Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Biko, or The Poor Filipino's Cake

Growing up, my mother continually reminded my brother and I of our privileged lives with her childhood stories of extreme poverty in the Philippine countryside, or probincia. One such line was, "When we celebrated any happy occasion, we were content with biko and pancit." Back then, this anecdote prompted surreptitious eye-rolling, but in retrospect, I envy the provincial simplicity of two perfectly executed dishes that fed an entire village of fishermen and their families over the maddening race to feed twenty hungry mouths with a seven-course dinner at a birthday party.

The younger me associated this dish with culinary captivity: I used to hate standing over the wok, stirring and stirring and stirring the liquid mixture, asking my mother over and over, "Is it done yet?" Stirring felt like an eternity, especially when you're eight years old and had better things to do, like play pirate with your younger brother.

The present me doesn't mind it so much anymore. I feel like this dessert represents so much about my Filipino identity: sweet, simple, and sustaining.

Biko (Sweet Sticky Rice with Caramelized Coconut Glaze)

One can of coconut milk (not creme of coconut)
One 1-lb. box of dark brown sugar
1 tbsp of anise (more or less, to your preference)
4 cups sweet sticky rice (also called glutinous rice)

  1. Steam rice in rice cooker. If your household does not consider a rice cooker more important than an oven (and probably does not eat spaghetti with hotdogs), cook rice in a pot with enough water to cover a half inch over the rice (or a fingertip to first knuckle length). This is my mother's method and how I've measured the rice to water ratio, and it hasn't failed me yet.
  2. While that's cooking, mix coconut milk and brown sugar in a wok over medium heat. 
  3. Stir mixture occasionally in wok until liquid thickens. I do the tablespoon coating test - the liquid should be able to coat the back of a tablespoon, like thinner caramel. 
  4. Add the anise. Stir to blend. Enjoy the fragrance.
  5. Add the rice to the wok to blend all ingredients evenly. 
  6. Enjoy warm or cold. I like biko for my merienda, or snack.