The queen of Christmas coconut treats is undoubtedly bibikkan, a rich, dark moist cake made of shredded coconut, jaggery and semolina that drives the sweet tooth wild. Bibikkan takes pride of place alongside other loved seasonal preparations such as Dutch Breudher and Poffertjes.
Its lavish assortment of ingredients include grated jaggery or treacle, melted in a little water, heated, then cooled and mixed into a batter with roasted semolina. Chopped dates, winter melon and ginger preserve, candied peel and cashew nuts are added to it, along with crushed fennel, cardamom, cloves and cinnamon and a dash of salt. A beaten egg is folded in before the mixture is popped into the oven. The ingredients give this cake a delectably moist chewiness not replicated in the rest of the season’s spread of fruity sweetmeats; not even the glorious Christmas cake.
No one is certain where Bibikkan came from. Some say it originated from the country’s coastal areas where the Portuguese who colonised the island in 1505, stayed till 1658. They give all credit to the Portuguese. Locally, Bibikkan was once known as ‘poranu appa’, a traditional baked bread, alluding to indigenous beginnings. Today, it is also known as ‘pol’ or coconut cake.
Little is known about how this delicious coconut cake came to be called Bibikkan, although the name echoes Bibingkang, a rice flour cake made with coconut milk and, sometimes, grated coconut, traditionally served near churches in the Philippines on Christmas Day.
One can only imagine how the island’s wealth of ingredients inspired a creative cook to experiment with various combinations of local ingredients, like the local palm treacle, grated coconut, dry fruit and spices, until the humble rice flour cake metamorphosed into the queenly Bibikkan, a perfect dusky brown slab of luscious cake that was so irresistible, it became one of Sri Lanka’s very own festive offerings, more textured than Christmas cake, sweet but not overpoweringly so, and fragrant with spices. Bibikkan is infrequent, only making an appearance on festive and religious occasions like New Year’s night and Sinhala and Tamil New Year. And of course, Christmas. The long wait for this delicious indulgence makes it all the more desirable.
- 225 g jaggery
- 225 g coconut
- 50 g semolina
- 100 g dates
- ½ teaspoon fennel
- 1 cardamom
- 50 g winter melon preserves
- 25 g ginger preserves
- 25 g candied peel
- 50 g cashew nuts
- ¼ teaspoon salt
- ½ teaspoon baking powder
- ¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 1 egg
- Grate the jaggery and coconut, dry roast the semolina and stone and chop the dates.
- Roast and crush the fennel and crush the cardamom. Chop the winter melon preserve, the ginger preserve, the candied peel and the cashew nuts.
- Dissolve the jaggery in 375 ml water in a pan, add the coconut and cook for 2-3 minutes.
- Cool the mixture and then stir in the semolina, dates, fennel, cardamom, winter melon preserve, ginger preserve, candied peel, cashew nuts, salt, baking powder and cinnamon.
- Separate the egg and beat the white and yolk separately. Fold into the cake mixture and pour into a buttered baking tray. Bake in a moderate oven (160°C ) for 1½ hours.