What is bánh bông lan?
Bánh bông lan is a French-Vietnamese sponge cake that’s cotton soft, made with cake flour, eggs, sugar, oil, milk, and vanilla. Bánh bông lan translates to “orchid cake” in Vietnamese because it blooms like an orchid when baked. They are commonly sold in French-Vietnamese bakeries.
Bánh bông lan gets its light cotton texture from whipped meringue (egg whites and sugar), which acts as the only leavening agent in the recipe. While meringue can seem complicated, the process for this recipe is made simple with just a hand mixer and bowl to whip egg whites, sugar, and lemon juice.
How is bánh bông lan different from sponge cake?
While technically, this cake is a sponge cake, it is a French-Vietnamese variation that’s…
- not overly sweet – it has less sugar but just enough to make this taste like a dessert to look forward to.
- much lighter – the meringue contributes to a lighter batter.
- low on dairy – this cake has less milk and no butter.
- more moist – instead of butter that’s in regular vanilla sponges, this cake is made with oil which contributes a more even crumb and guarantees moisture. It also makes a softer cake because oil stays liquid at room temperature while butter solidifies.
How to make bánh bông lan (vanilla sponge cake)
Mix cake batter
The cake batter ingredients come together to create the lightest crumb for this cake:
- cake flour – (I use Swan’s Down) using cake flour instead of all purpose helps keep the cake light.
- egg yolks – the egg yolks contribute fat and the cake’s only color source.
- granulated sugar and vanilla – for light sweetness and vanilla flavor.
- neutral oil – adds more even moisture and longevity to the cake than butter could.
- pinch of salt – to balance out the sweetness.
The meringue will require a hand mixer or stand mixer unless you are prepared to whip vigorously for a while. The final whipped meringue mixture should create stiff peaks.
Fold meringue into batter
Both mixtures, the yellow cake batter and frosty white meringue, are folded together to ensure most of the air in the meringue is retained.
Bake in water bath
Bake the final mixture in a lined baking pan, placed inside a larger pan. Pour water into the larger pan, about 1/2″ up the sides of the cake pan, to create a water bath.Print
Cotton soft vanilla sponge cake, also known as Bánh Bông Lan in Vietnamese, is less sweet and lighter than the average American sponge cake. It contains less dairy and sugar than regular sponge cake, so it can be enjoyed in more quantities.
The meringue portion of the cake requires a hand or stand mixer but otherwise only requires a large bowl and whisk to assemble. The cake is slowly baked in a water bath for 1.5 hours to ensure an even, gentle bake.
- 4 large egg yolks, room temperature
- 3 tbsp granulated sugar (40g)
- 3 tbsp milk (46g)
- 2 tsp vanilla extract
- 3 tbsp vegetable or neutral oil (30g)
- pinch of salt
- 2/3 cup cake flour (90g)
- 4 large egg whites, room temperature (130g)
- 1/4 cup granulated sugar (50g)
- 1 tsp lemon juice or vinegar
- Prep. Preheat oven to 300º F. Grease and line a 9-inch round baking pan with parchment on the bottom and sides. Place the round pan into a larger pan with a lip (we’ll use it for a water bath while baking).
- Mix batter. In a large bowl, add 4 egg yolks, 3 tbsp granulated sugar, pinch of salt, 3 tbsp milk, and 2 tsp vanilla. Whisk to combine. Add oil, then whisk until incorporated. Sift cake flour into the egg mixture in 3 batches, stirring in between until smooth. Set aside.
- Whip meringue. In a separate large bowl, add 4 egg whites at room temperature. Whisk until foamy using a hand mixer or whisk attachment in a stand mixer. Add lemon juice or vinegar and the 1/4 cup of granulated sugar in two batches, whisking in between. Finish whipping the mixture until it’s white and creates stiff peaks when you pull the whisk away.
- Combine batter and meringue. Dollop a third of the meringue into the yellow egg batter, then fold to combine, trying to keep as much air in the batter as possible. Continue until all the meringue is incorporated and the final batter is pale yellow. Pour into the lined baking pan. Tap the pan 2-3 times to remove any large air bubbles. Place round pan into a large baking tray and transfer to the oven. Fill the large baking tray with 1/2″ of water (it’s easier to do this when it’s already in the oven.)
- Bake at 300ºF for 1 hour and 15-20 minutes or until a cake tester comes out clean. When done, remove from the oven and flip upside-down onto a wire cooling rack. Peel off the parchment paper and cool for at least 15 minutes before serving.