MEKONG DELTA — For those who love traditional Vietnamese cakes, bánh da lợn (literal translation “pig-skin cake”) should be at the top of your list during Tết (Lunar New Year) holiday that celebrated the Year of the Pig.
Bánh da lợn (steamed layer cake) is one of the most loved traditional cakes sold at local markets. — VNS Photo Ngọc Diệp
Bánh da lợn (a kind of steamed layer cake) is one of the best-loved cakes from the southern region. But no one knows exactly who made the first cake and where it originated.
According to many older people, the name “pig skin cake” is based on the shape of the cake, which has multiple thin and soft layers, which looks like the skin of pigs.
The cake can easily be found in many places in the south in local markets or on the streets. It is also served as a dessert in some hotels and restaurants and during parties.
It can also be a quick and convenient item for breakfast.
The process of making bánh da lợn is quite simple and can be done at home, said Châu Kim Thuận, 68, an experienced traditional cake maker in Cần Thơ City’s Phong Điền District.
Thuận’s family has made traditional cakes for five generations.
Pouring and steaming bánh da lợn properly requires good cooking skills. — VNS Photo Ngọc Diệp
According to the traditional method, bánh da lợn often has two colours: milky white and green.
The ingredients are easy to purchase, including rice flour, cassava starch, coconut milk, panda leaf, sugar and water.
Fresh panda leaves should be carefully washed and cut into small species, then blended with fresh water to collect panda leaf extract.
In a bowl, rice flour is mixed with coconut milk, sugar and water, and stirred until smooth for the white batter.
To make the green batter, combine tapioca with the panda leaf extract, sugar and water in another bowl, and stir until the mixture is smooth.
“The amount of sugar and water added to the mixture is also important as it will decide the taste of the cake,” Thuận said.
The final step is steaming the cake. Cakes usually are steamed in small-shaped molds or in a large mold.
Before steaming, the mold is covered by an oil layer inside and placed on a steam pot.
“The mold must be placed on a balanced steam pot to ensure evenly thick layers,” Thuận said.
Pandan leaf and coconut milk give bánh da lợn a delicious taste and wonderful fragrance. — VNS Photo Ngọc Diệp
After pouring the white batter into the mold for the first layer (which is 1-2cm thick), cover and steam for five to seven minutes, and then pour the green batter for the second layer and steam for another five to seven minutes.
Checking a layer is done by lightly touching the cake with a chopstick. If the batter does not stick to the chopstick, the cake is done. If any batter sticks to the chopstick, steam for another minute and then check again.
Keep doing this until the mold is filled. Make as many layers as you want.
Depending on the size of the mold and the thickness of each layer, a cake will have eight to 10 or more layers.
The steaming technique, which is important in this recipe, requires a skilled cook.
“Too much heat and steam will cause the cake to bubble and blister and become tough. If you see bubbles in the cake, reduce the heat,” Thuận said.
The shape of bánh da lợn (literal translation “pig-skin cake”) looks artistic with alternating green” and “milky white” layers. — VNS Photo Ngọc Diệp
Cooks should cover the lid of the pot with a kitchen towel to prevent any water from dripping onto the cake.
When the last layer is finished, take the mold out of the steam pot, and wait for the cake to cool down completely before removing from the mold.
Cooks should use a knife to cut the cake into smaller pieces.
“I love the smell of pandan leaves which make the cake fragrant and tasty. It is also flavoured with coconut milk,” Thuận said.
Cake makers today have made many different versions of bánh da lợn.
They have added more layers by mixing rice flour smashed with mung beans or taro with durian, and tapioca starch mashed with lá cẩm (leaf of magenta tree for purple colour).
Such inventions will ensure that the cake and its recipes will be passed down to future generations. — VNS