Honeycomb cake who?
Honey, come quick! The honeycomb cake is delicious!
Silly knock-knock joke out of the way, let's get down to the serious business of baking, shall we?
Kue bika Ambon (which means baked Ambon cake in Indonesian?) hails from Medan, not Ambon. The cake is also found in Malaysia where it's called kuih bingka Ambon, and Singapore where the Malay name has been corrupted to kueh bengka Ambon.
Ambon cake is made with tapioca starch, eggs, coconut milk, sugar and yeast. Coconut milk spoils easily, so the batter can't be fermented for too long. 2½-3 hours would be about right. Longer than that, the coconut milk is no longer fresh. Shorter than that, you'd need to add more yeast which, if excessive, leaves an unpleasant yeasty taste in the cake.
The coconut milk is heated before it's added to the batter. The heat melts the sugar, helps the coconut milk stay fresh, and speeds up the fermentation.
If you want a yellow cake, you may add a few drops of yellow food colouring. Alternatively, use eggs that have brightly coloured yolks, such as Seng Choon brand if you live on the island where I live.
The batter must have lots of bubbles after it's fermented. If you don't see any, don't bother baking it.
Traditionally, kuih bingka ambon is made in small pieces using a brass mould heated over charcoal. Of course, nothing should stop you from the noble act of upholding traditions. Meanwhile, I bake mine using the oven, in a cake pan. (I'm weak and feeble, I know.)
If the heat for baking the kue/kueh/kuih/cake is too low, some of the eggs would separate from the tapioca starch, resulting in a layer of custard forming on top of the cake. The separated starch sinks to the bottom where it hardens without forming honeycombs and, taking too long to brown, becomes leathery on the outside. If the heat is too high, OTOH, the cake would shrink badly when it's removed from the oven.
Baked at the right temperature, the cake would have beautiful honeycombs and a soft chewiness from top to bottom.
Kuih bingka ubi is very similar to kuih bingka Ambon except it's made with grated tapioca instead of tapioca starch and it's not leavened. Much as I like kuih bingka ubi, I think kuih bingka Ambon is even nicer because the airy honeycombs allow the coconut milk and sugar to brown better. See the golden colour on the top, sides and bottom of the cake? It's sugar and coconut milk caramelized to perfection. If that's not delicious, I don't know what is.
The most crucial question is: how easy is it to bake a cake full of honeycombs? Hey, it's real easy when you have my video:
|KUIH BINGKA AMBON (KUE BIKA AMBON; AMBON HONEYCOMB CAKE)|
Source: Adapted from The Best of Singapore Cooking
(Recipe for 8 pieces)
85 g sago or tapioca starch
¼ tsp salt
½ tsp instant yeast
145 g eggs
170 g undiluted freshly squeezed coconut milk
85 g sugar
20 g young, light green pandan leaves
My recipe is different from other kueh ambon recipes in three ways: it doesn't use a starter dough; it has much less yeast; and the coconut milk is hot rather than at room temperature when it's added to the batter. The extra heat speeds up the fermentation, so there's no need for a starter dough or huge amount of yeast.
Thoroughly mix tapioca starch, salt and dry yeast. Add eggs and whisk till smooth.
Stir coconut milk with sugar over medium heat till slightly hotter than hand-hot, i.e. pot is too hot to hold but not too hot to touch.
Stir batter and, at the same time, slowly pour coconut milk into batter.
Wash pandan leaves and cut into small pieces. Pound finely and strain to yield 1 tsp pandan juice. Discard pulp. Add juice to batter. Mix thoroughly. Set aside, covered, till batter is full of small bubbles, 2½-3 hours if you're in the tropics. Loosen starch in bottom of bowl and stir till just evenly mixed.
Preheat oven to 160°C with only bottom heat turned on. Oven should be ready at the same time as batter. Line 15 x 15 x 5 cm cake pan with 25 x 25 cm parchment paper.
Pour batter into cake pan. Bake in bottom of oven till batter doesn't jiggle when shaken, about 35 minutes. Increase temperature to 180°C. Turn on top heat. Move cake to middle of oven. Continue baking till golden brown, another 15 minutes or so. Remove from oven. Unmould by lifting parchment paper. Leave cake on wire rack till cold. Cut into 8 pieces and serve.