Bibingka (pronounced bee-BEENG-kah) is a Filipino cake. There are several types of bibingka, including a cakey version that's spread with melted butter when the cake comes out of the oven and sprinkled with sugar on top and a "sticky" version that's a cross between a dense cake and a firm custard that's baked with coconut on top. The sticky kind is usually made with mochiko or rice flour (pictured below) and/or cassava (also pictured below, available at Asian grocery stores like 99 Ranch in the freezer section with the frozen vegetables). My mom made bibingka when I was a kid and, along with chocolate chip cookies, it's one of the things I learned to make early on.
My earliest memory of making bibingka when I was a kid is when my dad's oldest sister was visiting us for a few weeks and some of her friends from the Philippines came by unexpectedly to see her. I had just made a 9 x 13 pan of bibingka that I thought came out beautifully with toasted golden coconut on top. In Filipino culture, it's second nature to offer your guests something to eat when they arrive and since we didn't have much notice that we were to have guests, my aunt served my bibingka for their visit. I went off to the park nearby to play and returned as the guests were leaving. To my dismay, they had eaten almost the entire pan! There was only one corner left and I consoled my childish indignation that I could at least have one piece of the pan I had made once the guests left. Imagine my further indignation when, after all the goodbyes were said and the flurry of the leave-taking had died down, I saw the empty pan. Apparently the guests had enjoyed the bibingka so much, they took the leftover piece "to go." It's a funny memory now as I remember how indignant I was at being denied the bibingka and my aunt was embarrassed and apologetic of her friends. Nowadays, if something like that had happened, I would've been flattered that people liked what I made so much that they literally didn't leave a scrap of it.
This recipe for bibingka is for the "sticky kind" like I had made on that day long ago. My mom recently made this recipe over Christmas week and we enjoyed it so much that I thought I'd give it a try. She made some modifications to the original recipe so I'm including those modifications here as hers turned out better than I remember mine being. If you're avoiding wheat or gluten, this is a good recipe to make since it uses rice flour, not wheat flour. Some versions of this bibingka are topped with both coconut and cheese. I don't like cheese on baked goods so I've left it out. If you want to try it with cheese, add a few ounces of sharp grated cheddar cheese along with the coconut. If you're like me and love coconut, don't skimp on it when you top the batter with it. It not only adds to the appearance when the bibingka is baked, becoming a nice golden brown top, but it also adds to the flavor and texture.
One last thing – if you can, use a glass pan to bake this in. This version of bibingka isn't known as the "sticky kind" for nothing. Lining the pan with foil, which is what I always do with metal pans so the cake doesn't stick to the pan and can be lifted out of the pan for easier cutting, doesn't help much when you're trying to separate the foil from the bibingka. If you use a glass pan, you can cut it in the pan without making knife marks in the pan.
(See next page for recipe)
Bibingka sticky cake
1 cup sweet rice flour (also known as Mochiko, can be found in the Asian aisle of most grocery stores)
1 teaspoon baking powder
16 ounces of grated cassava (can be purchased in 16-ounces packages at Asian grocery stores like 99 Ranch)
2 cups milk
Scant 1 cup sugar
1/4 cup butter
Sweetened coconut flakes, enough to cover the top of the batter in an even layer
Melt butter in 9-inch square baking pan in preheating oven as it heats to 350 degrees F. Meanwhile, beat eggs until lightly scrambled. Add in rice flour and baking powder and make a paste. Gradually add in milk, mixing with a fork to keep the batter smooth and free of lumps, then add sugar and cassava until well blended. Do not overmix – you don't want a light or cakey texture. Pour into pan, mixing well with melted butter. Batter should be somewhat liquidy but not so thin that it can't hold the coconut topping.
Generously top mixture with coconut flakes. Bake until coconut topping is golden brown and edges look crisp, about 45 to 55 minutes. You can't rely on the toothpick test for this one so go by appearance. The middle should be firm enough not to jiggle when you shake the pan gently. Don't bake for more than an hour even if the coconut isn't brown all over the top.
Carol Ramos blogs at The Pastry Chef's Baking.
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