Bika Ambon (a.k.a. The World's Squishiest Cake)

January 15, 2016
4 Ratings
Photo by James Ransom
  • Serves 8 to 10
Author Notes

This north Sumatran speciality, which has the flavor of egg custard and the form of a spongy, bouncy, resilient cake, is relative (but not a twin) of Malaysian kek sarang semut (known in English as honeycomb cake, beehive cake, and ant's nest cake), Chinese white sugar steamed cake, and Vietnamese pandan honeycomb cake.

Its taste and texture, as Amanda and Merrill put it, are "as if cannelés and crumpets had a destination wedding in Asia." It's eggy like challah, and when you add cinnamon and vanilla to the batter, it's as if you turned that challah into French toast, then concentrated that flavor into a soft yet elastic cake.

The recipe is slightly adapted from Dr. Good Baker. —Sarah Jampel

What You'll Need
  • 300 milliliters full-fat coconut milk, divided
  • 7 grams instant or active-dry yeast
  • 8 egg yolks
  • 200 grams tapioca flour
  • 200 grams sugar
  • 25 grams melted butter
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract (optional)
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon (optional)
  • 1 pinch salt
  • Brûléed grapefruit and/or frozen yogurt, for serving
  1. Preheat your oven to the lowest temperature possible (mine was at 170° F). Once it's reached that temperature, turn it off.
  2. Pour about 50 milliliters of the coconut milk into a small microwave-safe bowl. Microwave for about 20 seconds, until the milk is warm but not hot. Add the yeast, stir to dissolve, then set aside for about 20 minutes to activate the yeast.
  3. Meanwhile, in a large, oven-safe bowl or other vessel, stir or whisk the egg yolks to break them up. Add the tapioca flour, sugar, and melted butter, using a spoon to mush and mash it all into a homogenous paste-like pale yellow substance.
  4. Now use a whisk to incorporate the remaining 250 milliliters of coconut milk, a little at a time, until you have a smooth, loose mixture. Break up any remaining bits of tapioca flour. Whisk in the vanilla and cinnamon, if using, and a pinch of salt.
  5. If your yeast is active—you should notice air bubbles and activity—pour it into the coconut milk-tapioca flour mixture.
  6. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap, set it on a baking sheet, and put in the warm oven for 2 hours.
  7. After 2 hours, you should notice that air bubbles have formed on the top and that the tapioca flour has separated from the other ingredients.
  8. Remove the bowl from the oven and preheat to 320° F. Butter a 9- by 5-inch loaf pan and line it with parchment paper (the butter helps the parchment to stay put).
  9. Once the oven is preheated, remove the plastic wrap from the bowl and use a rubber spatula to gently fold the mixture—being careful not to pop too many bubbles—so that the tapioca flour is again incorporated.
  10. Pour the batter into the prepared loaf pan, set on a baking sheet, and bake for 40 to 45 minutes, until the middle no longer jiggles and the top is brown. Turn off the oven and leave the cake inside for 20 minutes.
  11. Take the cake out of the oven and allow to cool for 10 minutes in the pan on a cooling rack. Remove the cake from the pan and allow to cool completely before slicing (easiest with a serrated knife or a very sharp chef's knife) and eating. I prefer the cake best when it's entirely cool and has a few hours to rest: The flavors get better with time and the squishiness becomes less of a burden and more of a boon.
  12. Serve slices with brûléed grapefruit rounds and frozen yogurt sorbet, if fancy-feeling.

See what other Food52ers are saying.

  • samanthaalison
  • molly moss
    molly moss
  • Jacqueline
  • cucinamagica
  • ChefJune

16 Reviews

brontehealy March 25, 2018
What’s a gram? I’m joking, but didn’t we fail to convert to the metric system. US measurements would be might handy here...
samanthaalison March 12, 2017
This was definitely weird, in a good way. I wasn't sure if I had done things right because I wasn't expecting such a runny batter when I went to put it in the oven, and it didn't seem like it had enough bubbles, but it came out almost just like the photos. The only issue I had is that the parchment somehow lifted off the bottom of the loaf pan and ended up half an inch from the top. I just peeled the top of the cake off the parchment and stuck it back on, but I'd skip the parchment next time.
Sarah J. March 12, 2017
So happy to hear that it worked out! I worry that the cake would stick without parchment paper, but let me know how it goes if you do try it!
tina F. April 13, 2016
Sounds great - but we feeble Americanos need to have the measurements in ounces and cups - I bet most of us aren't in the habit of using a kitchen scale for baking....???? TKS!
Arthur March 24, 2016
can the measurements be shown in American units also; such as ounces, or cups; rather than grams or milliliters only?
molly M. March 21, 2016
Tried this yesterday! Came out very tasty but not very tall. Perhaps because I live in Denver? Next time I will try not to let the initial yeast/coconut milk mixture rest so long (I think it was a bit more than 20 minutes), and I will try not to disturb the batter so much after its 2 hour rising process. Do you think more yeast would help? I didn't use quite the whole packet. Served it with some mango sorbet, but I think next time a cup of chai would be a nice complement.
Jacqueline February 6, 2016
This sounds so alluring! Coconut milk added to my grocery list....cannot wait to try this.
Sarah J. February 15, 2016
Let me know how it goes!
atika February 1, 2016
wow..I'm Indonesian but I've never managed to make Bika Ambon.
cucinamagica February 1, 2016
Thank you for the recipe! I am making it right now, it is in the oven :)
When it cools down, how should I store it?
Sarah J. February 1, 2016
How did it go?! Wrap it in plastic wrap, put in an airtight container, and keep it at room temperature for 2 or 3 days.
cucinamagica February 2, 2016
It worked!! :) I've liked the taste and the texture of it a lot. To me it was like a symbiosis of a cannele and a mochi. :) Half of the batter I've prepared using ebelskiver pan, and the other half I've baked in a cake pan. I saw here >> that bika ambon cakes are traditinally made in copper molds. The ebelskiver pan that I've had worked well. It was actually more spongy and more honeycomb like that way than the one I've prepared in a cake pan which was more dense. It can also be that I've cooked it a bit more in the cake pan than I've should have. Since it was half of the batter from your recipe, I've adjusted the cooking time to slightly less but still may have overdone it. Will try again very soon to refine the cooking time of my oven. THANKS again for the idea and the recipe!
cucinamagica February 2, 2016
Thank you for prompt response! I have stored it just like that and it keep gettin better every day! What a treat, will make it again very soon! :)
cucinamagica February 2, 2016
Your recipe worked well! I have made half of the batter in the ebelskiver pan, and the other half I've baked in a cake pan. The ones made in the ebelsiver pan were more spongy and honeycomb like, I may have overcooked slightly the other half in the cake pan in the oven but it still had honeycomb texture! To me this is like a symbiosis of a cannele and a mochi. :) Thanks again for the idea and the recipe!
ChefJune January 30, 2016
Oh how I wish I had coconut milk in the house. I would be SO all over this today.
Sarah J. January 30, 2016
It's worth a run to the store! :) But maybe another time. Can't wait to hear how it goes!