Biko is my all-time favorite Filipino dessert or merienda (snack) item. It uses only 4 ingredients—which, in a pinch, can even be cut down to 3—and is so simple to make and requires no special tools or pans, which makes it an easy endeavor for someone who doesn’t yet have a properly-equipped kitchen.
Last week, I wanted to make something sweet for my son Tim. His favorite: cookies. Then I looked at my favorite recipe and realized that I needed to get every single item in the ingredient list. Chocolate chips. Vanilla. Flour. Butter. Sugar. Eggs. Nuts. A whisk. A mixing bowl. Cookie sheets. Maybe a cookie scoop too, since there is this strange pain in the fingers of my right hand that could use the help.
It overwhelmed me. I wasn’t even sure I’d have enough cupboard space to keep all these ingredients. So I just bought a tub of cookie dough. In an attempt to make it kinda special, I pressed pieces of Toblerone chocolate in the cookies. (Yes, I have no butter or sugar, but I have Toblerone chocolate.)
Tim enjoyed them, but Tom is not a big fan of cookies. However, both of them love biko. And I only needed to buy 4 things: sweet rice, brown sugar, coconut milk, and coconut cream. I could have even skipped the coconut cream and used the thick cream that rises to the top in a good can of coconut milk (don’t shake it!).
Biko is like a soft, warm, sticky rice cake. It uses sweet rice or sticky rice. It is sometimes called glutinous rice because it gets gluey when cooked but it contains no gluten. It’s a different kind of grain and often, attempts to substitute other kinds of rice for sweet or sticky rice just don’t yield the same results.
I have fond memories of biko. When I was young, I used to call my mom at her office everyday at 2:20pm (I got home from school at 2:10pm) to remind her to bring me some biko. Every single day for three months, she would get her biko call. Then I’d get tired of it and ask for something else for a week or two, after which I’d start making the biko calls all over again for another three months. Biko memories always make me smile, so yesterday, after taking one bite of still-warm biko, it instantly cheered me up and helped me get past a recent bout of the blues.
I cooked yesterday’s biko in a regular pot, then baked it in another pot. These photos don’t show that because these were taken before we lost our kitchen. I’m so glad I sent these to a food blogger friend last month (she’s a biko fanatic) because that meant I still had these photos in my Gmail sent folder to share with you now.
Biko (Filipino Sweet Sticky Rice)
Makes one 9×13 pan
You need to use sweet rice or sticky rice (sometimes called glutinous rice) for this recipe. Coconut cream is found in most Asian and ethnic stores but if you can’t find it, just use the the thick cream from the top layer of a good quality can of coconut milk. Don’t worry if you end up with less coconut milk to use with the rice—simply add enough water to reach the desired amount of cooking liquid.
This recipe can easily be halved. If you like crunchy rice edges, cook the biko in muffin pans or brownie bar pans. Be careful when you pull it out of the oven; the caramelized brown sugar is very hot and can burn you if you try to taste it immediately.
4 cups sweet rice, soaked overnight in 8 cups water
Soak rice overnight. The next day, drain and set aside.
Pour coconut milk and about a cup of water into a pot and let it come to a simmer over medium heat. When simmering, add soaked rice and stir constantly to prevent burning. Lower the heat if necessary. Preheat oven to 350F.
When rice is fully cooked, sticky and almost dry (it will look like sticky risotto), about 10-15 minutes, add 1 cup brown sugar. (Note: If rice is already sticky but not yet fully cooked, add small amounts of water, stir and continue cooking. Rice must be fully cooked before it goes into the oven.) Stir well and take off heat. Pour into a lightly buttered 9×13 pan and smooth the top. Mix the remaining 1 cup brown sugar and coconut cream until smooth and pour it over the rice.
Bake for about 1 hour or up to 1 1/2 hours, until topping is dark brown and has thickened. Cool slightly before serving.
For an alternate (easier) method, you will need 4 cups rice (soaked overnight and drained), 2 cups coconut cream, and 2 cups brown sugar. Prepare rice in a rice cooker on the “sweet rice” setting, using as much water as needed for 4 cups rice. When done, mix in 1 cup sugar and 1 cup coconut cream. Pour into greased 9×13 pan and smooth the top. Mix remaining 1 cup brown sugar and 1 cup coconut cream until smooth, and pour over rice. Bake at 350ºF for about 1 hour or up to 1 1/2 hours, until topping is dark brown and has thickened.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to go call my mom. I think it’s time I repaid her for all those years of answering my biko calls.