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.






Skill level

Average: 3.6 (30 votes)


For the cake

  • 250 g sugar
  • 100 g unsalted butter
  • 250 g plain (all-purpose flour)
  • 6 large eggs
  • 180 g condensed milk
  • 1 ½ tsp bicarbonate of soda

For the honey-spiced figs

  • 4 purple figs
  • 300 ml port
  • 1 tbsp honey
  • 2 cm cassia bark
  • 1 star anise
  • ½ vanilla bean, split, seeds scraped

For the cumin cream

  • 1 tbsp cumin seeds
  • 4 egg yolks
  • 100 g sugar
  • 250 ml milk
  • 250 ml thick (double/heavy) cream

Cook's notes

Oven temperatures are for conventional; if using fan-forced (convection), reduce the temperature by 20˚C. | We use Australian tablespoons and cups: 1 teaspoon equals 5 ml; 1 tablespoon equals 20 ml; 1 cup equals 250 ml. | All herbs are fresh (unless specified) and cups are lightly packed. | All vegetables are medium size and peeled, unless specified. | All eggs are 55-60 g, unless specified.


Cooling time 5 minutes

Resting time 45 minutes

Steeping time 1 hour


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 (8½ fl oz) 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. 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. Line a 20 cm (8 in) 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 (300°F) 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.


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 (3½ fl oz) 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.


Preheat the oven to 160°C (320°F). 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.


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.


Recipe and image from Green Pickled Peaches, Chui Lee Luk (Hardie Grant Books, $59.95, pbk).