In the Philippines, bibingka is a traditional coconut cake made with rice flour (making this naturally gluten-free), coconut milk and shredded coconut. It’s perfect for merienda (snack) with a cup of coffee!
There was a gorgeous rainbow the other morning, and I shouldn’t have seen it. If I had followed my normal morning routines, with the same old carpools and the same old schedules, I would never have seen the massive rainbow carpet reaching down from the sky, amid angry clouds that were pouring rain and hail over the Bay Area. But this week has been nothing remotely normal, and when we opened our home to the sweetest exchange student from France this weekend, I’ve had a taste of what it would be like to have three children, all with busy lives and schedules.
As she and I were driving down the main boulevard that stretches across town to get her to her morning activities, we saw the rainbow, getting larger as we drove straight to it, and it simply took my breath away. It reminded me that you never may see beautiful things if you don’t shake things up once in a while. If it weren’t for her, I would have been home, my nose glued to this laptop, oblivious to the beauty outside.
I think of the courage it takes to visit a foreign country to stay with a family you know nothing of, in a language still very much new to you. I think of my parents who uprooted their lives to move to another country, far from family and all things familiar. I think of all the mundane ways we can push ourselves to do something different, to experience life and see it through a different lens — and how we need to do that more.
Are you a creature of habit and routines? Do you push yourself to try something new?
This week in my kitchen, I am going to confess to you that I’ve not been at my best. Things haven’t been tasting as I would hope, partly maybe because I’ve been sick (again, ugh), but I just feel as though my cooking mojo has been off since we got back from Paris. Maybe because we were spoiled with good food when we were there? Who knows. But there has been one happy success, and it was when I baked Filipino coconut rice cakes, known as bibingka.
Bibingka, in the Philippines, is an umbrella term for the traditional (and beloved) cakes that are made with coconut milk and rice flour. If you were to travel from region to region in the Philippines, you would probably be surprised at how many kinds of bibingka there are, from ultra-sweet sticky rice cakes, to those dotted with savory cheese or salted egg, to something more like this, a simple cake that is actually more quickbread-like in consistency.
Between you and me, I wasn’t sure if I should translate this as a coconut-rice cake or as a coconut-rice bread, but let’s just say it’s a fusion of the two. Baked in banana leaves, I used two kinds of rice flour — the sweet Mochiko rice flour (if you are familiar with mochi or other kakanin, then you already know this kind) and plain rice flour — along with coconut and a touch of buttermilk (probably not traditional, but I love the springiness it adds to the cakes), leaving you with a treat that would be just as good for breakfast as it would for a traditional merienda (afternoon snack), or dessert.
No matter when you enjoy it, be sure to enjoy it warm, with a cup of coffee or tea. And if you’ve never tried bibingka, it’s perfect for pushing yourself to try something new. Think of it as one of life’s rainbow reminders.
More Filipino Treats to Try
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Bibingka: Filipino Coconut-Rice Cake
- banana leaves rinsed and dried
- 1 1/2 cups sweet rice flour such as Mochiko flour
- 1 1/2 cups rice flour
- 1/2 cup unsweetened shredded coconut
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1 stick unsalted butter softened
- 2 cups granulated sugar
- 4 large eggs
- 1 14 oz can unsweetened coconut milk
- 3/4 cup buttermilk
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- sweetened shredded coconut for garnish
- Preheat the oven to 350°F. Line your baking dish(es) with banana leaves. You can use a 10-inch cast iron skillet or baking pan, 5 5-inch mini pans or 6 1 1/2 cup gratin dishes.
- In a bowl, whisk together the sweet rice flour, regular rice flour, unsweetened shredded coconut, baking powder, and kosher salt.
- In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, beat the butter until fluffy, about 1 minute. Add the granulated sugar and eggs and beat for another 1-2 minutes.
- Mix in the coconut milk, buttermilk, and vanilla extract.
- Add the flour mixture and beat on low speed until just incorporated. Pour the batter into the prepared baking dish(es).
- Bake for about 50-60 minutes, or until the bibingka is lightly browned and the center is set.
- Garnish with shredded coconut and let it cool for about 30 minutes before serving.