Tuesday, 8 January 2013

Bebinka! A Goan confection something like a clafouti, but layered, with tons of butter…

Bebinka!  A Goan confection something like a clafouti, but layered, with tons of butter…

Bebinka can only be followed by an exclamation mark, it’s that extraordinary!  While in Goa, I spotted it on a dessert menu, and innocently asked what it might be. 
Beautiful Granddaughter’s paternal grandmother and uncle immediately leapt into action, describing it as a layered dessert, probably store bought when served in a restaurant, but something I needed to learn how to make.
Yes, they warned me it takes at least seven hours to create. 

Bebinka! Worthy of the time and effort!   Just for comparison, Grandma Tina sent BG back to me with some store bought bebinka, so I’d know what most people rely on.  Later I learned there is NO comparison between the purchased and the home made. 
If the amounts of ingredients sound astonishing to you, it’s because Tina and her close friend Lourdina made four bebinkas this day.  (If you’re going to spend the day making one, you might as well make the best use of your time by making lots.)  Otherwise, this recipe could be halved, or even quartered.  Also, chances are you might use your oven for certain steps, as not everybody has an outdoor fireplace, or coconut husks to burn.  You may also use canned coconut milk, which will save lots of time too.  When I try this at home, I’ll report on my findings.  

Meanwhile, this how Tina and Lourdina created these treasures:
1600 mls white sugar
800 mls water

3 to 4 coconuts  (Once coconut milk was extracted*, Tina had1600 mls of coconut cream)
400 mls white maida (flour)
2 nutmegs
14 egg yolks
2 teaspoons salt

1 ½ cups butter (approx)

First, Tina made a syrup by mixing the sugar and water in a large pot, setting it on the stove and letting the water come up to a boil. She turned it down to simmer, stirring till the sugar was completely dissolved.  I asked her about the possibility of using jaggery for this step, but was firmly told that only white sugar will produce the best results.  Once the sugar dissolved, she set the syrup aside to cool.
Grating the coconut
Meanwhile, the coconuts needed to be turned into coconut milk.  I think when I make this, I’ll rely on canned coconut milk… The coconuts would cost me a small fortune!  Also, making coconut milk from scratch is tricky if you don’t have the equipment that Lourdina used.  

Most Goan households have a large curved blade attached to a wooden stand.  The cook sits on a stool in front of this stand, and scrapes the coconut against the blade.  But first, the coconut is whacked with a small axe, with such skill that the coconut juice is saved, drained into a drinking glass and consumed, or horrors, thrown out. 

To Goans, coconuts are so plentiful that there’s no need to save every morsel.  I felt obliged to drink as much of the healthy juice as possible, because I kept calculating what all these coconuts would cost me back in Canada.  Waste not, want not.  Right?

When you’ve opened as many coconuts as a Goan, you’re highly skilled.  For the rest of us, you might be wise to study the coconut carefully for the “eyes”.  Find the softest “eye”.  Poke it out with a screwdriver, then hold the coconut over a glass and drain out the juice.  Save it for a little later, or drink it at once.  It’s touted as one of the new super foods, so don’t waste!

Years of experience let you grab the juice easily!
Once you’ve drained the juice from the coconut, whack it hard with a hammer to split it.. Then the meat can be scraped out.  Lourdina was able to sit on her back porch and whack a coconut in two with one blow, and manage to save the juice.  She then scraped the coconut half against the blade, letting the meat fall into the bowl below.  When I’m back at home, I intend to pry the meat away from the coconut with a portable scraper, or better still with that screwdriver, and then put the chunks in the blender, and whiz them like mad.  Considering our weather, it’s unlikely I’ll be doing this in my back yard…
After about an hour, Lourdina had scraped every coconut, so she took the mixture into her kitchen for the next step.  I don’t know if all blenders in Goa are little, but hers was.  So, in batches, the egg yolks were added, and whizzed to a nice pale yellow froth.  My daughter Amie stirred the frothy yolks into the cooled syrup.

Then Tina made the coconut milk.  She filled the blender about two thirds full of coconut meat, and another third of water, and buzzed for a few minutes.  Then she placed a strainer over a bowl, and poured the liquefied coconut into the strainer.  Using her hand, she squeezed the coconut to extract the milk.  After the coconut was squeezed, she put it back into the blender, again about two thirds full (adding new coconut meat when needed), water to fill the blender, and repeated.  She then poured that mix back into the strainer, and kept squeezing.  Each batch seemed to have about three extractions, and she kept at it till all the coconut meat was processed.  Making coconut milk took about forty minutes, and produced a very thick milk, more like what we’d call a coconut cream. 

Squeezing the coconut pulp for the cream.
Eventually we had the full 1600 mls of coconut cream; then it was back to the blender.  Mixing the coconut milk with the flour, in batches, she buzzed to produce a thick paste, which was then carefully beaten into the syrup and egg mix, making a smooth batter.  Amie continued on beating duty, eliminating every lump,  while Tina grated the nutmegs, and sprinkled them into the batter.  She added the salt at this point, and said you could add more or less to taste.

Bebinka is made in oven proof pots.  Tina assembled four of these, putting a generous tablespoon  of butter into the bottom of each one.  She put these on the stove, and turned the heat to medium high, till the butter was sizzling, but not yet darkening.  At this point she picked up a standard sized ladle, and ladling twice, added batter to each pot.  The heat was turned down, and the bebinka’s first layer was left to cook till the batter puffed up, golden and looking done.  (This took about twenty minutes.)  Once this first step was finished, all pots were taken into the back yard. 

Butter each layer.
On the back porch, Tina basted the golden puffs with about another tablespoon of butter, carefully smoothing the butter into the hot puff with a spoon, gently pressing down, so the melting butter could drip down the interior sides of the pot.  Once a pot was buttered, she added another two ladles of batter.  This created the second layer of bebinka.

Meanwhile, Lourdina went through her back yard, holding a big basket.  She was looking for the driest coconut husks that were piled here and there, and chose the driest.  She has a big outdoor fireplace in the back yard, but she didn’t use the husks directly in the fireplace.  Instead, she laid the pots out on the generous stone surfaces of the fireplace, and then covered each pot with a griddle.   

Now comes the astonishing part.  I dare you to try this at home! 

Holy flaming coconuts!
She crowded as many of the dried coconut husks as would fit on each griddle and set fire to them.  Suddenly we had four pots with griddles acting as lids, all hurtling flames and smoke into the air. 

Lourdina’s daughter, Jean, told me that an oven can be used instead of the griddle and flaming coconut husks, but it will never taste quite as good. 

Huge stone shelves around the fireplace.
After another twenty minutes or so, each griddle was carefully removed, and one at a time, the pots were brought over to the porch for another tablespoon of butter.  Again, the butter was gently smoothed over the freshly cooked golden layer, being gently pressed into the layer so the butter had a chance to run down the interior wall of the pot. 
Another two ladles of batter were added, making the third layer.  Then the griddle was placed back on the pot, more coconut husks were added to the fire as needed, and away they went again for about twenty minutes.  The idea was to cook each layer till it was golden and puffed, but not too dark. 
This process went on till all the batter was used, creating about six layers for each bebinka.  When all the batter was used, and the last layer was golden and puffy, one more basting with butter was required. 
We started this around ten in the morning, and the last bebinka was fully cooked around two in the afternoon.  The bebinkas needed to cool completely, another couple of hours.  At that point, Tina  loosened them from their pans by running a knife around the interior edge.  She placed a plate over the top, inverted and then loosely wrapped each one in aluminum foil.  She told me to wrap the foil more tightly that evening.  These taste best when they’re not refrigerated.  Tina assures me they are good for a month, in fact.
To serve these treasures, slice thinly to reveal their pretty layers.  The taste is definitely custard like, but at the same time very dense and buttery.  They are pleasantly sweet, not overpowering, and you can eat them any time, justifying the protein fix. 

I will be trying this at home, in a smaller quantity, likely using canned coconut milk and a humble oven.  When this happens, I’ll post again.  Look forward to Bebinka Part Two: The Canadian version.
Wonderful Tina and her excellent friend, Lourdina!
Meanwhile thanks so much to Grandma Tina and her good friend Lourdina, for taking the time to show me how to make this delicious confection and being so welcoming and kind!  This was one of my best experiences in India! 


  1. Yumm!! Seriously delish and amazing desert that I remember enjoying on my visit to Goa. Hope you had lots of fun!!

  2. Thanks Apu. We had a fabulous time in Goa. Thanks for visiting my blog.