For a family gathering, one of my cousins surprised us all with a platter of white cubes studded with crushed peanuts and roasted mung beans.
“This is kakaning Laguna,” she explained.
Kakanin is a generic, catch-all term for native sweets which run the gamut from caramel-coated bananas to fluffy rice cakes to steamed logs of glutinous purple rice. This particular kind of kakanin is made in the town of Binan which has long been known for the eponymous puto Binan, a fluffy steamed sponge sweetened with muscovado sugar which also gives it a characteristic beige hue and a rather plummy aroma.
According to my cousin, kakaning Laguna is made in pretty much a similar manner to shortcut mochi. Galapong – glutinous rice flour – is dissolved into a liquid; for mochi, it’s a mix of water and a sweetened alcohol. In this case, however, the flour is dissolved in a rich mixture of coconut milk and evaporated milk. Roasted and crushed peanuts and mung beans as well as grated cheese are stirred into the slurry and the resulting mixture is cooked in large vats (kawa) over a low fire until it becomes so thick that it’s difficult to stir. This fudge-like mix is pressed into oiled rectangular tins and steamed for a short while. Once these have cooled, the cakes are cut up into manageable cubes.
These are delicious little bites: chewy squares that are mildly sweet with a nuttiness imparted by the peanuts and mung beans and a slight saltiness from the cheese which also contributes to make these cakes unctuously rich and moreish. Most local rice cakes demand a further sprinkling of sugar or latik (the sweet brown crumbles left after boiling coconut milk till it scorches dry) or a roll in fresh, grated coconut (same as our friends Down Under would do with a lamington), but these wee treats are jim-dandy tasty without further embellishment.