My mother used to bake mainly during Christmas, and occasionally for a few other events. She cooked a lot more than she baked. Having 5 children and working full time, she was an extremely time constrained individual, yet found the time to make home cooked meals for us on most nights, and we happily ate them up.
For Christmas, she would usually make round or square carrot cakes that were extremely moist because she used vegetable oil for the fat. She pulled out all the stops with these cakes. Aside from the oil, eggs, sugar, and, of course, carrots, she often also put in copious amounts of flaked coconut, raisins, nuts, pineapple, and even prunes! I miss those cakes.
She’d buy disposable aluminum pans that would also become part of the packaging, as she’d leave the cakes in the pan and wrap them up in cellophane or gift wrapper, which was so convenient. I’m not sure whom she gave them to, but I think she stopped making those when she had her triple bypass surgery at 53. After that, she went on a very strict high-fiber, low-fat diet, and that also influenced the types of cakes she made for others. That was in 1984. She lived to be 82, so she definitely made a lifestyle change that suited her well.
One of the things she also made was cassava cake, a Filipino dessert cake that usually, aside from grated cassava (a very starchy root vegetable used to make tapioca) also contained a lot of butter, eggs, sugar, cream and sometimes even grated cheese on top! (And I still drool and one day hope to make Jhuls’ version of cassava cake here. One day.)
There are definitely different versions that are healthier, but most of the time a cassava cake is fairly rich with these ingredients.
My mom’s version was without eggs or dairy. It was actually vegan and gluten-free, although back then, nobody used those terms.
I did not remember this, but just found out through my sister that the version she made had just three ingredients! I always thought she made a richer version. The three ingredients were: grated cassava, coconut milk, and something called macapuno, which are strands of young coconut in syrup. That was it! Crazy, huh? Here is an online version of what she made.
I decided to make something that was almost the same, except I wanted to add unsweetened coconut cream (still vegan, but a little more fat), 1 vanilla bean, and egg whites. My version is still gluten-free and almost animal free, except for the egg whites.
Little did I know that what I was making was going to separate into two layers! It’s sort of like a magic cake! The top layer is cassava, which is almost like a tapioca pudding cake layer. The bottom layer is like a macapuno cake layer. When taking it out of its pan, be extremely slow and careful, running a knife along the edges of the pan first before carefully flipping it and re flipping it back to the right side up position on a platter or dish.
The result is this delicate cake that surprisingly, even with the syrup from the macapuno, isn’t too sweet. I was quite pleased with the vanilla bean addition, and maybe next time I’ll also add some grated lime zest, too!
I will definitely be making this again, because it is still relatively healthy and easy to make. Plus it brings back happy memories of my mother. I hope you enjoy!
magic cassava coconut cake
1 pound bag of frozen grated cassava, thawed
13 ounce can of coconut milk, (roughly 1.5 cups and 1/8 cup)
14 ounce can unsweetened coconut cream, (roughly 2 cups)
8 ounces of macapuno, from 12 ounce jar
1 vanilla bean worth of scraped seeds from pod
4 egg whites, beaten to stiff peaks
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Grease the bottom of an 8 by 8 inch square pan, then line the bottom and two sides with parchment paper, letting the parchment hang about an inch from the two sides, then grease the bottom of the parchment paper again. Set aside.
Combine and blend with a hand held beater the cassava, coconut milk, coconut cream, macapuno, and the vanilla bean contents. The batter will be quite thin. Set aside.
With clean beaters in a bowl, beat the egg whites slowly on medium until stiff peaks arise.
Add half to batter and fold in swiftly. Add the second half. Batter will still be quite thin.
Pour into prepared pan and bake until top is golden brown and toothpick test in center comes out clean, or for 50-60 minutes. Beware that sometimes the surface may be golden brown, but batter below may still be liquid. The cake will be quite moist, but you don’t want it raw in the middle, so be careful. Mine took roughly 50 minutes, but in hindsight, it could probably have used 5-10 minutes. I think it turned out okay though. I initially was going to take it out after 45 minutes, but it was definitely still runny in the middle at that time.
Remove from oven and let cool in pan for about 15-20 minutes before removing. Before inverting, use a thin knife to go over the edges to ensure it will not stick to the pan. Flip back to right side up on a platter or cake stand. Cut into about 2 inch squares.
This would probably be really good with a coconut sorbet.
This is my favorite photo of my mom. She was probably in her mid-twenties in this photo. Her funeral was a year ago today, so I wanted to post something related to her that I could remember her by. I miss you, Mama.