Growing up my sister always called these “Cow Cakes” because “Bánh” in Vietnamese means “Cake” and “Bò” means “Cow”. My Mom would laugh and explain to her that “Bò” also means “to crawl”. That’s what the batter does when it’s steamed–it “crawls” upward rising into a puffy cake. My sister’s nickname for this cake stuck in our household. Moving to southern California, I was pleasantly surprised to also hear others call them “Cow Cakes”. Depending on who you ask, you will definitely get different explanations on the name. Recently I read on Wikipedia the word “Bò” is intended to mean “Cow” as the cakes resemble a cow’s udder. Well, that I don’t really see. Call them what you will, these cakes are scrumptious and pretty easy to recognize. They are sweet, soft and moist and when cut open have honeycombs throughout which give the cakes their interesting spongy, light texture. The Viet version of these cakes are small and they are usually enhanced with food coloring (green, pink, yellow).
This Viet sweet treat is a dessert everyone should learn to make and it’s not as difficult as you may think. There are some key techniques you’ll need to learn but once you get these down, you’ll see how easy it is to make these cakes. Please watch the video, read the recipe along with the tips and tricks and follow the directions closely. Good Luck with the recipe!
Notes on the Recipe, Tips and Tricks
Use fresh active dry yeast. If the yeast isn’t frothy after letting it rest for 10 minutes the yeast has expired. The yeast is a key ingredient in this recipe we cannot compromise.
We activate the yeast using warm water that is approximately 100 degrees. It doesn’t have to be exactly 100 degrees. A little higher temperature is just fine–just don’t make it too hot, like 130 degrees or more, as this will surely kill the yeast.
In the colder months, the batter may not rise as quickly. To encourage the batter to rise, place the bowl in the oven with the light on and close the door. The light will generate some additional heat and further activate the yeast. During the summer months (air temperature in the 70’s), letting the batter rest on the kitchen counter is just fine. You do not need to put the batter in the oven during the summer months.
Wrap a large kitchen towel around the steamer lid to absorb the moisture. This saves time as you don’t have to continually wipe the lid as the cakes are steaming. If the moisture from the lid drips down onto the cakes, you’ll see little blisters in the cakes. Also, water drips from the lid could affect the consistency of the cakes as well, and they may become too wet.
You can use liquid or gel food coloring. Gel food coloring requires lots of mixing so be sure to work it into the batter evenly so there are no streaks or blotches of color. When adding food coloring, keep in mind the colors brighten when the cakes are steamed so go easy on the food coloring and don’t add too much.
Consider using your wok to steam the cakes if you don’t have a steamer large enough to hold a mini-muffin pan. The same steaming rules apply.
As an alternative to using a mini muffin pan, you can use any small dishes or cups. Try to keep them about the same size so they are done steaming at the same time. To test for doneness, insert a toothpick into the cake and if it comes out clean, it’s done. The mini-muffins steam for 6 minutes so adjust your steaming time according to the size of your dishes or cups.
Since the batter is near the warm stove, you may notice bubbles forming on top of the batter. Use a spoon or skimmer to scoop off the bubbles. These bubbles make the tops of the cakes uneven and bumpy.
As the flour has a tendency to settle, be sure to stir the batter several times before pouring into the pan or dishes.
Having two sets of mini-muffin pans is best. As one batch is cooling you can start steaming another one. You’ll be able to make the cakes very quickly.
Be sure to steam the empty muffin pan or dishes before adding the batter. The hot pan or dishes will help the batter to rise and make the cakes fluffy.
When preparing the steamer, fill the bottom pan with plenty of water, about 3/4 full.
The steam needs to be strong and steady when cooking these cakes. The goal is to steam these cakes quickly over High heat.
Store any portions not eaten within the day in an airtight container and refrigerate. Warm the cakes by popping them in the microwave for 15-30 seconds or steaming for 1 minute. Consume the cakes within the week.
If you enjoyed this recipe, you may also like: Honeycomb Cake (Banh Bo Nuong).
1/2 cup water + 2 tsp active dry yeast + 1 tsp sugar
1 lb or 3 3/4 cups rice flour
1/3 cup tapioca starch
2 cups water
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 packet vanilla sugar (approximately 8 grams)
1-14 oz can coconut milk
1 cup water
food coloring: green, pink and yellow
1/4 cup vegetable oil (to oil muffin pans)
Warm 1/2 cup of water to approximately 100 degrees. Add the active dry yeast and sugar and stir together. Let the mixture rest for 10 minutes or until it becomes frothy.
In a large bowl, add the rice flour, tapioca starch and 2 cups water. Whisk together until the mixture is smooth and free of lumps. Add the frothy yeast mixture to the flour mixture and combine well. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and allow to rest on the counter for 2 hours. (If making this during the winter months, please see above Notes.)
In a large measuring cup or bowl, combine the sugar, vanilla sugar, coconut milk and water. Whisk together until the sugar is dissolved. Microwave the liquid on High for 1 minute. Let the liquid cool until the temperature is approximately 100 degrees.
Pour the coconut milk mixture into the batter and whisk together combining well. Strain the batter. Pour the batter into 4 separate cups or bowls, approximately 1 3/4 cups each. Add your choice of food coloring to each batch. Let the batter rest for 30 minutes.
Fill a steamer basin 3/4 of the way with water. Cover and bring to a rapid boil over High heat.
Using a small brush, lightly oil each of the cups of the muffin pan. Place the empty muffin pan into the steamer tray and steam for 1 minute.
Stir the batter a few times and then pour the batter into the muffin cups filling each cup almost to the top. (Leave some room so the cakes can expand and rise.) Cover and steam the cakes for 3 minutes. Remove the lid and wipe off the moisture. Replace the lid and steam for another 3 minutes.
Allow the cakes to cool for 5 minutes before removing from the pan.
Enjoy these cakes while they’re fresh. A simply delicious way to serve these cakes is to drizzle them with a creamy Coconut Sauce and then top with roasted sesame seeds.
Yields: 5 dozen
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