Another traditional cake – Bánh Bà Lai

I’m very curious about the names of certain traditional cakes in Vietnam. Some of them are quite interesting. Unfortunately, I have no idea why and how people came up with those names, by the texture (like bánh da lợnpork’s skin cake) ? or by the special occasion when the cake has been made (like bánh phu thê, i.e husband and wife cake, as the cake is one of the offerings during the wedding ceremony), by the preparation process (like bánh bò, i.e crawling cake, precisely honeycomb cake, during the fermentation process, the dough is rising and likely crawling over the edge of the bowl).

Today I’m sharing another cake with a mysterious name – Bánh Bà Lai, if it’s literally translated into English, it means “The cake of Madame Lai”, but I’m not sure this is a right explanation. The cake normally has three layers with three different colors : green, dark brown and yellow. So to me it could be Bánh Ba Lai (i.e three layers, but with the time, by word of mouth, people mistakingly call “Bà”, i.e Madame, instead of “Ba” which means “Three”!

Bánh Bà Lai

Anyway Bà Lai or Ba Lai, it’s fine, I’ll follow the traditional name, widely accepted by people. Now I’m curious about the texture of Bà Lai cake compared with Pork’s skin, some ingredients are the same but Bà Lai cake requires three different flours, it’s also interesting to me! So let’s do it!

Bà Lai requires three kinds of flours, eggs and condensed milk
Same as pork’s skin, Bà Lai also has green mung bean as the key ingredient
To cook green mung bean with a little water until it’s soft
easy to mash the beans to a paste
but we need a blender to blend the beans with sugar, preferably, yellow one…
to get a perfectly smooth paste
Green mung bean paste
Pandan leaf
Blend with water and sieve it
add the sugar to pandan leaf extract (or juice)
The cacao powder with sugar and warm water, we need to sieve it
So we have all three ingredients for layers
Now time to prepare the mixture of coconut milk, eggs, condensed milk and 3 kinds of flours
Adding condensed milk to the coconut sauce mixture
Adding the all-purpose, tapioca and rice flours
We need a blender to smooth the mixture and equally divided into three portions
One portion for cacao mixture
Mix well
Mixture of pandan-leaf
Mixture of green mung bean, here we need a blender
Three equal portions, the green mung bean mixture is thicker than the other two
Like Pork’s skin cake Bà Lai cake is steamed…
Usually Bà Lai has only three layers: dark brown, yellow and green but I made some changes
Bánh Bà Lai is served cold, the cake looks so smooth after a night in the fridge!

Like Pork’s skin cake, I keep the recipe of Bà Lai here just for my record, because I’m not sure this is the best, but I like the cake texture, very different from Pork’s skin, taste is also different thanks to the eggs and condensed milk. I didn’t add vanilla because I tried to enhance the pandan leaf flavor, I also reduce the coconut milk by adding the water but I may add more condensed milk! Here’s the recipe for your reference!

  1. The coconut milk mixture
    • Coconut milk 500 ml (or half milk half water)
    • Eggs 03 pcs (approx. 150 gr.)
    • Condensed milk 120 ml ( I would add a little bit more up to 140ml.)
    • All purpose flour 90 gr.
    • Rice flour 90 gr.
    • Tapioca flour 60 gr.
    • Vanilla 5 ml.
    • Salt 2 gr.
      • Mix all together, we need a blender to get a smooth mixture and sieve it again, divide into three equal portions (appr. 330 ml./each)
  2. The green mung bean mixture
    • Green mung beans 60 gr.
    • Sugar 50 gr.
    • Salt 1-2 gr.
      • Clean and soak the beans in the warm water for at least one hour before cook with a little water, do add salt, cook until it’s soft, easy to mash. We need to blend it to get a paste
  3. The pandan leaf mixture
    • Pandan leaf 50 gr. (or more)
    • Water 100 ml.
    • Sugar 50 gr.
      • Blend the leaf with water, sieve it and mix with sugar. We need only 50 ml. of pan dan leaf juice with sugar.
  4. The cacao mixture
    • Warm water 50 ml.
    • Cacao powder 12 gr.
    • Sugar 50 gr.
      • Mix well and sieve it carefully

Do add every ingredient to the coconut milk mixture, and time to steam our Bà Lai. Usually the cake has only three layers, but as I double the recipe and use two rings ( dia. 16 cm., height 6 cm) as mold (cover the bottom with food wrap film) so I create some layers to get to the top of the ring!

I use the ring to steam this cake, my ring is 16 cm (dia) and 6 cm (height)

If compared with Pork’s skin cake, Bà Lai has totally different texture and flavor, but by somehow when I post the picture on Facebook, people confused with Pork’s skin, probably by the two colors : green and yellow, typically symbolized for Pork’s skin!

While Pork’s skin is chewy with strong flavor of the pandan leaf, Bà Lai’s texture is smoother, softer, it’s good if we eat it cold. Anyway I like both, Pork’s skin from my childhood and Bà Lai as my new discovery in our traditional pastry treasure!

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