Banh it tran nhan dua- Sticky Rice Cake with Coconut Filling

Vietnamese food

It is sold as a snack but makes its way to some very important events in  Vietnamese life-The lunar new year or Cung Com/ Gio (A family gathering to celebrate and remember the ancestors).  The coconut filling is like the filling in Almond Joys and the texture of the sticky dough is similar to that of mochi.  Traditionally there is no extra flavor added especially in the country side.

Make 25 medium cakes
Filling
3 cups /300 gr fresh or frozen unsweetened coconut flakes
1 cup sugar (if you prefer less sweet 2/3 cup is fine)
1/3 cup water
1 Tbs tapioca starch or 2 Tbs glutinous flour
1/4 cup toasted, coarsely crushed peanut (optional)
Dough
3 cups glutinous flour
3 Tbs sugar (optional)
1 cup and 2 Tbs warm water
1/4 tsp salt
2 Tbs vegetable oil
1 package of frozen banana leaf, only need a small portion and cut into 25 round or square pieces (3-in diameter) or parchment paper.

1.  In a large bowl, combine flour, sugar, salt and water.  Knead until smooth and soft like clay-doh.  Test the texture by using your fingers and shape a small ball of dough into a flat dish: it should not stick to your hand and  is pliable-a few small cracks at the edge is ok.  If the dough breaks at center it is too dry, add more water a tsp at a time. If it is too runny can not hold the shape add more flour a Tbs at a time.  Cover and let it rest 30 minutes.  After 30  minutes knead and test the dough again because the flour will become drier after hydration and need more water/ add 1 tsp at a time.
2.  In a saute pan, combine coconut flakes, sugar, and water.  Stir constantly over medium heat until coconut turns transparent and lightly sticky.  Sprinkle tapioca over and toss well with coconut.  Stir in peanut.  Set aside.  When it cools down enough to handle, divide and shape into 25 (1 Tablespoon) round balls.
3. Divide dough into 25 balls.  Using hands to flatten each ball and put a coconut ball in the center. Gather the dough to cover the filling.  Roll between your hands to make the ball’s surface smooth.  Dip a portion of the ball to oil and turn it around in your palm to spread the oil even on the surface. Then put it on a banana round.
4.  Steam them for 15 minutes until the dough cook through: it becomes opaque white.   Let they cool down- the dough will become more transparent when it is cool, serve at room temperature.  Store left over cakes in air tight container good a few days in the fridge The dough gets tough with time but will be soften when reheat in microwave.

*Note:
    Banana leaves needs to be wash and wiped dried to get rid of dust.
    They are called “Tran” means “naked” because they are not be covered by banana leaf completely.   When they are covered by banana leaf the “naked”  word disappears and they are called “Banh it Nhan dua“.  Most of the time banh it tran is small.
   You can make the cake faster by blanching it in boiling water until they floating, take them out, dip them in vegetable oil and put them in  an lightly oiled platter without touching each other.
   Sometime they are decorated by a red dot on the top and the dough has a light green color.
   I haven’t tried the sweetened coconut flake for the filling yet but I think it is good too.  However, we may need to reduce the sugar.

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