In the Philippines, Christmas is strongly connected with eating bibingka, a fluffy rice cake with a little sweetness. The intoxicating smell that wafted down the church aisles caused me to nudge closer to the doors in an effort to be the first customer at the popular bibingka stall. It was the primary reason I attended all those midnight masses as a child.
This cake, also known as a kakanin, is one of the most well-liked desserts in Filipino culture, along with puto and biko. Its exact origin is not quite known, although there are some similarities between the Indonesian and Filipino bibingka— since both are baked rice cakes. Traditional ingredients for bibingka include coconut milk, water, sugar, and slightly sour galapong (ground fermented sticky rice). The thick batter was put into terracotta pots covered with banana leaves, placed over hot coals, then covered with more banana leaves. This method of cooking created a soft, spongy cake that was flavoured with the roasted banana leaf’s exotic aroma.
With this recipe, the traditional bibingka is given a somewhat more contemporary flavour. This bibingka was conveniently baked in an oven (no hot coals were needed), and it is flatter and chewier with caramelized macapuno on top (the soft, jelly-like flesh of a coconut varietal). The use of the banana leaf is optional, but if you can locate one, line your pan with it before continuing.
Melted butter, sugar, eggs, coconut milk, baking powder, a dash of salt, and a mixture of white and sweet rice flours are whisked together to make a batter. The batter is then poured into a cake pan or cast iron pan and baked in a fairly hot oven until the edges start to set. The cake should then be taken out of the oven, covered with macapuno, and returned to bake for a further few minutes, or until it is completely set. Once more, the cake is removed, the broiler is switched on, sugar is sprinkled uniformly over the top, and the cake is quickly exposed to the intense heat of the broiler, resulting in a bibingka that has a hint of charring and sweet, caramelized macapuno.
Although it is frequently associated with Christmas, bibingka is great all year long and is best enjoyed warm with a mug of steaming hot coffee or tea. You’re allowed to add shredded cheddar cheese, diced pineapple, or even a salted duck egg to yours as a garnish!
- 1 banana leaf, cut into two 8-inch-wide by 10-inch-long pieces (optional)
- 4 tablespoons (55g) unsalted butter, melted then divided
- ½ (85g) white rice flour
- ¼ cup sweet rice flour (40g), preferably mochiko
- 1 ½ teaspoons (7g) baking powder
- ¼ teaspoon salt
- 1/4 cup (80g), plus extra for sprinkling
- 3/4 cup (175ml) full-fat coconut milk
- 1 large egg
- 85g macapuno, drained
- Preheat the oven to 375°F (190°C) and place the rack in the middle position. If using a banana leaf, wash it under cold running water and then wipe it dry with paper towels. Working with one piece of banana leaf at a time, hold it with tongs about 2 inches above a gas burner’s medium-high heat and rotate it every 3 to 5 seconds until it becomes soft and flexible, which should take approximately 15 seconds. Repeat with the remaining piece of banana leaf and transfer to a dish. An 8-inch anodized aluminum cake pan or cast iron skillet should be used. Arrange the pieces of banana leaf in an overlapping pattern to completely cover the bottom and sides of the pan, and press down on them with your hands to make sure they are flush with the pan. Brush with 1 tablespoon melted butter and put aside. Alternately, if not using banana leaf, grease an 8-inch anodized aluminum cake pan or cast iron skillet with melted butter or pan spray and line with parchment; put aside.
- White rice flour, sweet rice flour, baking powder, and salt should all be thoroughly combined in a medium bowl after about a minute of whisking. This dry mixture will appear homogeneous before it actually is, so be patient and whisk for longer than it may seem necessary at this point.
- 2 teaspoons (30g) of melted butter, together with the coconut milk, egg, and sugar, should be mixed thoroughly in a large bowl. Whisk the flour mixture and coconut milk mixture together for approximately a minute, or until the mixture is fully smooth and no dry flour is visible. Scrape batter into prepared pan after folding batter once or twice from the bottom up using a flexible spatula.
- Bake for about 10 minutes, or until the edges of the batter start to solidify. Remove from the oven, then top with a single layer of macapuno that has been distributed evenly. Return the pan to the oven and bake for an additional 12 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the centre of the cake comes out with a few moist crumbs attached, or until internal temperature reaches 200°F (93°C).
- Remove from the oven, then heat up the broiler. The remaining melted butter should be brushed over the cake’s top before a little dusting of sugar. Cook cake under the broiler for two minutes or until it is golden brown.
- Pan should be moved to a wire rack to cool for ten minutes. After loosening the sides with a butter knife, invert the cake onto a wire rack, take off any paper or banana leaves, and place the cake right side up on a serving platter. Serve hot.