Chinese New Year falls on the 23rd of January this year, and it will be the year of the Dragon. In my 2011 Chinese New Year post, "I had mentioned that "fa gao" (發糕) was commonly served at this time of the year. The cake is a simple mixture of gluten, sugar, and rising agent with steam providing the necessary force to raise the cake, hence the "fa" (發) in the name, which can mean to rise, to start, or to initiate. It is the same character used in fortune or to gain wealth (發財) and explains why this cake is associated with this occasion.
One of the key features of the cake is the "blooming". The steam should be strong enough to break apart the top of the cake to create the effect of a flower that has bloomed. Several steps are employed to help obtain this effect. The batter must be allowed to rest. The steaming vessel must be very hot with a strong steam. The lid must not be lifted until the very last minute; this prevents the steam from escaping. And lastly, as I learnt the hard way, the mold container must be thin enough, and preferably with holes, to ensure maximum exposure to steam and heat. With no such container on hand, I made one using aluminium foil (and a ramekin to form the shape).
Container too thick (and most likely too deep), resulting rather unsightedly...
I found two recipes from YTower---a fabulous Taiwanese cooking website with high-quality videos---which used part low-gluten flour and part rice flour to create a more moist and tender product. One had a 1:1 ratio between the flours and higher sugar content; the second used a 1:2.3 flour ratio and a lower sugar content. I opted for the second recipe as the ingredients suggested a tenderer and less sweet cake; but unfortunately, I did not have enough regular rice flour (I had glutinous rice flour); so instead, I found a third recipe (from the same website) using only low-gluten flour. Happily, it worked the second time! I will post the second and third recipe for you to choose depending on your preference. Happy Chinese New Year!!
Fa Gao (translated from YTower), Yields 4 substantial cakes
Two versions are listed here: one using only low-gluten flour and another using part low-gluten flour, part rice flour. The procedure is the same for either recipe.
Only low-gluten flour:
- 200g low-gluten flour
- 180g sugar (brown sugar will add a slight molasses flavour and golden colour)
- 210g water
- 8g baking powder
- 60g low-gluten flour
- 140g rice flour (non-glutinous!)
- 90g sugar (brown sugar will add a slight molasses flavour and golden colour)
- 180g water
- 8g baking powder
- Combine low-gluten flour, rice flour, sugar, and baking powder. Add water.
- Pour into molds and allow to rest for at least 10 min before steam.
- Meanwhile, prepare the steaming vessel. Make sure that the water has boiled with strong steam (i.e. steam is escaping from the lid).
- Place the molds with batter into the steaming vessel and steam for 15-20 minutes. Make sure NOT to open the lid too early or else steam will be lost and the cake will not be able to bloom properly. Doneness can be tested with a toothpick.