-like snacks. They are neither crumbly or floury like regular Western types. Kuihs are generally steamed, made with rice flour or a mix of other flours and are stickier. These snacks have a chewy mouth-feel, very fragrant and best eaten with a steaming cuppa kopi-o (black coffee) or teh-o (black tea).

Hence, be it known that the next 2-3 recipes will be truly Malaysian ones. 😉

Today’s recipe is one that I’ve never thought of attempting, much less posting! I was lazily browsing online for simple Asian dessert recipes, specifically for sago kuihs (coming to your face soon!) but then came across this one… something that I thought only night markets sold with no home of being made at home (read: puff pastry, love letters crisps etc..).

Hah! When I realized how easy the recipe was, I wanted to make it now, NOW, N.O.W! And I did. With barely a handful ingredients, this is easily one of the simplest cakes/kuihs around. Now as I said, this kuih does not have crumbs. It’s caramelly, chewy and impossibly fragrant. What more, it is best known as Ma Lai Gou (Malay Cake) OR Kuih Sarang Semut which literally translates to Ant Hill Cake due to it’s honeycomb-like pores. You’ll see.

Most recipes called for white sugar but I wanted a deeper caramel flavour and colour so I started with some brown sugar in a dry pan.
Malaysian Honeycomb Cake (Malaigou) 1

In barely a few moments, the dry sugar granules began to melt around the edges. I know professionals say never to stir caramel but since we’ll be using water to melt down all the crystals anyway, I gave this a stir every now and again as sugar burns very easily and quickly!
Malaysian Honeycomb Cake (Malaigou) 2

Pour in the water when the sugar has caramelized. Here’s why I asked for a deep sauce pan in the recipe. Water hitting ultra hot molten sugar = volcanic eruption. I wore a kitchen mitt to protect the hand that was pouring in the water. It would splatter and spit a little but only for barely 10 seconds. So just be careful!
Malaysian Honeycomb Cake (Malaigou) 3

Wet ingredients consist of whisking eggs into condensed milk. I used leftover dulce de leche. You can too. Or stick with condensed milk. As you please.
Malaysian Honeycomb Cake (Malaigou) 4

I usually don’t sift flour when baking but because this cake is light and requires the extra air, it had to be done.
Malaysian Honeycomb Cake (Malaigou) 5

Watch the colour change from creamy golden…
Malaysian Honeycomb Cake (Malaigou) 6

… to coffee brown…
Malaysian Honeycomb Cake (Malaigou) 7

… then to dark brown!
Malaysian Honeycomb Cake (Malaigou) 8

This cake or kuih is tender, chewy and robust. (natural lighting is great huh… :-))
Malaysian Honeycomb Cake (Malaigou) 9

Not at all sweet but deeply smoky and caramelized.
Malaysian Honeycomb Cake (Malaigou) 10

Most importantly, the little tunnels that are so characteristic of Ma Lai Gou makes this one of the most naturally pretty snacks to have with a simple cup of tea.
Malaysian Honeycomb Cake (Malaigou) 11

Try this out and let me know if you like it!
What’s your favourite local snack?





“Give unto the LORD the glory due unto His name: bring an offering, and come before Him: worship the LORD in the beauty of holiness.” (1 Chronicles 16:29)

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** Malaysian recipes tend to be in metric system.

Malaysian Honeycomb Cake (馬拉糕) aka Kuih Sarang Semut
Prep time
Cook time
Total time
Recipe type: Dessert
Cuisine: Malaysian
Serves: 8
  • 200g Brown Sugar
  • 250ml Water
  • 80g Butter
  • 6 Eggs
  • 160g Condensed Milk
  • 180g Flour
  • 2½ tsp Baking Soda
  1. Warm up brown sugar in a dry deep saucepan on low heat. Caramelize the sugar until it turns a dark golden brown liquid. Keep a very close eye as brown sugar burns very easily.
  2. Very carefully pour the water into the caramel. It will spatter & seize up for the first minute or so. It will return to a liquid syrup very soon after.
  3. Remove from heat & add the butter. Set aside to cool completely.
  4. Preheat the oven to 350F or 170C USING BOTTOM ELEMENT ONLY.
  5. Grease a 9-inch round cake pan. Set aside.
  6. Whisk eggs & condensed milk in a large bowl.
  7. Sift flour & baking soda together. Add to the egg/milk mixture & mix well.
  8. Pour caramel sauce into the batter & stir well.
  9. Spread batter into prepared pan. Let sit for 5 minutes for the bubbles to begin developing.
  10. Bake for 45 mins to 1 hour or until a skewer inserted comes out clean.
  11. When the cake is cool completely in the pan, turn out onto a plate.
  12. Serve sliced on it's own and enjoy the natural honeycomb design!

Recipe adapted from: Jules Food



  1. So cool that you are sharing a Malaysian cake recipe with us. Looks tasty and easy! In dim sum restaurant, there is one dim sum called “馬拉糕”. Are they the same? I saw that you used brown sugar. Maybe that is the difference?

    • Hey Lokness, there seems to be 2 versions of this same cake. I believe this version is more towards the Malay style. The lighter, cakier one uses caramelised white sugar and seems to be more crumbly. So I’m gonna guess my version is the Malay style whereas the dimsum types are more HK or Chinese. I stand corrected though 🙂


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