Growing up in a Goan household, childhood memories are sprinkled with the times I would sneak my nana’s famous bebinca, during Christmas time, from the Danish butter cookie tin placed in the fridge. Best devoured with a scoop of ice cream. However, that wouldn’t always be possible especially when we didn’t want grandma to find out that we’ve been gnawing away at the bebinca that she was saving for her Christmas kuswad.
The multi-layered dessert nana baked is a piece de resistance in most Goan Christian households. Bebinca is typically baked with egg yolks, maida, coconut milk, sugar, and ghee, with some even opting to add nutmeg or slivered almonds—breaking away from the traditional recipe.
The Bebinca batter is simple enough but it is the process which is tedious. You have to set aside at least four hours to cook the batter, layer by layer, in a grill or an oven whilst making sure to slather each layer with ghee. A minimum of seven layers is mandatory for the Goan baked dessert; patience definitely becomes an essential ingredient.
Traditionally the Bebinca was baked in special earthenware ovens, on fires of coconut husks, with some parts getting slightly caramelised., My nana preferred using her trusted Oven-Toaster-Grill unit for her Bebinca. Making the bebic would take up to 12-14 hours, however, the final result was always worth her labour of love, sweat and time, she says.
Bebinca also has a rich history: Said to have evolved in Goa, with some Portuguese influence, Bebinca is considered as the ’Queen of Goan desserts’.
Allegedly, the first Bebinca was made by a nun named Bebiana in the Convent of Santa Monica in old Goa, who baked layers to symbolise the seven hills of Lisbon and the old city of Goa. That’s how the dessert got its name as well as its seven layers. And if seven layers seem a little OTT, some variations of this layered dessert go up to 16! However, it isn’t the number that matters as much as the delicate thinness that can only be achieved with years of trial and error, and patient practice.
It’s been years since I’ve last had the pleasure of biting into my grandma’s bebinca, and since she’s not made the mighty dessert in a long time, she couldn’t verbalise the process for me. So instead, here's a recipe from the blog Xantilicious.com that my aunts trust.
However, if you’d like to get your hands on the real deal, you’d probably have to travel to Martin’s Corner in South Goa, as suggested by my dad!
9 egg yolks
400 grams granulated white sugar
600 ml coconut milk
150 gm all-purpose flour
1/4 tsp nutmeg powder
1/4 tsp salt
1 cup ghee or butter (about 12-15 tbsp)
1 tbsp caramelised sugar (optional)
1. In a large bowl, mix together the sugar and egg yolks.
2. Next, pour in the coconut milk and mix until the sugar has dissolved completely
3. After you have sifted the flour using a strainer, transfer it little by little into the coconut milk and egg mixture. Then add the salt and nutmeg powder.
4. Mix the mixture well until you have no lumps left.
5. After you have strained the mixture, divide the batter into two equal portions. Add the sugar caramel to one portion so as to achieve an alternate colour for layering.
6. Preheat oven at 200⁰ C
7. Opt for a 6-inch round baking pan that’s at least 5 inches deep. Prepare the pan by greasing it with about three tablespoons of melted ghee. Then, pour 1/2 cup of the dark coloured batter. Bake for 15 minutes.
8. Once out, spread about one tablespoon ghee over the first baked layer and then follow by pouring the lighter coloured batter. Bake at the highest temperature for about 12-15 minutes.
9. Repeat the process of greasing the baked layer with ghee, pouring 1/2 cup batter whilst alternating between the two different coloured batters. This process should be able to give you about 10-11 layers.
10. Once the last baked layer comes out of the oven, pour about one tablespoon ghee and spread evenly.
11. Once the bebinca has cooled to room temperature, de-mould and cut into slices before serving.