Whenever I come across a recipe that calls for Banana Leaves, my heart warms a little. They bring memories of home and family times together. The smell of them; so unique! Like bringing the tropical forest inside, kind of smoky, wet and green. Filipino Bibingka uses the Banana Leaves in a most unexpected way for me, in a dessert!
They use the leaves as a lining for the mold or container into which the fresh Bibingka batter is poured before baking. This doesn’t only help the cake not to stick to the mold, but adds a fresh leafy aroma to the dessert and a very, very mild smoky finish to it. The whole house smells like banana leaves while the cakes are in the oven. It’s wonderful!
The cake itself is extremely delicious. It’s basically coconut milk and rice flour, some eggs, sugar and butter. Very easy to make as well. The cake ends up being super moist, with the nice hint of coconut sweetness. It’s also salty; one because of the butter, two, because of the farmers cheese placed on top.
It’s also common to place Salted Duck Eggs in the cake. A trend often seen on Asian Desserts such as some traditional Chinese Mooncakes that hide a Salted Duck Egg within them. While not very common on this Western side of the world to place a whole egg inside a dessert, it doesn’t seem to be such a bad idea to do it when you think about it. After all, we have so many egg based desserts, why not put a whole boiled egg within one, right?
They say duck eggs are creamier and slightly different in flavour than Chicken Eggs. Probably because of its higher fat content and the Duck’s particular diet. Experienced bakers also mention that using duck eggs results in fluffier and more tender batters for cakes and pastries.
I didn’t find any Duck Eggs around for making my Bibingka, maybe next time I’ll find some. But a lot of people in the Philippines only use cheese to top the cakes, which also gives a very pleasant salty hint to the moist and sweet cake. The end flavour is like bitting on a perfectly moist sweet Cornbread that’s been topped with a small dash of salt. Of course the Coconut sweetness on the Bibingka gives a splendid nuttiness that a Cornbread could never have.
Bibingka is supposed to be served warm. For me, they are wonderful in the morning for breakfast, with a big cup of coffee. Once they are out of the oven, a bit of butter is placed on top and it graciously melts on the surface, for an extra layer of creamy flavour. The sweetness of the cake mix with the creamy saltiness of the farmer’s cheese is to die for. You can also place some freshly shaved coconut on top to make it sweeter and to give it an additional fresh, nutty dimension. But sometimes simplicity is best and the modest topping of butter only adds to a more homey, warm and country feel to this wonderful dish.
The only weakness with it is that it doesn’t store very well. They are meant to be consumed immediately. They start losing moisture the moment they get cold. If you really have to save one, wrap it very well in plastic wrap and keep it in the fridge for no longer than 2 days. When ready to eat, heat the Bibingka in the microwave, without the plastic wrap and place a small cup of hot water in the center of the microwave oven to provide some steam. Alternately, you can place a wet towel on top of the Bibingka when reheating so that it restores some moisture into them.
- 6 creme brulee dishes
- 12 square pieces of banana leaves, see NOTE below
- 3 eggs
- 1 1/4 cup coconut milk
- 4 tbsp melted butter (plus extra for brushing)
- 1 1/2 cup rice flour
- pinch of salt
- 2 1/2 tsp baking powder
- 1 cup sugar
- 6 oz. farmer's cheese, cut into small squares
- 6 small squares of butter (optional)
- freshly grated coconut (optional)
- For this recipe we use classic creme brulee dishes. You can use whatever you have but you'll need to adjust the baking time accordingly.
- Butter the dishes well, and line with a square of banana leave. Brush with melted butter again and line again with a second banana leaf square. The leaf squares should be big enough so that they rise just above the rim of the dish. Brush the second leaf too.
- Preheat the oven to 350° F.
- Place the eggs on the bowl of a stand mixer with a whisk attached. Beat them on medium speed until they get thick but not frothy. About 4 minutes.
- Meanwhile, combine the coconut milk and the melted butter in a bowl, and the dry ingredients (rice flour, salt, baking powder and sugar) on a separate bowl mixing well together.
- Add the coconut milk mixture to the thickened eggs. Whisk for a few seconds until well incorporated.
- Start adding the dry ingredients, spoonful by spoonful, continuously while whisking. Whisk for another minute to make sure it's thoroughly mixed together. The batter should be runny but thick, almost like a hollandaise sauce.
- Pour the batter into the molds. The cake will grow a bit in the oven so don't fill them to the top.
- Arrange pieces of cheese on the batter evenly.
- Bake the Bibingka for about 30 minutes until a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean, and the top are browned. If you want you can broil it for 2-3 minutes until well browned.
- Serve the Bibingka immediately while still warm, topped with butter and/or freshly grated coconut.
- To be able to use, Banana Leaves must be softened by fire. Fresh leaves are very brittle and will break apart easily if folded. To soften, pass the leave over a fire or stove burner. You'll see it turn a darker shade of green. This should be a quick process. Don't burn them.
- If you live in the tropics where there are many recipes that call for them, you should be able to get them already softened and frozen at the market.