A cassava cake is my go-to sweet delicacy when I need to bake for a potluck, a party, or because my family craves merienda (afternoon snack).
Filipino cassava cake is a rich, thick, dense, pudding-like cake baked with coconut, condensed and evaporated milks, eggs, butter, and sugar. When sliced, it’s as smooth as silk, and has a delicate, light yellow color.
It's Not a Party Without Cassava Cake
Cassava cake is a scrumptious snack or dessert. At a Filipino party, you’ll likely find it at the center of the table with other goodies. The lightly fragrant coconut, the charred spots of sweetness in the creamy broiled topping, and the soft slices are a reminder that the best treats can be made from the simplest ingredients. This is not a fussy recipe to bake. There is no need to haul out the electric mixer. Mix everything by hand, then pour it into the greased pans.
Cassava cake is also called cassava bibingka, from the root word bingka, which is Malay in origin, and means ‘cake’. In the Tagalog national language, Filipinos refer to it as Bibingkang Kamoteng Kahoy.
Cassava itself doesn’t have any defining flavor you’d clamor for, but it’s rich in starch. This makes it an ideal alternate carb if you’re avoiding certain grains. In this recipe, the grated cassava acts as a perfect backdrop to coconut and butter, giving you a warm, mild sweetness.
The Versatile Cassava Root
Cassava is a root crop, and is known to Filipinos as kamoteng kahoy, balinghoy, or balanghoy. It is both a backyard and commercial crop, and its origins can be traced to South America.
In the book Dila at Bandila by Ige Ramos, food anthropologists found that long before Spain conquered the Philippines in 1521, the locals already grew cassava. Studies showed that staples in the Austronesian diet (the Philippines, Malaysia, Indonesia, as well as the Micronesian, Melanesian, and Polynesian archipelago) used the region’s proto-diet consisting of cassava, together with taro, purple yam (ube), sweet potato, and wild chili.
The cassava (Manihot esculenta) is called the miracle root crop by food historians because it thrives in challenging terrain and harsh environmental conditions. This tuber grows abundantly in many countries. In Philippine cuisine, it has served as a substitute for starch staples for centuries.
During World War II food shortages, records showed how Filipinos survived on cassava as a valuable backyard crop.
Growing up in the Philippines, I watched how cassava was grown by my father at our farm. The tuber was dug up from the ground, and then later, the tough, dark outer skin was peeled with sharp knives. A heavy duty metal grater was used to slice the light-colored flesh.
My mother taught me many uses for the affordable cassava, ranging from bibingka, sweet pichi-pichi, fish croquettes, a leafy greens stir-fry, mung bean patties, meatballs, and much more.
How I Cook Cassava
To shorten prep time, I found frozen cassava and frozen grated coconut in Asian supermarkets a few years ago, and I never looked back.
You can use fresh cassava, if you prefer. Cassava is also labeled as yuca and the tuber is sold in Asian markets. They look like large, elongated potatoes.
When cooking with fresh cassava, be mindful that the World Health Organization has warned this tuber cannot be eaten raw, and has to be cooked properly because of its potential cyanide content.
Cassava Cake Variations
The creamy topping, with its slightly charred corners, is what defines the cassava cake. You can serve it straight from the oven, or prior to baking, you can add any of these:
- Macapuno strings: Bottled sweet coconut sport strings, in syrup. Add 2 tablespoons to the topping mixture, then broil.
- Langka slices: Use jackfruit (langka) preserved in syrup, bottled or canned. Drain the syrup, slice 1 cup of langka in 1-inch strips, and mix into the topping mixture before broiling.
- Grated cheddar cheese: Sprinkle 1/2 cup all over the topping, then broil until the cheese has melted.
- Banana leaves: Some Filipino recipes use banana leaves to line the pans. Use either fresh or frozen, clean banana leaves placed at the bottom, with a slight overhang at the sides, before pouring the batter in the pans.
More Celebratory Sweets From All Over
For convenience, I prefer to use frozen grated cassava. If you are grating fresh cassava (yuca), the prep time takes longer, up to 1 hour. After peeling, 1 pound yields about 1 cup of grated cassava. This recipe needs 2 cups, grated. You have to wrap the freshly grated cassava in a cheesecloth and squeeze out any excess liquid.
If using a fresh coconut, drain the juice and reserve as a beverage. Grate the inside flesh using a fork, to achieve thin tendrils. One large coconut can yield about 1 cup of soft grated strings.
Fresh cassava and coconuts are sometimes sold in Chinatown or large supermarkets like Whole Foods.
1/4 cup unsalted butter, softened at room temperature, to grease the baking pans
2 large eggs
1/8 teaspoon salt
1 cup sugar
1 can (14 ounces) sweetened condensed milk, divided (use 1/2 can for the cake and the rest for the topping)
1 (12-ounce) can evaporated milk, divided (use 1/2 can for the cake and the rest for the topping)
1 (13.5-ounce) coconut milk, divided (use 1/2 can for the cake and the rest for the topping)
1/4 cup unsalted butter, melted and cooled
1 cup grated coconut meat, frozen or fresh (thawed if frozen; do not use sweetened coconut flakes)
16 ounces (2 cups) frozen grated cassava, thawed at room temperature and drained
1/2 cup (62.5 g) all-purpose flour
1/4 cup sugar
1 (8-ounce) can coconut cream
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 2 (9 x 11 or 8 x 8-inch) baking pans
Pre-heat the oven to 375° F.
Pre-grease both baking pans with the softened butter. Set aside.
I grease the pans generously with butter because the cassava cake tends to stick to the bottom if not greased well. The butter flavor also seeps in slightly at the bottom, making it quite delicious.
Make the batter:
In a large mixing bowl, beat the eggs with a wooden spoon. Add the salt and sugar. Continue mixing until blended.
Pour the half-cans of condensed and evaporated milks, and coconut milk, reserving the remainder for the topping. Mix until blended.
Add the cooled melted butter. Then add the grated coconut and cassava. Incorporate ingredients well.
Pour the batter equally into the greased pans, filling each pan halfway.
Bake until the cake is solid and a cake tester inserted in the middle of the cake comes out clean, about 35 minutes.
Meanwhile, make the topping:
While the cake is baking, start making the topping.
In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour and sugar. Transfer the flour-sugar mixture to a small saucepan. Add the coconut cream, vanilla, and the remaining half-cans of condensed milk and evaporated milk.
Whisk the ingredients together until smooth and free of lumps.
Bring to a simmer over low heat. Continue stirring the topping mixture until it becomes thick and coats the spoon, about 5-8 minutes. (The mixture will thicken as it sits.)
Do not leave this mixture unattended or it can burn and stick to the bottom of the saucepan.
Add the topping to the cake:
When the topping has thickened, remove the pan from heat so it doesn’t curdle or burn.
When the cassava cake has baked, use oven mitts to move the rack and the pan slightly halfway out of the oven.
Pour the thickened topping all over the hot baked cassava cake, using a spatula to spread the mixture evenly.
Broil the topping:
Return the pan and push the rack back into the oven. Do not move the rack up.
Set the oven to broil and broil the cake until the top is golden brown and there are slightly charred spots around the top. Watch carefully, as the sugary topping can burn easily, and every broiler is different. The broiling may take up to 10 minutes.
Cool, cut, and serve:
Cool the cake on the counter for at least 30 minutes.
Slice the cake in the pan, allowing 2-inch slices per portion.
You can either serve this cake warm, freshly baked, or chill it in the refrigerator, then serve it cold. Both ways are superb.
Keep the cassava cake covered and refrigerated at all times. It lasts 3-5 days in the refrigerator.
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This cake can be frozen. Wrap the entire cake tightly in plastic and foil, then freeze. It keeps well for 1 month in the freezer.
|Nutrition Facts (per serving)|
|Amount per serving|
|% Daily Value*|
|Total Fat 25g||32%|
|Saturated Fat 18g||88%|
|Total Carbohydrate 72g||26%|
|Dietary Fiber 2g||5%|
|Total Sugars 52g|
|Vitamin C 10mg||49%|
|*The % Daily Value (DV) tells you how much a nutrient in a food serving contributes to a daily diet. 2,000 calories a day is used for general nutrition advice.|