Saturday, February 15, 2014

Sweet Martabak (Martabak Manis)

The sweet martabak (or martabak manis) is a popular late night street dessert snack in many major cities in Indonesia. It is a thick turnover pancake/crepe hybrid, typically filled with a decadent mix of condensed milk, peanut, cheese, chocolate sprinkles (nowadays they even have options with Nutella or Toblerone fillings!!). Aside from the filling, its most distinct characteristics of the dessert are its yellow-colored honeycomb-like inner structure and its dark golden /crispy-ish crust. In addition, the street vendors typically slather a decadent amount of butter on the both inner and outer surfaces.

The dessert apparently originated from Bangka island (Western part of Indonesia), among the Chinese community, and was originally called "Terang Bulan" cake or "Bright Moon" cake, probably owing to its round shape and yellow/golden color. According to this website, the dessert was typically made to celebrate the Lunar Festival (full moon festivities). Indeed, the Indonesian Sweet Martabak or Terang Bulan, seems to be an iteration of the Cantonese/Fujianese Chin Loong Pau or Ban Jian Kuih (or as they refer to it in Malaysia/Singapore as Apam Balik cake), or even the Japanese Dorayaki. I also recently realized there are similarities to the British Crumpet or the Beghrir (Moroccan Thousand Holes Pancake), in particular, with regards to the holey texture. The term "Martabak" itself is probably adopted from the Indian/Arabic savory stuffed pancake/bread (similar to Prata), indeed, in Indonesia, the savory Martabak is often sold together with the sweet Martabak.

Image Source: Apam Balik & Dorayaki from Wikipedia.  Crumpets from A Little Shop in Tokyo blog.  Beghrir from  Moroccaine's Blog. Links provided.

The Indonesian/Bangka version is taller/thicker and its honeycomb texture more distinct (making it also more difficult to replicate at home), and the fillings definitely more glorious than all the other versions. I would bet it tastes more fantastic (or at least, more decadent) than all the other versions ^_^ (though I must admit I've never tried the others, well other than the Dorayaki).  

See below example photos of some authentic Sweet Martabak, you can see the richness of the filling and the honeycomb/holey texture of the pancake (it looks like honeycomb from the cross section, but like pores/many holes from the top)!

Image Source: Cerita Wajan.  Link provided.

The below video also shows how the Sweet Martabak is made by authentic street stalls in Jakarta!

Below recipe is my attempt at making this dessert at home, now that I am in the U.S. with no easy access to Sweet Martabak street vendors. Must admit it's still a work in progress as it's not yet as thick or porous as the authentic one. I was also more conservative in the fillings. Putting all that fatty goodness yourself is infinitely more scary than if you were blissfully ignorantly enjoying a completed product from the vendor.

Note the recipe below only uses baking powder as the main ingredient to creating the pores in the pancake, which seems to be consistent with what many blogs claim is being used by authentic Sweet Martabak street stalls. There are other recipes which use yeast, one of which I have tested also; it seemed to yield a softer, more bread-like texture compared to those Sweet Martabak's I have had from the stalls. So I'm personally sticking with the baking powder-based recipe!

Sweet Martabak (Martabak Manis or Kue Terang Bulan) Recipe

Adapted from Femina Magazine website
Makes two 7.5 inch non-stick pans ( this is mini version )

All-Purpose Flour: 1 cup (125 grams)
Sugar: 2.5 TBSP (30 grams)
Salt: pinch
Large egg: 1
Water: 3/4 to 1 cup (180 to 240 ml)
Vegetable oil: 1.5 TBSP
Baking powder: 3/4 tsp
Baking soda: pinch
Additional sugar (approx 1-2 TBSP) to spread over surface of batter while cooking


- Condensed milk (essential)
- Chocolate sprinkles or nuttella (essential)
- Chopped peanut/walnut
- Sesame seed
- Grated cheddar cheese (optional)


  1. In a bowl, put flour, sugar and salt, and whisk together. 
  2. Add lightly beaten egg into the middle of the flour mixture, and whisk together slowly until mixture comes together.
  3. Slowly add water and whisk together. Note that I have only tried the 1 cup formula, which I suspect may be a bit too watery (this resulted in a soft-textured martabak, which is nice, but is softer than the authentic one). But if you want to experiment, you can stop adding water whenever the batter starts to look like pancake batter (similar consistency to the one shown in the street vendor video link above). I will update once I try this myself too.
  4. Pre-Heat a regular non-stick pan for couple of minutes until very hot. (I did 4 minutes under medium heat). You can test heat by putting small drops of water on pan, if the water droplets fizz and evaporate quickly, then the pan is hot enough and ready**
  5. While waiting for pan to heat up, stir in oil, baking powder and baking soda into batter with whisk until well blended (this shouldn't take long).
  6. When pan is ready (maintain the medium heat fire), pour batter onto pan. You should expect to hear a good fizzing sound, which indicates that pan is sufficiently hot. 
  7. Swirl pan a little bit, so that the batter coats the side of the pan (this forms the crispy side crust that is a characteristic of  the sweet martabak)
  8. Continue cooking for about 4-5 minutes on the medium heat. You will  start to see many tiny bubbles emerging and crowding the surface
  9. Sprinkle sugar all over the surface, and lower the heat to almost lowest setting and cover pan with transparent lid (it's easier to monitor) and continue cooking.
  10. After about 6-7 minutes, you can open the lid to check whether the surface of the martabak has firmed up, and is therefore fully cooked. You can touch the surface or insert a toothpick to test. If there is still gooey dough, then cook a bit longer until the surface firms up. Note that it is ok if the surface remains somewhat sticky because of the melted sugar.
  11. Once surface is cooked, insert a cooking spatula between the side crust and side of pan. Slide spatula around the pan, then scoop the pancake out onto a wooden cutting board.
**Note that the initial medium heat of the pan seems crucial to achieving the honeycomb inner structure and the browning of the crust. Then, you want to lower the heat for the remaining cooking time to ensure that the crust doesn't get burned! Since the street vendors use a cast-iron-like pan, presumably the heat is more stable than a regular non-stick pan, and this may be why they are able to achieve a better inner structure and thicker cake overall :)
For the filling:
  • While the pancake is still hot, spread 1 tbsp butter over the surface (butter will melt), then cut pancake into half.
  • Sprinkle liberal amount of filling on one half or all over, then fold the halves onto each other
  • You can further cut up the turned-over pancake, either into pizza triangles or squares.
Enjoy while hot! You can probably reheat martabak on microwave, the oil in the pancake recipe should help keep things soft, though I have not tried this as martabak was consumed immediately!. Will update when I do! :P

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