Maligayang Pasko! (Happy/Merry Christmas In Tagalog)
Filipinos are said to have some of the most Christmas spirit in the world. And who is to argue when they have one of the world’s longest Christmas season— lasting five months (September through January).
The Philippines is largely a Christian nation with approximately 90% of Filipinos holding the Christian faith, 80% of those being Catholic. This is due to country’s long history as a Spanish colony from the sixteenth century until the end of the nineteenth. Many of their traditions are interwoven with their faith, and are a mixture of western and native Filipino traditions. Food, of course plays a huge role in their celebrations. Noche Buena (a large family feast held at midnight Christmas eve) is truly one of the most anticipated events for Filipinos during Christmas. And no Noche Buena is complete without delectable traditional delicacies, particularly Bibingka Coconut Filipino Cake, which is often sold outside churches after the Simbang Gabi or Misa de Gallo.
Bibingka is a cake made with rice flour and coconut milk, and tastes similar to a rice pudding. The traditional preparation can however be very time-consuming. It includes making their own rice flour mixture which is then poured into specially made terra cotta containers lined with banana leaves and placed over preheated coals. Another piece of banana leaf is then added to the top and covered with more preheated coals. Wow, quite the process!
Thankfully modern methods make it much easier to create this delicious cake in your own kitchen. Though the recipe below lacks the distinctive smoky char from the charcoal, as long as banana leaves are also used to line the pan, similar results can still be achieved. The fun part is then deciding how to top the cake. Toppings traditionally including salted duck eggs, cheese, sugar and shredded coconut, among others. On my version, I decided to forgo the egg and opted for a mild queso fresco cheese, which worked wonderfully. I hope you will give this Bibingka Coconut Filipino Cake recipe a whirl for your next holiday gathering or simply if you’re looking to try a unique dessert. I will certainly be making this one all year long!
CHRISTMAS IN THE PHILIPPIANS
Simbang Gabi and Misa de Gallo
Christmas formally begins on December 16 with The Simbang Gabi Masses. These masses are nine pre-dawn or early morning services held daily, culminating on Christmas eve with Misa de Gallo (Spanish for “Rooster’s Mass”). Many Filipinos believe that completing the 9 day mass would bring them blessings throughout the year. After Misa de Gallo is finished, many people stay awake all night into Christmas day celebrating with a midnight feast, called Noche Buena.
Noche Buena is a midnight Yuletide feast in which families gather together and dine on a traditional Filipino Christmas fare including lechon (roasted pig), pancit malabon (stir-fried noodle dish), sweetened ham, fried chicken, lumpiang ubod (Filipino fresh vegetable eggrolls), queso de bola (cheese ball), bibingka coconut filipino cake and other sweets, steamed rice, and many different types of drinks. It is truly a festive family celebration that is looked forward to all year!
The Parol or Christmas Lantern is an iconic Christmas decoration present nearly in every Filipino household and business. Created by an artisan in 1908 and traditionally made out of bamboo and paper, these lanterns were originally designed to help villagers find their way to chapels and churches to pray and were meant to represent the star of Bethlehem that guided the three wisemen.
A few weeks before Christmas day when Simbang Gabi begins, carolers take to the streets singing Christmas carols, moving from house to house spreading the spirit of the season. They usually use unique handmade musical instruments like tambourine, made from aluminum bottle tops, and milk cans or biscuit tins used as drums. They then wait expectantly after sining for a reward of coins. Afterward, the carolers thank the homeowner for their generosity by sining “Thank you, thank you, ang babait ninyo (you are so kind), thank you!”
Another traditional Filipino Christmas symbol is the belen. Derived from the Spanish term for the town of Bethlehem, The Belen is a creche or collections of figures representing the Nativity scene that depict the Holy Family at the birth of Jesus. It is an another iconic Filipino decoration is showcased around the country and are displayed until the Feast of Epiphany, which marks the end of the Christmas season.
Bibingka is a Filippino Coconut cake made with rice flour and coconut milk that is traditionally served during Christmastime or for breakfast.
COUNTRY OF ORIGIN: The Philippines
2 cups regular rice flour
1 cup glutinous rice flour
1–1/2 cups light brown sugar
2 tablespoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1–1/2 cans coconut milk (20.25 ounces)
1/2 cup whole milk
4 tablespoons butter, melted
5 eggs, beaten
2 salted eggs, peeled and sliced lengthwise (optional)
2 ounces queso fresco (alternatively, cream cheese may be substituted)
3 tablespoons butter, melted
Granulated Sugar, to taste
Banana leaves (available in the frozen section of most Asian markets)
Cast iron pan (Alternatively, ramekins, or a round baking pans may be used)
- Preheat oven to 375 F.
- Prepare cast iron pan with banana leaf or parchment paper, making sure that leaves overlap to prevent batter from leaking onto pan.
- In a large bowl, combine rice flour, brown sugar, baking powder, and salt. Mix until well blended and set aside.
- In a stand mixer bowl or a separate large bowl, mix the melted butter, milk and coconut milk.
- Add the beaten eggs to the butter mixture and blend on a low speed until the mixture is smooth.
- Slowly add the dry ingredients to the bowl of wet ingredients and continuously stir on low until no lumps remain.
- Pour the batter into prepared cast iron pan and bake for 10 minutes.
- After 10 minutes, remove it from oven then place salted egg slices (optional) and cheese on top of the cake(s).
- Place back in oven and bake for an additional 20 minutes or until golden brown and toothpick comes out clean.
- Once finished baking, remove from oven and brush it with melted butter and sprinkle with sugar (to taste) and shredded coconut.
- Serve warm and enjoy!
This cake will keep up to 3 days at room temperature or up to 1 week in the refrigerator in an airtight container. Be sure to remove banana leaves from the cake before storing.