Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Bibingkang Espesyal

Bibingkang Espesyal - made May 24, 2014 from Jun Belen
A Filipino coworker was asking me to troubleshoot her bibingka recipe because hers was coming out too dense. I didn't know what was in her recipe but I went through the bibingka recipes on my pin board with her to show the ratio of dry to wet ingredients. Oftentimes when a cake is too dense, it may not have enough liquid as compared to dry ingredients. Or it isn't beaten enough to incorporate air or there isn't any or enough chemical leavening like baking powder in it. Or it's been overbaked. It's hard to tell without seeing the recipe but going through the ones I'd pinned in earlier times inspired me to try one of them.
First, though I had to go to the Asian grocery store to get a few ingredients. 99 Ranch is the one closest to me but I hate going to this particular one because the parking is tight and the spaces are all meant for compact cars the size of Mini Coopers. Which I don't have. But I'll do anything for baking so I braved the parking lot and made my way into the store. 99 Ranch is what I consider a hardcore Asian grocery store; my hardcore Asian friends would laugh at me for that since they consider 99 Ranch the Americanized Asian grocery store. But, as an Americanized Asian, I'm often lost in the store and I have the hardest time finding anything because I can't read 90% of the packaging. They have some items from the Philippines and those I can read just fine but many of the items sport Chinese (or Japanese or Thai or Korean) characters without any English translation. So I easily get lost. And on this trip, in my confused meandering down the aisles, one of the food demo ladies started speaking to me in Chinese. I smiled lamely and looked blank but she still kept talking. I still kept not understanding what she was saying so I politely refused whatever she was offering (assuming that's what she was saying) and tried another aisle.
Even though it takes me twice as long to get a few items, I eventually end up finding what I need. There are some things I can only get at an Asian grocery store and usually their prices can't be beat which is why I go. Case in point, I needed banana leaves. Technically, you don't need to line the pan with banana leaves when making bibingka but I like the authentic touch. I eventually found the banana leaves in the freezer section - a whole slew of them for 79 cents a pack. Score. I also bought a can of coconut milk from Thailand ($1.79) for this recipe. I know mainstream grocery stores sell coconut milk in cartons but I only ever bake with the canned stuff. Don't ask me why; it just feels more authentic.

The bibingka I was planning to make is served with grated fresh coconut and I found a pack of that in the freezer aisle as well for $1.79. Since I was already there and I didn't want to have to come back (truly, I hate their parking), I also picked up a pack of frozen grated cassava ($1.49) and a small pack of tapioca flour ($.79) for other recipes I wanted to make in the future. Total purchase came to $6.15. This is why I make myself deal with the confusing abyss of 99 Ranch - it's cheap.
There are many types of bibingka. This is the cakey kind (as opposed to the sticky kind I'm more fond of). Traditionally, this cakey version of bibingka is baked with slices of salted duck egg and cheese on top. Filipinos often like that salty and sweet combo so I've left that in the directions below but I confess, I'm not one for the salty/sweet nor do I like duck egg or cheese in my cakes. Instead, I do the Americanized version - no duck egg and no cheese. So that makes this mostly a vanilla butter cake, slathered with melted butter when it's hot out of the oven, sprinkled with granulated sugar and covered in grated fresh coconut. Authentic or not, it's still good.
The whole point of this kind of bibingka is to eat it while it's still warm, the butter is melting on top, the sugar is crunchy and the grated fresh coconut adds texture and flavor. I wouldn't recommend substituting sweetened flaked coconut or shredded coconut for the fresh grated coconut. Grated coconut is how they serve it in the Philippines and while I was willing to forego the duck egg and cheese, I couldn't break that far from tradition and do anything less than fresh grated coconut; it's a much better taste and texture - another reason I had to brave 99 Ranch as that's the only place I've found it available.

If you're not going to serve this immediately but are baking it ahead of time, I advise not doing the topping until you do serve it. Right before serving, warm it up slightly then brush the top with melted butter and sprinkle the sugar and coconut (in that order) over it. This is still good at room temperature but the sugar will absorb into the butter the longer it sits and you'll lose the crunch. Instead the top will have more of a "wet" texture. So if you're going to try cakey bibingka for the first time, thrill your taste buds and eat this warm and freshly made.
Banana leaves, cut into two 10-inch circles

2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
3 eggs
1 cup sugar, plus additional for sprinkling on top of cakes
1 1/4 cups coconut milk (I used canned)
2 tablespoons butter, melted, plus additional for brushing on top of baked cakes
1 salted duck egg, sliced thinly, optional
1/4 cup grated Edam or cheddar cheese, optional
grated fresh coconut
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
  2. Line two 9-inch pie pans or round cake pans with banana leaves
  3. Whisk together flour, baking powder and salt in a bowl; set aside.
  4. Beat eggs in a bowl using a mixer on medium speed. Add sugar, 1/4 cup at a time, beating well after each addition.
  5. Alternate adding flour and coconut milk to the egg and sugar, mixing on medium speed after each addition. Add melted butter and mix well.
  6. Divide batter equally into the two pans. Bake for 15 minutes then take out of the oven, lay slices of salted duck egg on top and sprinkle generously with grated cheese (skip this step if you're not using egg or cheese). Continue baking until a toothpick inserted near the center comes out clean, about 10 minutes more. Turn the broiler to low and broil the cakes to brown the tops. Watch carefully to prevent burning.
  7. Remove cakes from oven and brush with softened butter. Sprinkle with sugar and grated fresh coconut. Serve warm.

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