Kueh Bengka Ubi (I)

Monday, 15 August 2011

I was going to say it takes five minutes to put together a kueh bengka ubi (baked tapioca cake). But, thinking about it as I write, I'd say it takes only 90 seconds if, unlike me, you're not reading the instructions at the same time, and chasing cats out of the kitchen.

Yup, one and a half minutes is all kueh bengka ubi takes, or I'll eat my hat.

Baking time is not included, btw, so please don't say it takes you an hour, and then tell me to eat my hat with sambal. Neither is shopping time or washing up. And I reserve the right to change this agreement any time I like, in whatever way I like. I assume your arms and legs are fully functional and . . . .

Hey, I almost forgot I don't have any hats!

To bake prep a tapioca cake in 90 seconds, forget about squeezing coconut milk. This is the 21st century. Who on earth squeezes milk from coconuts by hand? If you can find a place that sells grated coconut, that place would also sell fresh coconut milk lovingly squeezed by a machine. If you can't, then you've got nothing to squeeze, right? (I'm assuming you're not going to pluck, husk, and grate a coconut yourself. If you prove me wrong, I'll go buy a hat and eat it!)

The same place that sells freshly squeezed coconut milk and grated coconut would also sell freshly grated tapioca. Just grab a pack, along with the coconut milk. Remember to buy the exact amount for the recipe, so you don't have to waste precious seconds measuring after you get home.

When you're ready to bake, pour the coconut milk and grated tapioca into a mixing bowl, crack the eggs, measure the sugar and water, then mix everything up. How long would that take? 45 seconds? You now have 45 seconds left to line a cake tin, pour the batter, scrape the bowl, smooth the top, put the tin in the oven, and shut the door – bang! Job done in 90 seconds like I told ya!

If you have a few more minutes, you may want to squash a few pandan leaves in the batter to give it a nice fragrance. (Cakes, like cars and computers, have 'optional accessories'.) Mind you, the cake smells and tastes wonderful even without pandan, because of the coconut milk.

If you don't have freshly squeezed coconut milk, you could use the 'undead' variety that comes in a can or box. (Long-life coconut milk is dead coconut milk brought back from the nether world, isn't it?) What about pasteurized milk, the type that's sold refrigerated? Sorry, that's absolutely nothing like the fresh, unadulterated form. It is, however, better than the canned or boxed zombies (generally speaking).

If you don't have fresh and ready-grated tapioca, frozen may be available, like in the US. Or you may have fresh or frozen tapioca but it's not grated, in which case get your grater out and put the stopwatch away.

Kueh bengka ubi is one of the easiest Nyonya kueh-kueh. Want to give it a go, and you need a good recipe? No problem, I've done the leg work for you. I've compared four recipes, two from Lilywaisekhong, and one each from Mrs Leong Yee Soo (The Best of Singapore Cooking) and Mrs Wee Kim Wee (Cooking for the President):

I've rejected Lily's original recipe because it has a crazy amount of butter, sugar, eggs and coconut milk. Maybe it's an Americanized version since she lives in Denver? I don't know, but I do know even her skinny recipe is decidedly plus-size. And steamed mung beans (!) in kueh bengka ubi? That's news to me! Verdict: out.

Mrs Leong and Mrs Wee use similar ingredients, but Mrs Leong's method is less straightforward. Her recipe has grated tapioca mixed with water, squeezed dry, and then the water is left to settle. After the starch sinks to the bottom, it's drained and mixed with the grated tapioca. Next, the other ingredients for the cake – eggs, sugar, coconut milk, etc – are cooked on the stove, then added to the tapioca mixture. Finally, the cake is baked till golden brown. Mrs Wee's recipe is much easier since the ingredients are just stirred together, more or less, then into the oven they go.

The recipe I've tried is Mrs Wee's. I'm munching a piece of tapioca cake as I write this post, and it's very, very fragrant, especially the caramelized top. It's a bit on the sweet side, but still within my acceptable range. The chewiness is just right, not too soft nor too hard (which Mrs Leong's may be, I think, because it has less liquid).

What's my rating for Mrs Wee's kueh ubi? Uber good! It's another great recipe from Cooking for the President that I'd thoroughly recommend (unless you don't eat ubi).

Now, if you'll excuse me, I have to go steam some fish, then pick out all the bones. "Ikan will be ready in a few minutes, Your Feline Highness."

7 June 2012 Update

Click here for tips on making kueh bengka ubi.

Source: Adapted from Cooking for the President
(Recipe for one 23 cm cake)

banana leaf or parchment paper
if using banana leaf, wash, wipe dry and lightly oil shiny side
2 eggs
300 g sugar
⅙ tsp salt
1 kg grated tapioca, at room temperature
4 pandan leaves, rinse and drain
375 ml freshly squeezed coconut milk, at room temperature, undiluted
125 ml water

Line 23 x 5 cm square cake tin with banana leaf or parchment paper. Preheat oven to 170°C.

Stir eggs, sugar, salt and tapioca till evenly mixed. Knead and wring pandan leaves in mixture till completely crushed. Add coconut milk and water. Mix thoroughly. Discard pandan leaves.

Pour batter into cake tin, moving stream of batter around tin as you pour. Smooth the top, stirring liquid that may accumulate around edges so that batter is evenly mixed. Bake till top is golden brown, edges are crusty and slightly caramelized, and inserted skewer comes out almost clean. This should take about 1¼ hours. Cover edges with foil during last 30 minutes if top doesn't brown evenly. Do not over-bake or cake would be dry.

Remove cake from oven. Leave on wire rack till slightly firm, 30-45 minutes. Unmould and leave cake on wire rack till cold, another hour or so. Cut into 4 x 2.5 cm pieces with an oiled knife. Serve at room temperature with Chinese tea as a snack, dessert or during tea. Chilled icewine or late-harvest Riesling would be good too. Leftovers should be wrapped and refrigerated. Cut and rebake till thoroughly heated and soft, then serve hot or at room temperature.

Kueh bengka ubi is:
"semi-soft and moist with some elasticity and bite, and has an inviting fragrance from the pandan, eggs and coconut milk. Slightly brown and burnt edges give it a special sensuous dimension."

Cooking for the President, Wee Eng Hwa


Shu Han said...

one of my favourite nonya kuehs! i cant believe it's done in 90seconds! bookmarking for sure! now if you have a 90 second kueh talam recipe.......

KT said...

Kueh Talam in 90 seconds is not possible. There are flours to measure, and the batter for the bottom layer has to be cooked on the stove before it's steamed. I think it may take as long as *gasp!* five minutes.

Shu Han said...

are you serious? 5 min? that's quite a bit longer than 90 seconds, but i think it'll do ;) hahaha. ok i will wait patiently for you to share that (:

Rita said...

1 of my favourites! 90sec kuih lapis pls :-))

KT said...

Hi Rita

A 24-layer baked kueh lapis in 90 seconds is not possible. However, a 9-layer steamed kueh lapis is doable if you're counting strictly prep time only. But it's not something you can walk away from whilst it's steaming because each layer takes only five minutes. Kueh Bengka Ubi is still easier 'cause you can just leave it in the oven.

How about a 6-second red bean soup, green soup soup, or pulot hitam?

teo ai li said...

Hi, I don't have a 23cm x 23cm tray. So can I use 8" x8" x3" square tray instead? Do I need to increase baking time and temp? Thanks for your help!

KT said...

Hi Ai Li

Keep the temperature at 170°C. As for time, it should take a bit longer, but I can't tell you exactly how long since I haven't tried an 8-inch tin. Anyways, the baking time given is just a guide. Please watch the colour and do a skewer test.

teo ai li said...

Hi KT, I have baked this cake today. I must say it is really good despite the following hiccups :-
the bottom of the cake is very smooth and shiny just like nian gao (by the way why is it so?). As I baked in an 8"x8"x3" tray, it took me almost 2 hours to bake this cake and it didn't brown on top at all so I switched it to toast and managed to get it brown on top with crusty edges. Also, the cake is very soft and gluey not sure if I there is too much liquid from the grated tapioca (tapioca is bough fresh from the wet market and I did not sift dry before using). Overall, I like it as it tastes authentic! Can you please help me with my hiccups as would like to perfect this so that I can bake for CNY. Thanks so much for your help!

KT said...

Hi Ai Li

The bottom is smooth and shiny because of tapioca starch. It would be less so if the cake firms up quicker, which would reduce the amount of starch sinking and accumulating at the bottom.

Kueh Bengka Ubi is a bit gluey when hot, but nowhere near as soft and gluey as hot nian gao. At room temperature, it's not gluey at all, but is chewy and a bit springy/elastic.

Why didn't your cake firm up and brown properly?

I don't think the size of the cake tin was the problem. The 20 cm cake (vs 23 cm) was thicker by 1.15 cm, but the sides were thinner by 3 cm.

You probably added too much liquid (coconut milk and/or water) and/or your oven temperature was too low.

First, make sure your oven is ok, ideally by baking another cake that you *know* works. (An oven thermometer helps but it can't tell if the top and bottom are evenly heated.)

Measure out your ingredients carefully. If possible, check that the total weight is 1.9 kg. If it's less or more, something is not correctly measured.

Your main problem isn't the browning but the cake's texture. I suspect once you correct that, the browning (not just the top but also the sides) would improve.

I've always halved the recipe, added corn milk and used a 6-inch tin. I'll try a full-size cake in a 8-inch tin without corn milk this weekend. Will let you know how it turns out. Meanwhile, good luck.

teoaili said...

Hi KT, thank you so much for your prompt reply! Yes indeed the cake is less gluey after 1 day. In fact it is springy to the bite and its really really good! I have been having it for tea for the past 2 days and I am still raving about it to my husband that I am so pleased with myself. Thank you for sharing this recipe! You are right regarding the oven temperature. Maybe next time, I will preheat at 200C for 15mins and then baked at 170C (does this work?). Anyway, I'm so grateful to you for all your help rendered and look forward to hear from you soon. Thank you once again!

KT said...

Hi Ai Li

If you're sure the ingredients were measured correctly and the oven temperature was the problem, I'd suggest 200°C straight through. Keep an eye on the cake though, obviously.

The kueh I baked one this afternoon in an 8-inch tin took 1½ hours instead of 1¼. But the batter was a bit cold (half-way between fridge and room temperature). And there was 250 g instead or 300 g sugar (cake browns slower when there's less sugar). All in all, I'd say there's nothing wrong with the recipe.

teoaili said...

Thank you KT! I appreciate your efforts. There is nothing wrong with the recipe. The problem lies with my oven. Thanks again!

teoaili said...

Hi KT, I have tried baking this cake at 200C (preheat for 20mins) and yet I still get the shiny bottom. I am just wondering could it be my grated tapioca was too cold as it was kept in the fridge at the stall (I bought from Tekka market)? Do you think it is ok to leave the grated tapioca oustside the fridge overnight to reach room temperature? I am still unable to brown the top at all so maybe this could be the reason? Other than these 2 points, this cake is fantastic and I am convinced there is nothing wrong with this recipe. Thanks for your help yet again!

KT said...

Hi Ai Li

There's no need to leave the tapioca outside the fridge overnight. Just mix everything in a pot, then heat and stir till the batter is at room temperature. Or, if you're not baking the minute you wake up, leaving the tapioca in a metal pot for 1-2 hours should be enough to warm it up.

KT said...

The bottom would be shiny if it doesn't brown.

teo ai li said...

Thanks so much KT! I should heat up the batter over a small fire till room temperature, stirring continuously then pour into tin to bake right? Will try and let you know. You think the cold tapioca is the cause of my cake for not firming up fast enough in the oven? Thanks so much for sharing your expertise with me. I really appreciate it!

KT said...

Start with high heat because there's quite a lot of batter. Touch it lightly from time to time to check the temperature as you stir. As it warms up, reduce the heat to medium, then low.

If you don't have an oven thermometer, here's how you can check if the oven temperature is at 170°: Preheat to 170°C (oven is set at 200°C in your case); line a baking tray with aluminium foil (NOT parchment paper); place 1 tsp sugar on the foil in a thin layer a few mm thick; bake for 20 minutes. If the sugar turns light brown, the oven is good. If it doesn't, then the temperature isn't high enough. Set the oven at 20°C higher and continue baking for 15 minutes. Repeat till the sugar turns light brown. Take note of the temperature the oven is set at. That should be 170°C or thereabouts, rather than whatever the knob or
digital display on the oven says.

I'm not sure if the bottom of the cake would brown if the tin is lined with banana leaf. Maybe not (I haven't tried)? But it does if you use parchment paper.

Have a good weekend.

teo ai li said...

Hi KT, I am very near to perfecting this dish! I was given a new oven for Christmas and all my initial problems got sorted out except that the bottom of the kueh didn't get brown. Is it supposed to be brown just like the top?I lined the tray with parchment paper. Thanks and appreciate your patience with me.

KT said...

I'd say the bottom is lighter brown whilst the sides are medium and the top golden brown. If it's completely pale, the kueh can be baked a bit longer, 15 minutes or so, using only bottom heat.

Congratulations and happy new year, Ai Li.

teo ai li said...

Thank you KT! I actually turned it over, toasted it and it worked.

Happy New Year to you too!

Riney said...

Im gonna try the recipe later. Will let u know the outcome! Good luck to me!

KT said...

Teleporting you my moral support.

Ade said...

Tried this recipe yesterday.  I have a lightly brown top and a fine texture. Taste great too.. 

Anonymous said...

Hi KT,

I have been wanting to do this but can't find granting grated tapioca. :(. Any idea where I can buy it? Somewhere central or northern sg as I'm staying in yishun.

Happy holiday!


KT said...

Hi pat

I have no idea where you can find grated tapioca in Yishun but you might like to made kuih bingka Ambon instead. It uses tapioca starch instead of grated tapioca, and is even nicer than kuih bingka ubi.

Jo said...

Thank you for sharing our recipe with reservation! I baked this and the steamed yam cake. Both came out perfectly.you have many recipes i have always wanted to try, i will definitely refer to your blog for new recipe.

Anonymous said...

Hi KT,

may I know which market you go to or you know which market sells grated tapioca and fresh coconut milk? Wet market nearby my house doesn't have it ): and you're using yellow tapioca? Ty (:


KT said...

Hi Chloe

Yes, I used yellow tapioca. You can find coconut milk and grated tapioca at the Tekka market.

DJ said...

Hi KT,
This cake looks delicious, but also very sticky. Is it?

kt said...

Hi DJ, it's sticky only when it's hot, not when it's cooled down.

Nyonya said...

It's a rainy morning here in Hertfordshire, England, n I have been enjoying reading your comments; some of which are most enlightening! With your Kueh Bengka Ubi..as I have no plans to grate coconut to exact it's milk, I can only use those in tetra packs or tinned. I have Kara, which I think is better for making desserts n cakes; will this work with Kueh Bengka?

Your comments will be most appreciated.


kt said...

Kara works. Taste wise, it's better than dishwater.

Here's some info on preserved coconut milk:




Nyonya said...

Unfortunately for some of us, coconuts or freshly squeezed coconut milk isn't readily available, KT; therefore the next best thing to do is go through the various canned or tetra-packed version and choose one which works for you. (This is just my opinion). Needless to say, the result is not going to be as pleasing to a purist's palate :). The other option will be to re-hydrate desiccated coconut using hot water and squeezing milk from it?

Please tell me what you will do if such were your circumstance.


kt said...

What I said was Kara is bad. I did not say all brands of preserved coconut milk are bad. I gave you links to three websites that provide info on which brands of canned coconut milk are way better than Kara and why. I have now deleted the links.

Nyonya said...

Hello KT. my apologies for going on so but please could i have those links again? Unfortunately the stores don't always carry the same brands, and there are brands where thickeners are added. There was a Thai brand which was my favourite for desserts (I recognise the label more than know the brand) but lately, even this seems to be different now; kinda gooey and lumpy, and not as aromatic. Kara, on the other hand, isn't as aromatic but it pours out quite smoothly from the pack.


Jerene said...


May I know how many teaspoon of salt? There isn't any number stated. Kindly advise soon. Thanks.

NICOLE said...


Lin said...

Hi KT I live in Canada but would like to try Mrs Wee's recipe as it looks so good in your video. As I can only get canned coconut milk (60% coconut 40% water.) can I use 500ml of this type of canned coconut milk instead of undiluted and diluted as stated in Mrs Wee's recipe? Hoping to try it out soon. Thanks for the easy to understand video and recipe

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