Bánh Cam Recipe (Vietnamese Sesame Balls)

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My grandmother is a child raising machine. As if raising nine of her own kids wasn’t enough of a challenge, she had her hands in raising almost all of the grand-kids too. Between cleaning up our messes and playing referee to our disputes, it seemed like she never skipped a beat in the kitchen.

In the very rare cases something wasn’t bubbling on the stove, grandma sometimes fed us a pulverized mix of roasted sesame seeds and salt (muối mè) over rice. Sounds like peasant food, right? Tasty peasant food. This is when I probably had my first taste of sesame seeds. It’s kind of funny that to this day, I don’t really know where sesame seeds come from (Any Mitch Hedberg fans?). These crunchy little teardrop-shaped seeds cover the snack we’re going to be making today–bánh cam (sesame balls).

The name bánh cam literally means “orange cake” because these balls simply resemble oranges, not because there are any actual oranges in it.

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There’s wonderful harmony in bánh cam. The outer shell is a warm golden brown color covered in white sesame seeds. The exterior has a satisfying crispiness to it from frying. On the other side of that surface is a lightly chewy or springy glutinous rice dough and a sweet ball of mung bean. Fans of bánh cam can get pretty picky about this balance between the crisp and chew.

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Although they look very similar, there are differences between bánh cam from the South and bánh ran from the North. Both styles can be found throughout the country though. My parents recount the differences in these fried desserts back home:

North Vietnam – Bánh Rán

Northerners call it bánh ran, or “fried cake”. These are made with a Jasmine flower essence for a nice aroma. A sugary drizzle on these fried goodies can be found on them depending on the vendor. Another difference in the north is that when they are covered in sugar, the dough is made only with sweet rice flour and no rice flour, sesame seeds, or potatoes.

South Vietnam – Bánh Cam

In this post, I make it in the Southern style. There is no essence of flower added to this. The most popular flavor added to the mung bean filling is with drops of vanilla extract. Only in the South will you find freshly shredded coconut in the filling too, but that will vary by vendor. If you add coconut to your recipe, do yourself a favor and use only freshly grated coconut!

In China?

The Chinese version of this looks very similar. I see these most of the time on dim sum carts. The filling is usually a paste of black or red bean, taro, or lotus seed. Since there’s enough water to make the filling a paste, it’s found sticking to one section of the inside.

Shaped By Necessity

In many cases, money determines how things pan out.  We add potatoes to prevent bánh cam from exploding in the fryer. Since potatoes were scarce (expensive) in Vietnam so sweet potatoes were used instead. This increased the sweetness allowing the cook to save money by cutting back on sugar too.

For the mung bean filling, my parents swear no cooks or snackers cared for some detail such as if the ball of mung bean shakes inside or not. There’s more air inside when you make the filling smaller and it’s highly likely cooks did that to stretch their daily supply.

How To Serve

These were usually sold by vendors as an afternoon snack. Locals rarely could afford more than one of these. They were maybe the size of a small orange–large enough to satisfy a dessert craving.

It’s fun to flatten bánh cam into a disk before taking a bite, but I also like making them into little bite-sized poppers too. These are excellent served with coffee or tea.

Cook’s Notes

It took a lot of recipe tinkering with mom to get to this recipe. The adjustments were made to get a better crisp in the shell, and to develop a deeper brown color. The amounts of sugar are made so it’s not too sweet. Adjusting sugar for the filling is easy, but it may change the texture and color if you adjust too much for the outer dough. I tried the mung bean filling with vanilla too, but prefer it without.

Before rolling and frying, the dough  keeps in the fridge for a few days just fine. If you don’t eat too many of these at a time, it’s better to fry up fresh batches. After you fry these sesame balls, they do keep okay for a day or two. To reheat them, pop ‘em in a toaster oven, or re-fry them in oil.

I have also tried using boiled potato instead of flakes, and it didn’t turn out as well. It probably has to do with getting the water levels right, but there was much better success for me with potato flakes for some reason. There are some legit local vendors who make it with boiled potatoes and their bánh cam is excellent.

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4.7 from 3 reviews
Bánh Cam / Bánh Rán Recipe (Vietnamese Fried Sesame Balls Dessert)
 
Prep time
Cook time
Total time
 
Author:
Serves: 8
Ingredients
Outer Shell (Vỏ)
  • 4 oz sweet (glutinous) rice flour
  • 0.75 oz rice flour
  • 0.75 oz all-purpose wheat flour
  • 5 TBS potato flakes
  • 1.6 oz sugar
  • ½ cup warm water (plus ~2 TBS + 2 tsp later to reach desired consistency)
  • ½ tsp salt
  • 1.5 tsp baking powder
Filling (Nhân)
  • 4 oz steamed mung bean + water added to desired consistency
  • 0.75 oz sugar (This equals 1 TBS + 1 tsp)
  • ¼ tsp salt (optional)
  • A dash of vanilla extract (optional--I don't think it needs it)
Cooking Oil
  • A neutral cooking oil for frying
Instructions
Outer Shell (Vỏ)
  1. Mix ½ of the water in a big bowl. Add sugar, salt and mix to dissolve.
  2. Add remaining ingredients and mix (you can use a food processor if you want).
  3. The dough should be slightly dry and have a play-dough consistency. Rest 2-8 hours. It will be slightly rise and hydrate after resting, making it easier to work with.
Filling (Nhân)
  1. It's best to steam this if you can. You can also make it in a rice cooker with slightly more water than you would use to make rice, but you will lose some sticking to the pot.
  2. Mash after it's cooked and add water to desired consistency. The goal is to have a paste similar to thick, slightly dry mashed potatoes.
Forming The Bánh Cam
  1. Flatten out a disk of the dough and add a ball of mung bean filling. The dough to filling ratio is up to you! I like about 1" in diameter, but you can make them bigger. Keep in mind they will slightly expand during cooking.
  2. Try not to leave any air pockets inside, since the dough will already be expanding and adding air to the center. Close off the ball so there aren't any cracks.
  3. Slightly roll in your hands to make a ball shape and then roll in a bowl of sesame seeds to coat thoroughly. Set aside for frying.
Frying
  1. Deep fry the bánh cam at around 285F. It should take about 11 minutes per batch. You may need to stir them a bit for an even fry.

 

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Comments

  1. When I was little we used to eat balled up rice dip in muoi me, simple but delish! You just gotta enjoy the little things in life. The sizing of these Banh Ran is so perfect yet dangerous, I bet I can eat a dozen and not even know it!

  2. What an interesting dessert! I’ve never seen those before. I’d surely like to have a bite.

  3. nhbilly says:

    Beautiful pictures and nice recipes.

  4. Tina Nguyen says:

    Thank anh Huy for your recipe of Banh Cam, that’s what I want to cook for my Mum and Daddy to try my cooking. Have a good day anh Huy, cheers :)

  5. I lived in Malaysia as a teen and young adult and was lucky enough to travel extensively throughout SE Asia, India, Korea,mand Japan. I live in Texas now and miss so many of my favourite foods but there is a small restaurant a stone’s throw from my house run by a young couple – she’s Vietnamese and he’s Chinese Malay and their food is everything I remember. Last night I had tofu with green beans and tomatoes in black bean sauce, which was perfection, followed by my customary order of six sesame balls. I always say I’m going to share them, or save some for the next day, but that never happens. They are in the southern style, simple, filled with red bean paste and the balance of crisp to chewy is magical perfection. They’re always fresh and warm, made after they’re ordered and simply irresistanle.

  6. HI!!!!! Are you a Vietnamese or a Filipino?

  7. I just cooked some and they exploded in the deep fryer! The recipe is the same as I have used before and there have been no problems before. I’m unsure if what caused this. Freaked me out!

  8. Love your recipes, the presentation, and your writing! Great job!

    Thank you for sharing; I want to learn to cook some great Vietnamese food from you.

    What WordPress theme are you using? Or did you build your own? Just curious!

    LoiBeth

  9. Love, love, love … must learn to make it. Thank you for sharing the recipe.

  10. Thank you so much for the beautiful photographs and narratives! I love the regional nuances. Banh cam is one of my favorite desserts, and very few places make it right. I like a thin, crispy shell that’s light on the filling. Where do you buy your potato flakes? Is it the same thing as potato starch?

    • Golden, that’s very nice of you–thank you for reading and taking the time to comment! Banh cam is excellent. The last two places I’ve had it actually were not good at all… pretty hit or miss!

      But the potato flakes, you can get those at most grocery stores. They’re flakes for instant mashed potatoes. It kinda looks like fish food I suppose. Flakey, quite different from potato starch. Hope that helps!

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