Christmas never fails to make me homesick. Even if I have lived away from the Philippines for a long time, I still yearn for the old favorites I grew up with. When I long for “home” I start cooking and baking old recipes. These bibingkas, rice cakes baked in a mini version are an example.
The bibingka (say ‘bee-bing-kah’) is a Filipino rice cake, a classic during the holidays for Filipinos. Nothing else makes me feel so close to home. They are traditional rice cakes baked with eggs, butter and cheese. And always, they are best when baked in banana leaves. In my childhood home, if mom needed banana leaves for cooking, all that was needed was for anyone in the household to grab the yard-long ribbed leaves from the backyard trees. I can’t do that here in the States. I live in a suburban neighborhood which has maple and oak trees and with no banana foliage in sight. So I head over to the Asian grocery and buy a pack of frozen banana leaves. They sufficed for these mini bibingkas.
It is the whiff of burnt leaves mingling with the aroma of sweet coconut, roasting on a char-grill that sends me in a spin. There is that earthy, grassy, herb-like appeal from cooking with leaves that makes my head turn. Cooking with banana leaves enhances the aroma of any dish or dessert. Tuck in the edges and flute them like I did here. Bake or char-grill them with the batter that’s rich with coconut. The results are irresistible.
To add a Filipino touch to the table setting, I placed the mini bibingkas on what looked like a large platter. This is a plate charger made of resin which has cut up banana leaves embedded in its design. These plate chargers were made in Silay city and a gift from cousins in the Philippines. I daintily arranged the mini bibingkas on it, careful not to tear up the delicate, wispy, leaf edges around the small cakes. I set this platter arrangement on top of a large banana leaf which served as a decorative table runner for the buttery rice treats.
Nothing else made me feel as close to my old home as this spread did. I reached for one muffin-sized bibingka, which was warm, soft and moist. It had a delightful sponge cake texture. I slathered on a silky dab of butter and swiftly took a forkful. The rich rice cake did not disappoint. Immediately, I was transported back to Christmases of my childhood.
The bibingka, a rice cake is traditionally served during the holidays in the Philippines. I revisited a favorite recipe which is the most dependable one I have found. The basic ingredient is the ‘galapong’ or rice batter, which can be obtained from soaking sweet or sticky rice (‘malagkit’), then pulsing it in the food processor to grind into a thick, heavy consistency. For this version, I baked the bibingkas individually in large-sized muffin pans lined with banana leaves. This recipe was from the “Memories of Philippine Kitchens” cookbook by Amy Besa and Romy Dorotan. The recipe yielded 12 muffin-sized bibingkas and served 4 to 6 for brunch, snacks or any meal desired.
- sweet rice or sticky rice, Filipino malagkit - 1 and 3/4 cups, soaked in water overnight (from Asian markets)
- galapong or rice batter - 1 and 1/2 cups (obtained from soaking sweet rice) see procedure below
- all purpose flour - 1 and 1/4 cups
- baking powder - 1 Tablespoon
- salt - 1/2 teaspoon
- eggs - 4 large, yolks and whites separated
- coconut milk (canned) - 3/4 cup (from major supermarkets or Asian groceries)
- whole milk - 1/4 cup
- salted egg - 1 whole, peeled, sliced for topping the cake (from Asian markets)
- Gouda cheese - 1/2 cup grated
- feta cheese - 1/2 cup, crumbled
- butter (unsalted) - 4 Tablespoons, (Kerrygold butter is my preference) melted, for brushing on cakes
- banana leaves - 2 large pieces, cut to fit the individual muffin pans
- butter (unsalted) - 1/2 cup, softened, (Kerrygold brand is what I use) to line the banana leaves
- fresh coconut meat slivers - 1/4 cup, for garnish on top of bibingkas (or use dessicated coconut if fresh is not available)
- granulated white sugar - 1/4 cup for the batter, 2 Tablespoons to sprinkle on cake
- For the galapong, rinse the rice under cold running water, drain and place in a medium bowl with cold water to cover. Refrigerate overnight. Drain and rinse again. Then drain in a colander for 30 minutes. Transfer to a food processor. Process until the mixture is finely grounded about 1 minute. Then work again to press the galapong through the sieve. You should have about 1 and 1/2 cups galapong. Discard any extra.
- For the bibingka, prehat the oven to 425 F degrees and prepare two sets of muffin pans, large sized, about 3-inches in diameter. Line each cup with cut-up banana leaves, about 3 x 8 inches each, to fit the shape of the pans. Grease the banana leaves with softened butter.
- In a large bowl, combine the flour, 1/4 cup sugar, baking powder and salt in a bowl. Add the galapong and whisk to combine so that no more lumps remain. Stir in egg yolks, coconut milk and regular milk.
- Separately, in the clean large bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a whisk attachment, beat the egg whites till stiff. Beat for about 5 minutes. Fold the whites into the galapong mixture.
- Divide the mixture between the lined muffin pans. Nestle a slice of salted egg into the middle of each cup. Sprinkle each cup with a teaspoon of the Gouda, followed by a teaspoon of the feta. Lastly, sprinkle the tops with 1/2 teaspoon of the sugar.
- Set the bibingka muffin pans on the top rack of the oven and bake until firm and set, for about 15 to 20 minutes. It should be lightly browned on top. If the bibingkas are firm but not browned, preheat the broiler and broil them 5 to 6 inches from the heat source. Keep an eye on the bibingkas till light brown, in 3 minutes.
- Brush the bibingka with the melted butter while still warm. Let cool slightly and serve straight from the banana-leaf lined pans. Sprinkle coconut meat slivers (or dessicated coconut) on top of each bibingka as garnish.
- Cook's comments: a regular banana leaf is about 24 to 30 inches in length, and about 8 to 10 inches wide. Whether using frozen or fresh off the tree, wash leaves thoroughly with soap and water, then rinse well before using.
- Ingredient notes: salted eggs are available in Asian or Filipino supermarkets. Sometimes the egg shells are dyed a magenta red hue to differentiate it from regular eggs. In the Philippines, the cheese used for topping is called 'kesong puti', which has a soft texture and very salty flavor. The closest substitutes for the cheeses in this recipe are Gouda and feta cheese. Or if feta is not available, I often use goat cheese. For butter, I use Kerrygold USA brands for this recipe.
- *"Let's Lunch" : This is my entry for the month's 'Let's Lunch' bloggers event, a virtual food potluck among a group of amazing food writers, authors, bloggers and chefs. December's theme is : anything festive, edible and decorative, a very timely theme for the holidays.
- For more recipes on this theme of 'festive and edible' treats, follow us on Twitter using the hashtag #LetsLunch or find our board on Pinterest. Or else see what everyone else from our virtual "Let's Lunch" group prepared: