Ants’ nest cake

Ants’ nest cake

Green Pickled Peaches
Chris Chen

This recipe celebrates plain-ness. The traditional recipe from Malaysia and Indonesia turns out an unassuming brown cake. However, the technique employed in beating air bubbles into the batter and allowing the baking soda to do its work creates holes in the structure of the cake. So, the plain-looking cake actually has a very unusual texture. This is an aesthetic that characterises the way I like to work.

For the cake


Quantity Ingredient
250g sugar
100g unsalted butter
250g plain flour
6 large eggs
180g condensed milk
1 1/2 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda

For the honey-spiced figs

Quantity Ingredient
4 purple figs
300ml port
1 tablespoon honey
2cm cassia bark
1 star anise
1/2 vanilla bean, split, seeds scraped

For the cumin cream

Quantity Ingredient
1 tablespoon cumin seeds
4 egg yolks
100g sugar
250ml milk
250ml thick cream


  1. Make the cake:
  2. Put the sugar in a wide heavy-based saucepan over low heat. Heat until it melts and then caramelises to golden brown. Add 250 ml water a little at a time to dissolve the caramel (it will help if you turn up the heat, but avoid disturbing the sugar by stirring or it will crystallise and become useless). When you have a smooth, thin caramel syrup, add the butter to stabilise the mixture. Cool for 5 minutes.
  3. Sift together the flour and a pinch of salt. Gradually whisk the caramel into the flour with an electric mixer. Give the batter a good whisk for a couple of minutes after adding the caramel to create more structure in the cake. Let it rest for 10–15 minutes. Beat the eggs and condensed milk together until light, thick and foamy. Beat the egg mixture into the caramel batter with the baking soda.
  4. Line a 20 cm square cake tin with baking paper and butter the baking paper. Strain the cake batter into the tin. Leave in a cold oven for 30 minutes to allow the baking soda to start acting. Turn the oven to 150°C and bake the cake for 1 hour until a metal skewer inserted into the middle of the cake comes out clean and the cake is firm to the touch. Cool before turning out.
  5. Poach the figs:
  6. Prick the figs all over with a skewer so that they are better able to absorb flavours. Combine the port, honey, cassia, star anise and vanilla pod with its seeds in a saucepan with 100 ml water. Bring to simmering point. Add the figs and bring back to a simmer, then remove the pan from the heat. Leave the figs for 1 hour to steep; they should be soft but not mushy. Remove the figs from the syrup and reduce the syrup by half.
  7. Make the cumin cream:
  8. Preheat the oven to 160°C. Toast the cumin seeds in the oven for 10 minutes. Beat the egg yolks with half the sugar until pale and foamy. Transfer the cumin seeds to a saucepan and add the milk and remaining sugar. Bring to simmering point, then whisk the hot milk into the egg yolks. Pour the mixture back into the saucepan and return to low heat. Cook, stirring, until thickened enough to coat the back of a spoon. Strain into a bowl set over iced water. When cold, mix the cream through.
  9. Assemble the dish:
  10. Serve a thin slice of cake for each person. Slice each fig from top to bottom and arrange by the cake. Drizzle a few small spoonfuls of cumin cream beside the cake and fig.
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