Saturday, May 28, 2011

Recipe Experimentation: Cassava Cake & Sticky Rice

Champagne Mmmmmmango
One of the tricky aspects of eating a restrictive diet is the fact that you can't have the foods you love. My family is Filipino, and loves a good dessert. I mean, who doesn't? After I got this recipe from a Filipino coworker, one of the dishes that they often ask me to make is cassava cake.  I think an easy way to describe cassava cake is that it's like a coconut flavored bread pudding, only instead of bread, you use a starchy root (cassava/yucca) as the base. Topped off with condensed milk, like any decent Filipino confection, it's a whole lot of rich and sweet and yummy.
For my brother and his then fiancee's wedding shower before Easter (yes, this is how behind I am on my posts, folks), I made cassava cake for the family. I thought this would be a good time for me to experiment with my first recipe innovation for a dessert.  I had made a "sugar-free" version of cassava cake years before, only to have it turn out dry, so I wanted to see if I could apply my newer familiarity with sweeteners to come up with a better version.

The main sugar culprits
The recipe I use for cassava cake has three major culprits for sugar: condensed milk, cream of coconut (the kind used when making pina coladas), and macapuno. I am not sure how to describe macapuno, though I like the explanation given hereHere's a picture of what it looks like when you open one up. Think soft, young, thick, shredded coconut. In syrup. Syrup is the main concern here, though I suppose if the macapuno is cooked down in it, there's still some issues with using it. It's very tasty though, as the texture is meatier and softer than the typical coconut you buy.  And you can't really make a decent cassava cake without macapuno, but the syrup at least has to go.

So, the macapuno substitution was pretty straight forward: get rid of the syrup. I rinsed off the coconut strings completely. The problem with this is that I just lost a lot of my sweetener and some of the moisture of my dessert. This is where the last post's information comes in handy: I need something sweet, but also find a way of returning some softness and moisture to the mix. Enter vegetable glycerine. Since it's hygroscopic, I knew it'd do a good job of retaining the soft texture I'm looking for while still sweetening things up. Had I been a good, diligent blogger, I would have kept track of how much I added. But things were hectic, I was eyeballing it instead of measuring, and I trusted my sieve of a memory to recall the info when things settled down. Not very logical, but certainly in character of me. Let's say it was about a quarter cup.

But I don't like how sweet veggie glycerin is on it's own. It's too much for me. So, I added a tablespoon or so of inulin to calm it down and balance out the sweet spectrum. I may have added a little stevia, but I don't remember at this point. I do know that I refined the taste mainly by comparing the more Seeks-friendly version to the regular version I was making at the same time. Tweek. Taste. Tweek. Taste. Satisfaction. 

Creamed coconut
The cream of coconut was another, similar matter. The addition of cream of coconut adds a lot of sugar and syrupy moistness to the mix, but also adds more coconut. Since I took care of the sweet and moist with the sweeteners I used, the question was how to get more rich coconut into the recipe. Only a few weeks before I had found creamed coconut in the health food store. And then I found it in the Filipino food store as well. My impression is that it's the results of the first pressing of coconut to get coconut milk. You can use it to make your own coconut milk, from what I gather. You reconstitute it in water and you end up with a thick, somewhat gritty, but concentrated stew of coconut.

Reconstituted creamed coconut reminds me of cream of wheat

Finally, for the condensed milk, I really should say that there is no good substitution. Not for all of the characteristics that make the condensed milk so good for this dish. You put it on top of the cassava cake and it browns and bubbles and becomes a sweet, syrupy, milky mess of goodness. You can't get that without sugar. But I wanted something. So I put some yacon syrup on top (which I said earlier at least gives a meek impression of molasses).

And here are the results, with the standard cassava cake on the right, and my safe(r) version on the left:
top view
side view

As you can see, there really is no replacing the condensed milk. The yacon syrup just can't compete. But otherwise, the moisture and texture of the two are really quite similar. Yay! The taste is a little milder on my version, but that is again mainly due to the lack of condensed milk: I really should have put about twice as much yacon syrup on top to match the sweetness of sugar, and that seems like a waste of a lot of yacon syrup. What I may do next time is mix the yacon with glycerin, to maintain more of a syrupy topping than what I had gotten, and to get more sweet with a touch of molasses action.

I want to post the recipe, but am going to try and get permission from my old coworker first, as it's her recipe.  If I get permission, I'll post it! In my opinion, everyone's life would be better with a little more cassava cake.

I also made mangos and sticky rice, a standard version based on this recipe and an alternatively sweetened version (I think I used a stevia/inulin mix).  I am not going to go into details on the process, as this has already gone on long enough. But I can't help but post the pretty food pictures.

Neither of these dishes are really all that good for me to eat, even with the better sweeteners. Coconut, yucca, and rice are all limits. But it all comes down to serving size at that point, so I just take small bits that add up to partial limits. The cassava cake freezes well and reheats in the oven quite happily. And the sticky rice just didn't survive the family.


  1. House Of Pinheiro5/29/2011 9:20 AM

    I love cassava! We Brazilians have tons of use for it. Thanks for sharing yours!

  2. I love sticky rice!!!! You know i am now gonna attempt both of these, your such an inspiration to me Jess :)

  3. So, you never got permission to post the recipe? or is it here and I don't see it?