I’ve noticed that I’ve been cooking with banana leaves more than usual recently. Between the tamales, the banana sticky rice, and now the banh khoai mi nuong (baked Vietnamese yuca/cassava cake), I’ve finally depleted the stockpile of banana leaves that was sitting in my freezer.
Vietnamese yuca cake is by far one of my favorite sweet banhs of all time. For the longest time, I had no idea this banh was made from yuca. I always thought it was made primarily from mung beans due to it’s yellow color and sometimes grainy texture. In actuality, I wasn’t too far off because some renditions of the banh do call for some mung beans, but the main ingredient is of course yuca. Having been exposed to more foods made from tapioca starch and yuca over the years, I can safely say that the banh’s slightly chewy texture is distinctly that of yuca.
However, my favorite thing about this banh is the deep, rich coconut flavor that you get from it, as there is nothing to really get in its way. In fact, the yuca does wonders to highlight the coconut milk and vice versa: the coconut milk makes the yuca shine.
Grating and squeezing the moisture out of the yuca was interesting. After letting the expelled moisture sit in a bowl for a while, I noticed that the yuca’s pasty starch that was squeezed out settled to the bottom of bowl. I’d made tapioca starch! At least I’m pretty sure I did.
The recipe I followed was cobbled together from a couple recipes and my own personal taste and intuition:
- Grate (or perhaps puree?) 2 lbs of yuca and squeeze moisture out
- Combine yuca with 14 oz sweetened condensed milk, ~7 oz coconut milk, and 2 egg yolks
- Salt to taste in order to bring out the coconut flavor and balance the sweetness
- Optionally line pan with buttered banana leaves
- Fill pan with yuca mixture
- Bake at 350 F for 1 to 1.5 hours, until golden brown
I’m actually on the fence about the grating method. Whenever I buy this banh from a bakery or a grocery store, it seems like the yuca has been pureed, which gives the cake a smoother texture on the top. I prefer the smoother texture because sometimes the browned tips from the grated yuca can add an unpleasant hard texture to the banh. Moreover, I sometimes find inedible, woody pieces of grated yuca in the banh. Typically, I’m all for a mingling of textures, but not in this case. The inside, though, comes out nice and yuca-y in texture with a slight chew and no signs of stringy, grated pieces of yuca aside from the woody pieces every now and then.