Kuih Bingka Ambon

Monday, 10 September 2012

Knock knock!

Who's there?

Honeycomb cake!

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:

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 3 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.


May said...

thks for recipe. The last 15 mins at 180C, top heat, does it mean the grill function in the oven and not the top and bottom heat function?

KT said...

Hi May

The bottom heat is on too for the last 15 minutes.

teo ai li said...

Hi KT, do I bake at the lowest level of the oven or just 1 level below the middle? Do I heat up the coconut mixture in low or medium heat? What happens if I bring it to boiling? Does it affect the formation of honeycomb texture or taste etc? Is it ok for me to use a 6"x6" square baking tin and any change in baking time. I intend to bake this tomorrow as it is my family favourite and I have been searching for the recipe. Thanks for your help!!!

teo ai li said...

Sorry I forgot to ask you if theres a need to put a damp cloth over the batter and wait for 2.5 hours. Thanks!

KT said...

You just need to cover it to keep it clean.

KT said...

Do I bake at the lowest level of the oven or just 1 level below the
Lowest, right at the bottom. If the middle of your oven has more than one level, go for "upper-middle" for the last 15 minutes.

Do I heat up the coconut mixture in low or medium heat?
Medium, stirring continuously. (Video amended.)

happens if I bring it to boiling?
It'll curdle.

Does it affect the formation of
honeycomb texture or taste etc?
No, not unless you boil it till the oil separates. Having said that, if you add boiling coconut milk to the yeast mixture, the heat would likely kill the yeast. No yeast means no honeycomb. If you let the boiling coconut milk cool down, then add it to the batter, it should be ok.

Is it ok for me to use a 6"x6" square
baking tin and any change in baking time.
6" = 15 cm (more or less). Same same.

Suggest you use your oven thermometer if you have one unless you've baked at 160C before using bottom heat only.

Good luck!

KT said...

Photo of curdled coconut milk.

teo ai li said...

Thank you so much KT! Will let you know how it turns out.............

teo ai li said...

IMMEDIATE HELP NEEDED PLEASE AND THANK YOU!!!! My batter is in the proofing process already then I found out that my oven does not have a single function of bottom bake AND I also found out that my baking tray size is 7"x7" and not 6"x6". So please what should I do? Somebody please advise me. Thanks a million!!!!!!!!!!!

KT said...

Just block the top heat with baking trays, multiple layers of foil, pie dishes, stoneware crockery, whatever. And leave the oven door slightly ajar.

The pan size isn't a problem. Just adjust the baking time using the visual cues detailed in the recipe.

teo ai li said...

Thank you, KT! The final disaster was the batter was totally flat with no bubbles after proofing for 2.5hours......so sad! Maybe my coconut milk was too hot or too cold? My yeast hasn't expired yet.............Anyway, thanks!

Florence Lim said...

Hi KT,
Thanks for making this tricky kueh so simple. i consider my first attempt quite a success ! The texture was soft and chewy and the honeycomb was very consistent, from center to the edge of the pan. i have to make a double recipe next, because the kueh disappeared too fast :)

KT said...

I shouldn't be laughing but I am. It really wasn't your day!

Yeast problem – Hope you didn't add batter to coconut milk? That would kill the yeast. It should be the other way round: add coconut milk to batter (hot to cold). Other than this, and if the yeast wasn't spoilt, I can't think of any other reason why your batter was totally flat. Even if the yeast weren't instant or if the coconut milk wasn't hot enough, there should be *some* bubbles.

Oven – I think it's possible to bake the kueh with both bottom and top heat. I might try this weekend.

KT said...

You're welcome, Florence.

teo ai li said...

Hi KT, yes I added the coconut milk to the batter as in the recipe. Yes it is totally flat with no sign of a bubble. Please do try out the top/bottom heat and would you be kind enough to let me know? Thanks so much for wanting to help! Appreciate it!

Florence Lim said...

You mean add durian or replace pandan juice with durian ? If so, how much durian can I safely add without compromising the beautiful honeycomb? :)

elim said...

Hi KT,
1. 145g eggs is about how many eggs? haha, can't imagine weighing eggs.
2. Baking wih bottom heat> if my oven does not have that option, may I cover the cake pn with aluminium foil for the first 35mins?

KT said...

1. Two to three. Use the weight indicated on the eggs' carton.

2. I haven't tried but I think so. You have to change the foil when it gets hot.

KT said...

I haven't tried it yet but I'm thinking the pandan juice isn't necessary coz it'd be overwhelmed by durian anyway. Then, reduce the coconut milk by half, and replace it with "durian milk", i.e. durian minced with some water.

Elim said...

thanks, KT!

Dee said...

Hi KT, thank you so much for this recipe. It really seems simpler and more straightforward than others. However I failed to end up with a beautiful kuih bingka ambon like yours and I think everything that could possibly go wrong actually went wrong with mine.

I believe my eggs weighed slightly more because I usually use large eggs for baking. The coconut milk that I added to the yeast mixture was warm to taste. The instant yeast that I used is not expired. Started to realise that something was wrong when my batter did not form bubbles, only very little tiny ones around the sides. After 3 hours, I went ahead to bake it anyway because I wanted to experiment with it. I am using a convection microwave oven with no bottom heating function so I covered the tin with foil and baked it at 160C for 35 minutes. After increasing it to 180C and removing the foil, it took about another 30 minutes before it browned. And just like what you said about the eggs separating from the starch, it happened. A layer of custard formed on top, and the starch was at the bottom, leathery. Really puzzled and wondering what went wrong. Would love for some feedback and advice! Once again thanks for the recipe, will keep trying and reading your inspiring posts.


KT said...

Hi Dee

I'm curious: why did you use warm instead of hot coconut milk, and why didn't you weigh the eggs?

Isabel P. said...

oh goooood! i've been searching for that recipe for ages and i finally found it! will immediately bake it! :D

Loke JY said...

I am also quite successful on yr recipe but how to make more chewy ? Tks

KT said...

Try adding more tapioca starch. Cheers.

Shino Sia said...

Hi KT.. I'm bravely making 2 portion now.. My cake tin is the same size as yours.. Should I bake it twice or I can actually just pour it as one cake? Will it be too thick? Any advice?

lovelyburcu said...

Hey I just found your blog yesterday and I'm in LOVEEEEE!!!

I realllyyyy want to makt this cake but I have a few questions.

1. Can I also use the coconut milk from the can?

2. What if I can't find pandan leaves? Can I make this without them??

3.Can you pls explain the point with the C.Milk i don't really get it what you meant:D
I'm looking forward to your response

KT said...

1. That depends on the quality of the canned milk vis-à-vis your expectations.

2. Yes.

3. Which point are you referring to?

KT said...

To bake with both bottom and top heat on: preheat oven to 180C; place kuih on bottom shelf; line baking tray with aluminium foil, shining side up; place tray on top shelf; bake till kuih doesn't jiggle when jiggle, 30-35 minutes; remove baking tray; move kuih to middle shelf; bake till golden brown, 10-15 minutes.

lovelyburcu said...

thanks KT for your answer! Now I have a few new questions -if you don't mind;P ....btw 3. is clear now!
cake pan size is: 28x23x4 cm can I double the amount of the
ingredients? If yes can you say if sometihng in the recipe will change?
Like temprature, baking time, fermentiation time etc....
And in the last 15 min the bottom is still on am I right?
I don't know on which floor I have to bake the cake in my oven so I will send you 2 pics :D
I went to the asian- grocery and they gave me tapioca-flour...they said
it is ok. Is it really ok? Does it come out good with the tapiocaflour?
I'm really excited to make this cake and I don't want that it doesn't
come out as good as yours look like soooo plssss help me before the
nightmare happens
Pls give me as fast as possible your answer, cause I want to do this cake tis WE :D

Mylinda said...

Hi KT,

All the recipes you had post in the website here you are using the pandan leaves and freshly squeezed coconut milk, I just wonder if o.k to use the one in the can at the oriental markets.

lita said...

did u really put half tsp of yeast? that looks like a tbs to me? ;) i just want to rock ths recipe u know like with the chiffon pandan

kt said...

Yes, it's only 0.5 tsp. It may look more in the video because the yeast spreads out easily when it's poured (compared to, say, salt and sugar).

LKL said...

Hi KT,
I have tried this recipe. I substitute the coconut milk with evaporated milk. It turned out ok. It smells very very good. Thanks for the recipe.
Just like Florence Lim said, it just disappeared too fast...

Mon Chi said...

Wow....this is a good way of showing how to make honeycomb cake..I tried to make this cake a long time ago, but it did not succeed..I had to throw all of it away...after that I did not try again. But see and wathching your video gives me hope again..Thanks a lot..

Judy said...

Loved your sharing your experience. Currently, baking your receipe on Japanese cheesecake - looks good - another hour to go.
Hope to read more of your wonderful sharing!

Miki Tjung said...

Hello KT, there are so much fuss about this recipe being written
everywhere online, but yours is truly Effortless. I made it into small
round tin for desserts, goes with Tia Maria Liqueur + Orange juice. I
used fan assisted oven with adjusted temperature. This is a wonderful
no fuss recipe. Many thanks KT x
For the picture of your Bika Ambon, you could drop by at my public Facebook #Thecungnegara. Merci

Fiona said...

May I use a round pan instead of a square pan? If so, how big a round pan should I use?

nadia said...

hiii, my oven only works with either top or bottom heat...after 160c, should I still up the heat to 180 and move to middle rack (no heat from above?) or should I move it bake for 15 minutes then turn on the top heat to brown the top.

Many thanks ^_^ great Video!!! also i remember a nice bika ambon tasting cake and I think they used some kind of lime flavouring in it...was thinking of putting grated lime rind :D

kt said...


kt said...

What's the purpose of "move to middle rack"?

kt said...


haya yahya said...

thanks for the recipe, I love bika ambon so muchhhhhhhh......

Are Zu said...

1st time im ate this superb tasty cake....im falling in love with Bika Ambon....unfortuntly we dont have it @ Malaysia.... i miss Bika Ambon @ Medan

Yu said...

My husband's favorite cake!! I like your video on how to make it. Can't wait to try your nice recipe. I read many pages telling that the oven need to be half opened while baking the cake, is that true? or should I bake it normally with the door closed?
Really hope to hear your suggestion. Thanks ;)

Jelliojan said...

This is my 2nd time doing and it failed again. I have no idea why since I follow the receipe very closely. The taste of the cake is really great but it just did not give me much of the honeycomb effect.

Dewi said...

I have tried it one and it was perfect! I will try it again today. Hope it will be as perfect as the 1st time. I am adding kaffir lime leave this time to add the flavour :-)

Dewi said...

How it looked like last time. Not bad. Tried second time but failed, well... I must say that I tried to improvise :-(. no good. Will try again today, the simple way. Now I am waiting for 2,5 hours. Hope it will work.

May said...

Tried baking it yesterday.. outcome quite good only the sides didn't rise evenly which don't understand why. Do you know?

Kim said...

Where to buy this kuih bingka in Malaysia? Tq :)

yshew said...

Hi , Your recipe is more thorough than many I've seen . I have not been successful the few times I 've tried other recipes ...the honeycomb does not extend to the bottom of the cake. since you mentioned that this is due to the heat of the oven, what do I do as my oven does not come with top and bottom heating elements which can be controlled separately ......just convection and grill. ?
We love this cake and it is perfect for those who needs a gluten free cake !

Selina said...


just found this wonderful recipe. Can i use corn strach insted of tapioca starch?

Lisa said...

Can you share the exact celsius for the hot coconut milk? I scare I kill the yeast.

MijaresProPhoto said...

I can replace that young, light green pandan leaves? thanks

Lisa said...

Thank you for the recipe! My boys love it!

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