Top Banana (Banh Chuoi – Vietnamese Banana Cashew Cake)

We love bananas – sliced onto a bowl of corn flakes, eaten as a snack, or baked into banana bread. Here’s another way to use our favorite fruit. The bread should be the most dense white bread you can find. You can also use Gonnella or any other Italian-style bread, so long as it has a large circumference (otherwise there’s too much waste as you cut the crusts off).

6 T unsalted butter

4 oz thick coconut milk

2 cups whole milk

2/3 cup sugar

30 slices home-style white bread (2 loaves, minus the end pieces)

4 bananas

2 T sugar

1/2 cup coarsely chopped dry-roasted cashews

Melt the butter in a saucepan, and use some of it to grease a 9: loaf pan, Add to the sauce pan, the coconut milk, whole milk and sugar. Heat on medium to dissolve the sugar. Remove from heat and let cool before using.

Peel the bananas and slice them into 1″ thick slices. Sprinkle them with the sugar, turning each slice to coat both sides and set aside until needed. Trim the crusts from the bread (discard the crusts). Have the crushed cashews ready in a bowl.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Give the cooled milk mixture a stir and dip a slice of bread into it just long enough to wet it. Lay it in the bottom of the loaf pan and continue with more slices until you have the entire bottom of the pan covered with one layer of bread (tear and piece slices to fit). Always stir the milk before dipping a slice. Add a second layer of milk-dipped bread, pressing slightly to compress the layers, overlapping the slices. Arrange 1/3 of the banana slices on the bread, then sprinkle on 1/4 of the cashews. Lay down another single layer of bread topped with bananas and cashews, then repeat. Stuff slices fo dipped bread down the sides, pressing with the end of a chopstick to make sure it is all compressed and there are no gaps. Add another layer of soaked bread across the top, compressing gently and sealing it on all sides, then sprinkle on the last of the cashews and top with a final layer of bread, piecing the slices so that the top is covered seamlessly, pressing gently to make a compact loaf. There should be a few tablespoons of milk mixture left – save it to baste the laof with as it bakes.

Bake the Banh Chuoi in the middle of the oven for 20 minutes, then baste with 1 T of milk mixture, bake another 20 minutes and baste again, then bake a final 30 to 40 minutes, until the top is a rich golden brown, and a skewer stuck in at various points comes out dry (if you hit a banana slice, it will come out sticky, which is fine, but wet means the cake has to bake longer).

Let the pan cool until it can be handled, then turn it upside down to slip the cake out. Turn it right-side up on a plate and serve while still warm.

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