Thursday, September 17, 2009

Bánh Phu Thê (Husband and Wife Cake)

I obviously have an enjoyment of food to write a food blog. I think I inherited this from my mom. Except, sometimes, my mom brings it to another level. Sometimes, she gets obsessed, a bit crazed when it comes to food. I clearly remember when I was young, my mom baking a cake, and after it collapsing, turning around and making a second one immediately. She wouldn't stop until she got it right. Recently, she has been obsessed with bánh phu thê, experimenting until she got it right.

Bánh phu thê is a Vietnamese cake traditionally served at both engagement and wedding functions. The words phu thê mean husband and wife respectively in old Vietnamese. The name stems from the box and lid in which the sweet is served (because a box and lid come together and becomes one? I think it can be interpreted differently...). It is also known more commonly as bánh xu xê. The Gastronomer tried some in Vietnam and did not seem too impressed; maybe she has to try my mom's!

In Vietnam, the boxes are made out of coconut leaves. Since coconut leaves are hard to find, my mom made the box and lid out of aluminium foil (although I asked why she didn't use banana leaves instead - she just didn't think about it!). When my mom served these cakes to our Vietnamese family friends, they reminisced about being in awe at those pretty little boxes!


Bánh Phu Thê (Husband and Wife Treat) - Makes 15 cakes
Bánh phu thê has two components: the interior filling made out of mung bean and the exterior, a translucent mixture with shredded coconut.

Making the box mould
The moulds should be made first because once you make the batter, it should be spooned into the moulds quickly before it hardens. My mom used the box that held the aluminium foil as a guide, and wrapped a long piece of foil around it. The container should be about 1.5" tall. She then folded the piece of foil like a present. If this is too complicated, you can just wrap it with plastic wrap, like this blogger did.

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Containers ready to be filled.

Making the mung bean mixture
The filling is similar to the mung bean mixture as the one used in bánh da lợn.

* 100 g mung beans
* ½ cup water
* ½ cup sugar

Soak mung beans for 2-3 hours (if you don't soak them, just cook them longer).
Rinse the beans and drain them.
Cook the mung beans in water.
Bring to a boil and turn down to medium.
Cook for another 5 minutes.
Check that the beans are cooked. If the beans are not cooked and the mixture is drying up, add a bit more water and continue cooking.
Keep on mixing and make sure the beans have cooked and are soft.
Pound down the mixture to a paste with a wooden spoon.
Add sugar and mix through.
If you want it well mixed, you can also blend it in a food processor.
You may find the mixture becoming runny. If so, place the mixture back on the stove and cook for another 10-15 minutes until it becomes a dry paste (refer to picture below for consistency).
Shape the mung bean mixture into a log and slice into 1 cm disks that are smaller than the box moulds made above.

Making the coconut exterior
I'll admit this is not my favourite treat (I don't actually like many Vietnamese sweets), because of its chewy texture and the shredded coconut and that's exactly how it should be! Like bánh da lợn, the green colour comes from the use of pandan leaves.

* about 4-5 pandan leaves
* 1 cup water
* 1 cup tapioca flour
* ½ cup sugar
* ¾ cup shredded coconut

In a food processor, blend the pandan leaves and water.
Strain the liquid and set aside.
In a medium sized pot, add ¼ cup of the pandan liquid and sugar at a low heat.
Meanwhile, mix the remaining ¾ cup of the liquid with the tapioca flour.
Once the liquid is heated through and the sugar is dissolved, add the shredded coconut.
Slowly add the flour mixture into the pot while constantly mixing to prevent clumping.
When the batter starts thickening, turn off the heat and continue mixing off the heat.
Spoon 1-2 tbsp of the batter into the bottom of a box mould.
Place a disk on top of the coconut mixture.
Top with another spoonful or two of the batter to cover the disk.
Steam for 10 minutes.

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My mom buys the shredded coconut from the freezer at an Asian grocery store.

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On the left is the tapioca flour mixture, being added to the pandan syrup.

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The final product should be on the thick side; the mung bean mixture.

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Filling the containers with the batter and mung bean, ready to be steamed!

The final result is a little sweet sandwich-like treat, with a gelatinous texture on the outside with some crunch from the shredded coconut.


Gastronomer said...

I'm positive I would love your mother's version. It's impossible to go wrong with pandan, mung beans, and coconut! The one I had in Saigon was sickly neon green and made with indifference.

Any chance you mum wants to make these for my wedding? Wink wink.

Miss.Adventure said...

I'm sure she would but I don't think US custom officials would allow me to bring foreign food into their land! Especially funny, green, gelatinous food!!

Thao Hoang said...

I wish I found your blog sooner :( When my friends in Canada were planning their wedding, they looked all over to find a place that do Banh Phu The for weddings but couldn't find any. I'm sure their parents would have been very happy if they were able to include this desert in their red trays. Your Mom is amazing.

Nga Anna Vu said...

my friends' wedding is coming up soon, so I'll try these out
I'm sure the cake will be a great gift!
Thank you so much for sharing!