We are in Goa, India. Portugal occupied the present-day Indian state from 1510 until 1961, but elements of its culinary influence never left.
Bebinca, also called “the queen of Goan desserts,” is a seven- to sixteen-layer pudding cake made from incrementally-baked sheets.
To make it, bakers combine lots of egg yolks (there’s that Portuguese influence) with maida, an Indian cake flour, as well as coconut milk, sugar, and a bit of ghee. Some opt to add nutmeg or slivered almonds, but the ingredient list remains basically simple.
It needs just four main ingredients – but it’s the cooking process that involves baking one layer at a time, which can sometimes take up to four hours.
The complicated part of the recipe is fact layer batter, melt ghee on top, bake, and repeat and, until the designated number of layers is achieved, patience becomes an additional essential ingredient.
Just like every traditional food, there are quite a few stories that surround this dessert and culinary experts in Goa often debate about the number of layers that make up a Bebinca.
And I’ve heard numbers ranging from 7 to 16.
For example, It might have been invented by Bibiona, a nun at the Convento da Santa Monica in Old Goa. As story goes, her first version was crafted with seven layers to represent the seven hills of Lisbon and Old Goa but, when she offered it to a priest, he was not impressed and found it too small.
And the layers were then increased.
Either way, Bebinca is believed to have travelled the world, and there are references to the dessert also in Mozambique, one of the Portuguese colonies in East Africa.
Because bebinca is particularly popular on Christmas, Easter, as well as at weddings, gatherings celebrating a birth, and during special occasions, many families rely on bakeries that specialize in the art.
Dedicated cooks who endeavor to prepare the sweet at home often prepare bebinca in a so-called OTG oven (a redundantly-named oven, toaster, and griller), or on a grill.
And if 16 layers seems a little lacking, there’s always the 30-layer, Dutch-Indonesian lapis legit, or Kek Lapis Sarawak, the Malaysia’s most complex dessert!