cake / dessert Filipino

Bibingka Espesyal (Special Christmas Rice Cake)

Saturday, November 29, 2014Enz F

The early dawn of December 16, few hours before the breaking of the sun and the crowing of my father’s roosters awaken the adjoining neighborhood, marks the first day of the traditional 9-day morning novena masses most anticipated by the Catholic Filipinos all over the country. With this most celebrated season of the year fast approaching and as I could already smell the festivity in the air, I could not help but rekindle those vivid childhood memories that never would ever be forgettable even up to this day. As usual, nostalgia finds its way to me this time of the year. Grandma’s voice would always be the first thing we would hear at 3 o’clock in the morning, prompting us to get up and quickly prepare for the dawn mass. In a few minutes, we should have already donned our church attire and slipped on our thickest sweater shirts. These should keep us warm from the biting chill of the early morning breeze. Still half-asleep and feeling sluggish, we would all together walk our way side-by-side with the other fellow early birds along the street, just a few blocks away going to the church. As always, we would arrive several minutes before the mass would begin at exactly 4 o’clock but the huge volume of the crowd would already be noticeable as there were very few vacant seats remaining. Certainly, this is also the time of the year when more people are very enthusiastic to go to the church. We would always give way to our elderly gran who would occasionally complain about her ailing joints while we, the younger folks, would go to a hidden corner to sneak a quick nap. It would not take long before we would finally smell the fragrance of the burning incense, and be roused by the awakening sound of the giant bells and by the lively chorus of the majestic choir accompanied by the grand piano. Everyone would rise up from seat as a welcome gesture for the arrival of the officiating priest as he does his ceremonial walk down the aisle along with the altar servers, a sign that the mass is about to begin. The service would usually take much longer than the ordinary Sunday masses but as soon as we get half-way through the priest’s sermon, the monotony would gradually turn into excitement by the idea of what awaits us outside. We would patiently wait a few more minutes until the mass has ended and as soon as Padre finally gives his blessings, young boys and girls alike would quickly run towards the huge exit door. Outside the church, the sky is still dark and the festive mood continues as we head across the queue of people towards the makeshift hawker stalls lined up beside the church’s gate and dimly lit by the fire coming from the clay coal ovens where different Christmas delicacies are freshly prepared. Grandma would always buy us those treats with additional brown sugar and grated coconut toppings which my younger brother and I would share and eat together as we take the same short walk back home, more brisk and full of bantering this time around.

Here is a festive rice dessert with a taste and an aroma meant to attract church-goers.
Misa de Gallo (literally means “Mass of the Rooster”) is a customary Christmas Eve midnight mass widely practised in many Catholic Spanish-speaking countries in the world. This is the same tradition that was adapted by the Filipinos way back during the Spanish era. In the Philippines, Misa de Gallo, more popularly known as Simbang Gabi or Night Mass, are dawn masses observed on the nine days before the much anticipated Misa de Aguinaldo (Gift Mass or Christmas Mass) celebrated on the 25th of December, the Christmas day. There is an old belief that once you have been consistent and have completed all nine days of dawn masses, a request or wish that you have prayed for shall be granted. During the early times, attending the misa de gallo was a sort of sacrifice to Filipino tenant farmers who had to be in the farm all day toiling the lands owned by the strict Spanish encomendero (feudal landlord). They were given only one break during the high noon when the heat of the sun would be at its peak. Customarily, the novena masses were held in the evening but the clergy men noticed that farmers would still attend the mass despite the fatigue from all day’s work. As a compromise to the devoted Filipinos, Pope Sixtus V ordered that the mass be held in the early dawn when the sun was just about to rise before farmers would go out to till the land. From then on, the practice has become part of the culture and Christmas traditions of the Filipinos.

Associated to the customary Filipino misa de gallo are the popular Christmas delicacies commonly peddled around the vicinities of the church which served as invitation to the prospective church-goers. After the mass, vendors everywhere would offer you anything from hot native drinks like salabat (ginger tea) and mainit na tsokolate (hot chocolate) to keep you warm from the cold morning breeze, to popular local fares such as puto-bumbong (purple rice cake), freshly steamed from the bamboo tubes, and smoky bibingka (Christmas rice cake) to serve you snack or early breakfast. I personally love bibingka. The idea of being rewarded afterwards with hot, soft and lightly sweetened rice cake contrasted by the savory semi-caramelized cheese and salted egg toppings and that distinct smoky scent intensified by the lightly charred banana leaf lining is what keeps my senses awake while fighting the sleepiness of the wee hours of the 9-day dawn masses.

Bibingka, adorned with sumptuous toppings.
Bibingka or Christmas Rice Cake is one of the many varieties of kakanin in Filipino cuisine. Kakanin, derived from Filipino word “kanin” which means rice, is a collective term use to refer to any Filipino treat or delicacy made from rice. Basic bibingka is primarily a cooked batter mixture of rice flour and water or coconut milk. Other ingredients such as whole eggs, fresh milk, butter, baking powder and sugar are oftentimes added to the batter in order to enhance the texture and flavor of the cake. There is Bibingka Espesyal (Special Christmas Rice Cake) which is usually adorned with sumptuous toppings like anything from itlog na pula (salted duck eggs), kesong puti (Filipino cottage cheese), cheddar cheese, margarine, brown sugar and additional grated coconut. 

The traditional method of cooking bibingka is quite laborious as you would need a specially-made earthen or clay oven with heated charcoal beneath. Bibingka batter are poured on fire-proof molds lined with banana leaf which are then place atop the heated coals. Another piece of banana leaf is placed on the surface of the containers before another basket of pre-heated coals is place on top. The end result is a semi-spongy rice cake which is slightly burnt on top and bottom. Nowadays, bibingka is baked in an ordinary oven but in order to retain the unique smoky flavor, modern cake molds are usually lined with banana leaves. Bibingka bears similarity to an Indian dessert called “bebinca” which is a type of layered pudding made from other type of flour (not rice flour) but also cooked by applying heat on the surface and underneath.
Bibingka Espesyal (Special Christmas Rice Cake)
Yields two 8x3-inch sized round cakes

For the batter
  • 2 cups ordinary rice flour 
  • ½ cup glutinous rice flour 
  • 5 tsps. baking powder 
  • ¼ tsp. salt 
  • 7 tsps. softened butter (plus extra for greasing) 
  • 1 cup condensed milk 
  • 5 pcs. raw whole eggs 
  • 2 cups kakang gata (pure coconut milk) 
For the toppings
  • 2 pcs. itlog na pula (salted duck eggs), thinly sliced 
  • 1 cup grated cheddar cheese 
  • ½ cup freshly grated coconut 
  • banana leaves 

  1. Preheat oven to 375°F (190°F). Lightly grease with butter and line with pre-cut banana leaves the bottom and sides of two 8x3-inch cake pans. 
  2. In a mixing bowl, sift together the ordinary rice flour, glutinous rice flour, baking powder and salt. Set aside. 
  3. In a separate bowl, cream the butter and then whisk-in the condensed milk. Gradually add the raw eggs and mix until well-blended. 
  4. Add the rice flour mixture alternately with coconut milk. Thoroughly mix just enough to combine. 
  5. Pour the batter in the lined caked pan about three quarters full. 
  6. Place the batter-filled pan in the preheated oven and bake for about 20 minutes. 
  7. Take out the pan from the oven and then top the cake with sliced salted eggs and grated cheese. Return the cake in the oven. Continue to bake for 15 to 20 more minutes or until the cheese is melted and the top turns light brown. 
  8. Remove from the oven and allow to cool. Carefully remove the cake from the baking pan and slice into wedges. Brush with butter if preferred and serve with grated coconut. Enjoy! 

  • Aside from the added aroma provided by the banana leaves, they also keep the cake from sticking at the bottom and sides of the pan. These can be omitted if not available. Just grease the pan with butter and add a few drops of vanilla or pandan extract to substitute the scent.

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