Let’s head to Vietnam to talk about bánh bò. These rice cakes with a spongy texture are a pillar of the South Asian country’s gastronomy. They are served as a snack or for dessert. Bánh bò are made locally and offered by street vendors in Viet Nam. Hard to miss, you will find them everywhere!
What is bánh bò?
Bánh bò are small spongy rice flour cakes. They have a light and airy texture. They are steamed in a muffin tin for about 10 minutes before serving them just lukewarm. But it takes three hours to rise the dough to create the characteristic small bubbles on the surface.
Bánh bò are delicately flavored with coconut. These rice cakes are classified in the bánh category, meaning “cake”. The bánh are a set of very varied dishes of Vietnamese cuisine.
Be careful, however, not to confuse the bánh bò with the bánh bao. Bánh bao are rice cakes, but they look more like stuffed buns. They are also from Vietnam and are consumed in southern China as well. They are called naihuangbao in Mandarin, and naaiwoongbaau in Cantonese (literally “imperial package with milk”). Bánh bao are close to the baozi of North and East of China and the buuz of the Mongols, but are always sweet, like bánh bò. However, their dough contains cow’s milk and the stuffing usually contains hard-boiled egg and sausage.
Bánh bò made from dairy products is a newer form of bánh bò. The main traditional ingredients, specifically coconut milk, are replaced by cow’s milk. They are like steamed buns. As for the bánh bò, the cake dough is very liquid. Bánh bò is cooked using the traditional steam cooking method.
What is bánh bò dừa?
Among the most recent varieties of bánh bò, a delicious one has appeared in the late 2000s. It is called bánh bò dừa, which literally means “coconut bánh bò”. This variety of bánh bò is not generally well known in the West because it does not look the same as the traditional bánh bò.
The ingredients that compose it are different from those of bánh bò. Indeed, bánh bò dừa are prepared from wheat flour, hen eggs and of course coconut. But the particularity of these cakes is based on their cylindrical shape that breaks easily into two parts, like a box. Inside this box, you will discover long shreds of sweet coconut.
The baking soda in the dough is responsible for the lightness of the cake. This type of cake is different from the bánh bò because it is no longer porous and contains many air bubbles. The cake dough is also more liquid. The peculiarity of bánh bò dừa is above all its texture: a fine and hard crust, and a soft interior full of small bubbles, similar to a honeycomb, which is why it is also called honeycomb cake in English.
These cupcakes are filled with a mixture of sweet coconut and cooked mung beans. Bánh bò dừa are cooked in a typical mold called “honeycomb mold” or hollow cylinder. When the crust of the cake is baked to perfection, introduce the shreds of coconut and mung beans, then close it with a ladle of dough on top. You then have to immediately turn the baking pan over and let it bake. The finished product looks like a round cylinder or a small flat pancake in its individual version.
Bánh bò dừa is one of the typical cakes of Vietnamese street cooking. Formerly, they were made in larger molds and served in large slices with the shreds of coconut and the yellow mung bean purée were sticking out. Today, bánh bò dừa are still sold in Vietnam, but come in the form of smaller cakes than originally.
How to make bánh bò
Nowadays, bánh bò can be made in muffin pans. But it’s a good idea to use cylindrical individual muffin cups. These are taller and stronger than traditional individual muffin molds. They can easily be manipulated after being steamed. As a result, the shape of the bánh bò will be more regular and it will be easier to unmold the rice cakes.
Idli, a variant of bánh bò
In India, idli is an interesting variant of bánh bò. It is a traditional bread that is prepared and baked in the same way as bánh bò. However, unlike bánh bò, idli does not contain sweet ingredients and its taste is more neutral. It comes in the form of small pancakes.
Feel free to vary the food colorings for a dramatic effect. There are also bánh bò that are multicolored. Just use your imagination and your creativity.
In a bowl, whisk vigorously all the ingredients except the food coloring until smooth.
Cover and let the dough sit for 3 hours in a warm, draft-free place.
After 3 hours, air bubbles will form on the surface of the dough.
Mix the dough and divide it into 3 equal portions.
Then add the food coloring to each portion. Mix well.
Grease a small muffin pan.
Pour the dough in ¾ of each mold, so that there is room for the dough to rise.
Place the pan (or individual molds) in a large steamer with boiling steam.
Cover and steam for 10 minutes over medium heat or until an inserted toothpick comes out clean.