T is for Tapioca

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Finally, we’ve got a letter T post! It took me long enough, but not for want of things starting with T…tomatoes, thyme, turmeric and toast anyone?

But when I opened the pantry, a bag of “sago” pearls caught my eye and that’s how I decided on Tapioca today.  It’s a little confusing, but a lot of commercially produced “sago pearls” are actually made from tapioca flour. True sago comes from a type of palm, but is also sold in pearl form, and can be used in much the same way as the tapioca flour pearls – hence the confusion.

Tapioca is the starch derived from the roots of the cassava plant (Manihot esculenta).  In Malaysia, it is known as ubi kayu (ubi=tuber, kayu=wood), and the tubers do look quite dark and “woody”. It was quite common to see the plants growing around homes when I was younger. Not only were the roots eaten, sometimes the tender leaf shoots were also served as a vegetable. However, I remember my mother warning us about eating tapioca leaves, explaining that it was poisonous.

 Frozen tapioca (cassav)

 According to Wikipedia, the plant contains cyanogenic glucosides. There are two varieties of cassava, a “bitter” and a “sweet” variety, (although non-bitter might be a better description). The former contains more cyanide than the latter. Eating too much improperly prepared cassava can lead to a disease known as konzo. Once cassava has been processed properly though, it is quite safe to eat - just don’t consume it raw!

Tapioca/cassava is a very hardy plant and an important food crop - Mum recalls tales of her family surviving on tapioca during the war (WW2). It is the third largest source of carbohydrates for human food in the world (according to Wikipedia).

Tapioca dish (Recipe at the end of post)

In fact, you might not know it but you’ve probably consumed tapioca in some form or other as it is used as a thickener (in the food industry), and can also be found in crackers. If you’ve had “vegetable” chips or prawn crackers, chances are, there was tapioca flour in it.

I remember quite a few tapioca based dishes from my childhood, usually snacks or desserts, but I think I remember a savoury curried dish which utilised tapioca too (can’t remember what the dish was called).

One of my absolute favourites was a type of cake/pudding known as Kuih Bengkang Ubi Kayu, sometimes also called Kuih Bingka, (but I always knew it as bengkang – not sure what the word  actually means). There are a few different versions of kuih bengkang, some containing flour and eggs – which I’m not really a fan of. The only type of bengkang that I enjoy is the tapioca version.



I’d never attempted to make it myself before, as it was really easy to just buy a slice from a stall at the markets or from a street vendor.  So I didn’t realise how easy it was to actually bake it at home until I found some recipes online (bless you bloggers!) . When I smelt the bengkang baking in the oven, huge waves of nostalgia washed over me, and tears threatened – this was a kuih I haven’t eaten in over 10 years. And yes, it did taste as I remembered.

Thank you for taking the time to trawl to this post ☺ Have a great weekend!

(if you’d like to know more, there’s always  this: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tapioca)


Kuih Bengkang Ubi Kayu (Tapioca Kuih Bengkang)
Translated and adapted from here.

(I halved the original recipe and based it on the ratios found there which is 4 cups grated tapioca: 1 cup sugar: 2 cups of coconut milk)



Cassava (about three pieces)
Sugar – half cup (I used caster sugar) (This make a less sweet kuih, if you like things quite sweet, add a little more sugar, maybe a couple of tablespoons more)
Coconut milk – 1 cup (I’d try adding a tablespoon or two of rich coconut cream next time I make this, just to oomph it up a little).
Pinch of salt

Start with about three medium pieces tapioca/cassava (I used thawed frozen  cassava).
Blend the tubers until quite smooth, adding a little water if necessary (not too much). Place the pulverised/grated pulp in a sieve and drain over a bowl for about half an hour or so, catching any liquid that falls through. Carefully pour off the liquid and there may be some starch settled in the bottom of the bowl, if so, scrape that back into the pulp mixture. Measure this pulp in a measuring jug (don’t pack down).



Preheat the oven to about 170 – 180˚ C.

Based on how much pulp is collected, calculate the amount of coconut milk and sugar required. Place all ingredients in a mixing bowl, add the salt and stir until well combined. Pour into a well-greased pan (I used a loaf pan for my small quantity), and place the tray in the lower third of the oven, bake for  about 1 hour, then move the pan closer to the top of the oven and continue baking for another half hour. Bake until the top becomes nice and browned, and a skewer inserted in the cake comes out clean.

Leave to cool in the pan, then carefully slide a metal spatula around the edges to loosen and tip the kuih out onto a chopping board. The edges may have stuck a little, but with a bit of careful manouvering it should come out in one piece. Slice into thick slices and serve at room temperature. It goes well with a glass of kopi-O (sweet, black coffee). My favourite bit is the crusty, chewy bit on the top.

12 comments:

~~louise~~ said...

What a wonderful and informative post, Shaz. I would love to give this a try someday. It looks heavenly:)

P.S. If you get a chance, drop by my blog tomorrow for next week's food days. I gave you a tiny mention. I think you will like it:)

Thanks for sharing all this information and the delightful recipe:)

pierre said...

i am not used to tapioca but I would like to taste it !! Pierre

grace said...

my only experience with tapioca is as a thickener, but i've always been intrigued by the pearls seen in bubble tea. thanks for continuing my education, shaz. :)

Xiao Yen Recipes said...

I love this cake. My aunt makes it often at family gatherings. I haven't had it for so long...time for some baking this weekend!

Trissa said...

It's about time we had a T!! So informative Shaz! I don't eat too much tapioca even if it is quite popular in the Philippines. I would love to try your cake one day!

Grace said...

mmmm, tapioca kuih and kopi O
reminds me of hot nights in malaysia with family

3 hungry tummies said...

Another of my childhood favourite! Can I use frozen tapioca?

shaz said...

~~louise~~ _ that's so sweet of you, thanks so much!


pierre - I think you'd have fun playing around with it. The flavour is a bit like potato.

grace - I like the tapioca pearls but funnily enough I don't really dig bubble tea all that much


Xiao Yen Recipes - Have fun!

Trissa - Of course T is also for Trissa right? ;) One day I'd love to share this with you (hopefully sooner rather than later)

Grace - I was so nostalgic too when I made this kuih.

3 hungry tummies - yes, that's exactly what I used and it seemed to work fine. Also, I used the blender, no need to "susah-susah" grate :)

MaryMoh said...

Thanks for all the information about tapioca. It's such a delicious kuih...my favourite.

Fimère said...

merci pour cette explication qui est très intéressante
bonne journée

Hungry Dog said...

Fascinating as always! I've never done anything with tapioca except put it into the odd pie filling here or there...now I'm intrigued by all the options!

Anh said...

Interesting... I do think I like the texture of casava cake. It's a popular cake in Southeast Asia, isn't it? :)