Outdoor Grilling:Filipino Bibingka Rice Cakes with Coconut & Banana Leaves
Is it possible to long for Christmas memories in July?
The aroma of the burnt banana leaves flew around our backyard. It was the smell of a burning sweet leaf mixed with the aromas of butter and coconut that hit me. The soft breeze escalated the food fragrances and brought back poignant memories of Christmas when I was growing up.
How is it possible to miss Christmas when it is only July, and the day has a torridly hot 101 degree temperature?
A bibingka can do that to me (say “bee-bing-ka”). This is a rice cake that has grounded sweet rice, eggs, butter, coconut, flour, two kinds of cheeses and wrapped in a bundle of banana leaves. Traditionally it is cooked in an outdoor clay pot with fire kindled from both under and over it. It is also a very traditional holiday cake in the Philippines and typically cooked in December when the tropical weather gets cooler. It is a time honored rice cake and recipes have been passed on for generations.
One of the pioneers of Philippine cuisine and food writing, the late Doreen Gamboa Fernandez described this delectable rice cake well : “Baking, as of bibingka, was done by putting heat on top (as well as below) — glowing coals on the clay pot or skillet lid.”
IACP award winning cookbook author, Amy Besa, owner of the Filipino restaurant “Purple Yam” in NYC, another noted authority on Philippine food described the bibingka’s method of cooking as “a type of baking that requires very high heat at the top with low heat at the bottom, which gives bibingkas their characteristic caramelized tops.”
I remember seeing the authentic, original way bibingka was baked, from when I was growing up in the Philippines and Amy Besa described it well in her cookbook “Memories of Philippine Kitchens” when she said this : ” Since most people in the rural areas in the Philippines do not have ovens, many local bibingka makers form a makeshift oven. The bibingka is baked in a pan lined with banana leaf over a low fire, covered with a metal sheet with a burning coconut husk, wood, pili shells (a type of nut), or hot coals heaped on top. This method defines the concept of bibingka.”
Even if my family and I have lived in the USA for over twenty years, I have not forgotten my roots and have kept our heritage alive by continuously cooking Filipino recipes for our daily meals, most especially Sunday suppers.
I had been cooking outdoors this summer using banana leaves on different dishes. I’ve wrapped fish, meat, vegetables and rice cake desserts with banana leaves and grilled them. I love the sweet scent of a burnt banana leaf. I love to touch the crisp, blackened edges of the leaves as it gets off the grill. I love to unwrap what I just cooked with the banana leaves. I love to watch the steam of the cooked food burst out when I open the leaf. Best of all, I love the moist, tender flavors preserved within the ingredients which a banana leaf so superbly does.
So this hot July month, during one of our family cookouts, I decided to recreate a bibingka, even if it was not Christmas yet. I just had to sniff the scent right this minute. Even my family agreed. When we sat down to our regular family Sunday Supper, we had this bibingka right there along with the rest of our entrees.
As it came straight off the grill, and I unwrapped the banana leaves, the familiar fragrance gripped me, like a hug from an old friend I’ve missed. The site of that slab of melting butter in the middle, caressed by the grated coconut tendrils, just drew everyone around the supper table. The rich butter and cheeses melted on the rich sweet rice cake and in the process warmed our hearts.
Like the banana leaf that held the cake together, the bibingka rice cake reminded us of the many Sunday Suppers we’ve celebrated that has been our family’s core always.
Filipino Rice Cake with Coconut & Banana Leaves : Bibingka
*Recipe from “Memories of Philippine Kitchens” by Amy Besa & Romy Dorotan
Makes 2 large rice cakes, each in a 9-inch pie pan
For the Galapong (rice batter):
1 and 3/4 cups sweet rice, soak overnight in water (from Asian markets)
1 and 1/2 cups galapong (rice batter)
1 and 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 cup plus 4 teaspoons sugar
1 Tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
4 eggs, separated
3/4 cup coconut milk
1/4 cup whole milk
1 salted egg, quartered, optional (found in Asian groceries)
1/2 cup grated Gouda cheese
1/2 cup crumbled feta cheese
2 Tablespoons unsalted butter, melted, for brushing
Banana leaves, for lining baking pans (found in Asian groceries, freezer section)
- 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 and process until the mixture is finely grounded, about 1 minute, scraping the sides of the processor and process again, then work again through the sieve. You should have about 1 and 1/2 cups galapong (discard any extra)
- For the bibingka, preheat the oven to 425 F, and two 9-inch pie pans with parchment paper rounds.
- In a large bowl, combine the flour, 1/4 cup of the sugar, the baking powder, and salt in a large bowl. Add the galapong and whisk to combine and break up any lumps (use hands to break the lumps if needed). Stir in the egg yolks, coconut milk, and milk.
- In the clean bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, beat the egg whites until stiff but not dry. Fold the whites into the galapong mixture.
- Line each pan with banana leaves. Cut the banana leaves to fit into the pan. Grease the banana leaves with softened butter. Divide the mixture between the lined pans. If you’re using salted eggs, nestle a quarter into the middle of each cake. Sprinkle each cake with 2 tablespoons of the Gouda, followed by 2 tablespoons of the feta, and finally 1 teaspoon of the sugar.
- Set the cakes on the top rack of the oven, and bake until firm and set and lightly browned on top, about 20 minutes. If the bibingkas are set but not browned, preheat the broiler and broil them about 6 inches from the heat source, watching carefully, until bubbly and lightly browned, about 3 minutes.
- Brush the bibingka with the melted butter while still warm. Let cool slightly and serve straight from the pans. Serve warm or at room temperature.
Posted under Appetizers and Sides, Breakfast, Cooking, Desserts and Sweets, Dinner, Events Holidays, Featured, Lunch, Noodles Rice Pasta, Travel by Elizabeth Q.