KitchenTigress: Kuih Bingka Ambon

Kuih Bingka Ambon

Kue bika Ambon is a cake from Medan, not Ambon. It's made with tapioca starch, eggs and coconut milk. Aka kuih bingka Ambon and kueh bengka Ambon, the Indonesian cake is found in Malaysia and Singapore too. It tastes of caramel and coconut milk. The texture is springy and softly chewy.

Kue bika Ambon is leavened with yeast, which creates honeycombs when the batter is heated. The little air tunnels are not just pretty to look at. They help caramelise the cake, making it deliciously golden brown.

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.

Coconut milk must be heated before it's added to the batter. The heat melts the sugar, helps the 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).

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. I bake mine using the oven, in a cake pan.

If the baking temperature 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.

How to make kuih bingka Ambon

Step-by-step guide

This recipe is different from other kueh ambon recipes in 3 ways: it doesn't use a starter dough; it uses less yeast; 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.

kuih bingka ambon
(For one 15 cm cake)
  • 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
  1. Thoroughly mix tapioca starch, salt and dry yeast. Add eggs and whisk till smooth.

  2. Stir coconut milk with sugar over medium heat till it feels like very hot bath water.

  3. Stir batter and, at the same time, slowly pour coconut milk into batter.

  4. 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 for room temperature at 30ºC. Loosen starch in bottom of bowl and stir till just evenly mixed.

  5. 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.

  6. 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.