I received the above cookbook from the family of a boy I tutored. It was one of those "We receive too much junk and need to get rid of some of it" gifts. Regardless, I was ecstatic and have been meaning to cook something from Mr Adam Liaw since that fateful day (probably back in September/October) but hadn't gotten around to it.
I had been eyeballing the iced coffee pudding with tea-smoked chocolate and five-spice tenkasu (pp. 212-3) for a while. Needless to say, the lengthy name - with all its unfamiliar ingredients - basically spelt out that the recipe may be difficult to source ingredients for, let alone cook.
So instead, I set my heart on cooking the above Ants' nest cake (apparently it's known as "honeycomb cake" in England).
The cake looked beautiful on the pages of Liaw's Two Asian Kitchens, as well as relatively cheap to make given its short list of ingredients (many of which are pantry staples).
Ants' Nest Cake
from Adam Liaw's Two Asian Kitchens, pp. 126-7
220g caster sugar
85g unsalted butter, softened
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
4 eggs, at room temperature
125ml condensed milk
150g plain flour
1/2 tsp bicarbonate soda
As I mentioned, the ingredient list is rather short, making cooking the cake very tempting considering that the shorter the ingredient list usually means the cheaper the end product. Of couse, I took a couple of shortcuts (I am working on a strict budget given I am both a student and live out of home) and replaced the butter and vanilla extract with Coles brand canola spread and imitation vanilla respectively.
The recipe, like the ingredients, is simple and, as it turns out, extremely easy to follow:
1. Put the sugar into a medium saucepan and heat gently, swirling the pan occasionally, until melted to a dark caramel. Reduce the heat to low and add 250ml water (it will spit, so stand back). The caramel will solidify but continue to stir over low heat until no lumps remain and you have a thin liquid caramel. Set aside to cool to room temperature, stirring occasionally.
2. Preheat the oven to 170 degrees Celsius. Grease an 18cm round cake tin and line the base with baking paper. Cream the butter and vanilla extract in a large bowl until the butter becomes slightly pale.
3. In a separate bowl, whisk the eggs until well combined. Add the eggs, condensed milk and caramel to the creamed butter and whisk to combine. Sift together the flour and bicarbonate of soda and use the whisk to gently stir into the butter mixture. Don't worry that the butter doesn't mix in evenly - this is how it should be.
4. Pour the cake batter into the tin and leave for a minute or two.
Bake for 50 minute or until the cake is springy to a gentle touch in the centre. Leave to cool in the tin, then run a knife around the edge before turning out.
This cake is plain beautiful. I've cooked it twice in the last week and really, there's little room for error making it the perfect cake for beginners or those, like me, who just fell back in love with baking after a long hiatus.
The cake itself is quite dense, almost like a pudding in terms of texture - deliciously soft and moist. I could imagine it would go down excellently with a butterscotch or caramel sauce. Mind you, this Ants' nest cake is extremely rich by itself, with a very strong caramel flavour. So, if you don't have an insatiable sweet tooth like me, maybe just pair it with ice cream.
And as well as tasting good, Liaw's cake looks great. The lines of caramel that make their way throughout the cake is where the name comes from. The cracked top and crisp golden flavour are likewise lovely characteristics of what is a near flawless cake.