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Tapioca Cake

Peranakan or Nyonya cuisine includes a large assortment of sweets and cakes, or what we call nyonya kuih. They are often made from glutinous rice or rice flours, coconut milk and aromatic palm sugar. Some are laborious, and many are steamed in large round trays. There is kuih made only for special celebratory occasions like births, weddings, significant birthdays, or religious festivals. And then there is kuih for your afternoon tea or midnight snack.

In the little town where I grew up, there was a nyonya kuih vendor near the marketplace who opened her stall only in the evenings, catering to those on their nocturnal food crawls. Arrive before 7pm, and you’d have to wait. Laid out on large wicker baskets or in the round trays they were steamed in, the assortment was so large that even if you chose only one of each, it would be a few too many. Some are served with freshly grated coconut or egg and coconut jam kaya. Some are wrapped in banana leaves and grilled. It was always such a tantalising treat to go and buy kuih at this night market.

My mum, like a real Nyonya, loved her kuih. And my two daughters, despite not having spent that many years of their childhood in Malaysia, love them too. On trips back to Malaysia, kuih is always on the must-eat list.

With this stubborn pandemic thwarting all inclinations to travel, any craving for kuih must be dealt with near-at-hand. So that’s how I got around to making kuih for the first time. I made the ang ku which literally means 'red tortoise'. Note that mine aren't red because I decided to leave it au naturel. Filled with mung bean paste, the skin is made from glutinous rice flour and sweet potato. I was very pleased at how they turned out.

I’ve also made the pulut tai tai which is glutinous rice coloured with the butterfly pea flower and served with egg and coconut jam kaya.

The recipe I’m sharing with you today is the baked tapioca cake kuih bingka. I looked through some cookbooks, watched a couple of videos and concocted this recipe which satisfied my craving without too much inconvenience, and its very good, if I may say so myself.

Tapioca, also known as cassava or yuca in the US and manioc in France is a long tuberous starchy root that needs to be peeled, soaked and cooked before eating (its roots, peels and leaves are toxic raw). Choose a firm tuber without any blemishes or soft spots. Use a knife rather than a vegetable peeler to remove the thick waxy skin. I use two generously buttered 8 cm x 15 cm cake tins but you if you have easy access to banana leaves, do use them to line your tin with. I like to use smaller cake tins to have more crusty caramelised bits!

This cake has a slightly chewy texture underneath those caramelised bits, is sweet and comforting and will draw your neighbours to come sniffing at your door.

This is a forgiving recipe and does not have to be followed to the strictest. You may also put it under the grill for two minutes or so at the end to have a very caramelised top.

Tapioca cake kuih bingka


Serves 4 to 6

Prep Time 15 mins/Cook Time 50 mins/Total Time 1h 05 mins

  • 1 medium tapioca root, (yield approx 300 gm grated)

  • 1 egg

  • 120 gm brown sugar

  • 200 ml coconut milk

  • Pinch of salt

  • 10 gm butter, additional for greasing


  1. Rinse the tapioca root. Cut into large chunks for easier handling. Peel thick waxy skin with a knife, removing outer brown peel and inner pinkish layer. Soak in cold water while you prepare other items.

  2. Preheat oven to 180°C.

  3. Butter your cake tin/s or line with banana leaves.

  4. Finely grate the tapioca root by hand or in the food processor.

  5. Mix grated tapioca in a large bowl with egg, brown sugar, coconut milk and a pinch of salt.

  6. Pour into buttered/lined cake tins.

  7. Cut remaining 10 g butter into pieces and place them over cake mixture.

  8. Bake at 180°C for 30 minutes. Increase heat to 210°C and bake another 20 minutes.

  9. Allow to cool for ten minutes, remove from tin. Let cool completely and rest before cutting and serving. Will firm up after resting.


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