Learn how to make squishy and rich bika Ambon or Kuih Bingka (honeycomb cake) with this easy, no fuss recipe that gives you amazing honeycomb texture. All the tips you need to know to make bika Ambon successfully.
WHY IT’S CALLED BIKA AMBON
Bika Ambon is one of the very popular cakes originated from my hometown Medan. Why is not called bika Medan then you would ask. LOL. There are few speculations. One of them is because bika ambon was first sold at the intersection of Ambon street and Sei Kera street. The other is because it was brought by the Ambonese people to Medan and the Medanese loved the cake and started making and selling it.
It is actually considered a delicacy. It is made famous by this one shop who started selling only Bika Ambon cake and a few years later, the whole street of Mojopahit is filled with other shops selling Bika Ambon too. Those shops are especially busy during the holiday season like Chinese new year, Eid al Fitr, Christmas, I mean..you name it, any occasion. People purchase them mainly for gifting. You will see people packing tens of boxes of these cakes to bring back home all across Indonesia and to overseas too.
HOW BIKA AMBON IS TRADITIONALLY MADE IN INDONESIA
I haven’t had Bika Ambon for a really long time. I always thought it was difficult to make. In Medan, Bika Ambon is traditionally made using Palm Wine (Tuak in Indonesian) instead of yeast. Palm wine is an alcoholic beverage made from the sap of palm tree (according to wikipedia) and it is used in many other cakes back in the old days. I saw my grandma used tuak often in her other baking. Here in Minnesota (or perhaps in the U.S. I must say), I don’t have access to Palm Wine and so yeast is used. The result is still really good.
WHY YOU WILL LIKE THIS RECIPE
1. TASTE LIKE THE REAL THING
I’m not kidding! I was beyond thrilled to have made this probably at least 5 times and they always turned out great. The cake is squishy, soft, with that amazing kaffir lime leaves aroma.
2. NO FANCY EQUIPMENT NEEDED OR DIFFICULT TO FIND INGREDIENTS
All the ingredients can be easily sourced. You may need to get kaffir lime leaves from the Asian store, but if you are lazy, you can always get it from Amazon. You don’t need to do fancy set up to bake the cake either. Just need your oven to bake the bika ambon. That’s it.
3. GREAT HONEYCOMB TEXTURE
Seeing those tubes running from top to bottom just made my day. In Indonesia we call this bika ambon bersarang. Bersarang means honeycomb-like.
4. NO STARTER NEEDED
Almost all bika Ambon recipe I’ve seen requires starter, but not this recipe. We heat up the coconut milk mixture and it speeds up the yeast activity/fermentation
5. USE WHOLE EGGS
Most recipes needs only certain amount of yolks but not the whites and you are left with egg whites, which you can use for something else, BUT, this recipe use whole eggs which means you need less eggs and no hassle of separating egg yolks from egg whites
6. NICE NATURAL COLORS FROM YOLKS AND TURMERIC
Since we use whole eggs, turmeric is added for a more intense yellow that usually comes from recipe that uses only yolks
This recipe uses pretty common ingredients with an exception on kaffir lime leaves, which you may need to find at Asian grocery store or get it online from Amazon. (affiliate links)
Instant yeast (my favorite instant yeast)
Kaffir Lime Leaves
MATERIAL OF THE PAN MATTERS
HOW TO MAKE AUTHENTIC BIKA AMBON AT HOME
1. PREPARE THE BATTER
Place the coconut cream, salt, sugar, turmeric powder, lemongrass stalk,kaffir lime leaves in a saucepan
Cook on low heat for until sugar melts and do not let the coconut cream to boil
If you have a thermometer, check to make sure it is between 105-115 F (40-46 C). This is a lukewarm temperature for the yeast. If you don’t have a thermometer just dip your clean finger in there and it should be comfortably warm. We don’t want to kill the yeast
So here you have the tapioca flour + sugar + salt + yeast, coconut cream mixture, and eggs
Use a hand mixer or a stand mixer with a paddle attachment to beat the eggs until foamy. Gradually add in tapioca flour, yeast, and the coconut cream mixture you prepared above until combined (make sure it’s not hot and only lukewarm)
2. REST THE BATTER
Cover with a plastic wrap and let it sit at a warm place for 3-5 hours. Since it is winter here when I made this, I use my oven “breadproof” function and let the batter sit in there. The batter will have lots of bubbles because of the yeast and has nice fermentation aroma
3. BAKE THE CAKE
Preheat your oven to 330 F (bottom heat only). Brush the pan with some oil and then line with parchment paper on the bottom only or the entire pan, it’s up to you. The oil helps to keep the paper in place. Give your batter a gentle stir as the tapioca flour tend to settle at the bottom. Pour the batter inside the pan
Place it at the lowest rack and bake for 35-45 minutes or until the cake is no longer jiggly when you gently shake it and then increase the temperature to 350 F (both top and bottom heat). I use convection mode/fan mode to create that top and bottom heat environment and move the pan to 3rd rack from the top and bake for another 15 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the middle of the cake comes out clean and the cake doesn’t jiggle anymore in the middle and it’s springy to touch.
You will not be disappointed with the result. The texture and taste are just spot on!
The cake is soft and you can bend it without tearing the cake
The squishiest ever too!
CAN I COOK BIKA AMBON ON THE STOVE IF I DON’T HAVE AN OVEN?
I have recently tried to cook bika ambon on a stove using a non-stick saucepan with a lid in two different experiments. Both times they took way too long (almost 2 hours) just for the cake to cook and the result is not significantly different with oven method. The bottom of the cake gets easily burnt too. I feel like there are too many variables here: material of the saucepan, the heat on the stove is not consistent, etc..etc. It’s hard to cook it on the stove because too low of the heat and the tapioca starch will sink to the bottom and you end up with a custard and too high of the heat the bottom of the cake get burnt before it gets cooked through. I decided to stick with the oven method because the heat is more consistent and I can control the temperature.
My two kids and hubby love this bika ambon for sure!
1. No bubbles after 3-5 hours of resting the batter
This could be caused by:
-The yeast is no longer active
-The coconut milk mixture is too hot and the yeast is killed when you mix it in
2. No honeycomb texture
This could be caused by:
-The yeast is no longer active and you don’t get much bubbles after fermentation but you bake the cake anyway
-The oven is not warm enough and starch separate from the eggs creating an egg custard layer on top instead and no honeycomb texture
3. The cake is dense
-Again, the yeast may be no longer active and doesn’t leaven the cake
-You may want to check your oven. If the oven is not warm enough then the starch will separate from the eggs creating a dense layer instead and if it’s too hot, the cake will collapse and shrink when you pull it out making the cake all dense and leathery instead of springy
HOW TO STORE LEFTOVER BIKA AMBON
STORING: Bika Ambon can be stored in the refrigerator for up to a week max. They do tend to harden once it is refrigerated.
REHEATING: Simply steam them over high heat for 1 minute and they are as good as new or you can microwave them by placing them on a plate and then cover with a damped paper towel and microwave on high for a minute or until heated through and soften.
Recipe was originally adapted from Kitchen Tigress in 2017 and I standardize the recipe for easy measuring and add some aromatics to the batter. May 23,2020 update: The Recipe is recently retested and updated to include more information on the oven setting.
For baking/ kueh making: I highly encourage to weigh ingredients with a digital kitchen scale instead of using measuring cups as they are not very accurate especially when it comes to recipe that requires precision.GRAMS TO CUPS CONVERSION (UNSIFTED)
Coconut milk mixture:
Prepare the coconut milk mixture:
- Place the coconut cream, salt, sugar, turmeric powder, kaffir lime leaves, lemongrass in a sauce pan. Cook on low heat until sugar melts and the mixture is warm but do not let the coconut milk to boil. Remove from the heat and discard the leaves after that and make sure the mixture is warm and not hot (we don't want to kill the yeast later)
- If you have a thermometer, check to make sure it is between 105-115 F (40-46 C). This is a lukewarm temperature for the yeast. If you don't have a thermometer just dip your clean finger in there and it should be comfortably warm
Prepare the batter:
- Use a hand mixer or a stand mixer with a whisk attachment to beat the eggs until foamy and pale. Gradually add in tapioca flour, yeast, and the coconut cream mixture you prepared above until combined (make sure it's not hot and only warm)
Let the batter rest:
- Cover with a plastic wrap and let it sit at a warm place for 3-5 hours. Since it is winter here when I made this, I use my oven "breadproof" function and let the batter sit in there
- The batter will have lots of bubbles and foamy because of the yeast activity. It should also has a pleasant aroma from the yeast fermentation. 15 minutes before the end of fermentation, preheat your oven
Bake the cake (pay attention to the oven setting):
- Brush the pan with some oil and then line with parchment paper on the bottom or on all sides. The oil helps to keep the paper in place. Use only 1 piece of parchment. If you use two to overlap, the parchment paper will float later during baking. Preheat your oven to 330 F (150 C) along with an empty pan, bottom heat only, which is what most conventional oven is.
- When the oven is one preheating, give the batter a stir as the tapioca flour tends to settle at the bottom. Stir in all the bubbles. Make sure everything is mixed in. Pour the batter inside the pan and place it at the lowest rack and bake for 35-45 minutes or until the cake is no longer jiggly when you gently shake it. If it is still jiggly and wet, bake it longer until it's set and no longer jiggly. There is no need to open the oven door
- After that, increase the temperature to 350 F, using both bottom and top heat and move the pan to the middle rack. Use convection mode (fan mode) if your oven has one, this will create that top and bottom heat environment. If your oven doesn't have a convection oven, and only broiler (top heat), then turn this on. You need to watch out if you use a broiler as it may brown very quickly. I would use a low broiler if you can choose between low or high heat. Bake for another 15 minutes or until toothpick inserted in the middle of the cake comes out clean and no longer wet
- If you use a broiler (top heat) and it gets brown too quickly, you can cover with an aluminum foil and let it finished baking for 15 minutes and do a toothpick test. The top should be golden brown and bouncy when you touch it
- Remove from the oven and let it sit for 10 minutes before removing the cake from the pan and let it cools down completely before cutting the cake
Add 1 teaspoon of sugar and 2 1/4 teaspoons of yeast (one envelope) to 1/4 cup of warm water. Wait for 10 minutes and if you see foams and bubbles and you smell that yeast aroma, your yeast is still good to go. If not, then you need to get fresh yeast.