Chinese
Chinese Prosperity Cake Fa Gao 新年發糕

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It’s the Chinese New Year, dear readers, and we’re ready to start it off with our lovely luck granting Chinese Prosperity Cakes Fa Gao 新年發糕!

These simple but delicious sweetened flour cakes or buns are steamed until they rise dramatically and then break into a distinctive and attractive pattern. This ‘explosion’ of these sandwiches, made on the occasion of the New Year, indicates that your coming year will be prosperous! Nice trick, amirite?

Before we continue, let me quantify a bit. Your prosperity will be foretold by the mysterious gods of bun luck, BUT you need to make sure your buns actually achieve that “explosion” effect. Your sandwiches may not “explode” at all (guess how I know That LOL).
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Ok, full confession, it took me three tries to get it right. My first attempts produced some nice scones, but they were simply rounded on the top with a little crack here and there. It was surprisingly difficult to get that damn effect!

Well, it’s hard until you know how to do it, which is what we’ll do here today.

Start with some low-gluten flour (you can also use cake flour or cake flour, or in a pinch all purpose will work too) and a pinch of yeast. Low gluten flour produces a light, tender bun. Yeast is what fuels leavening.

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Next we add the sugar. It’s a blend made mostly of brown sugar for that delicious caramel flavor and a little white sugar for that touch of sweetness. Pretty simple so far, amirite?

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Add water at room temperature. Incidentally, you could experiment with different types of sugars to get different flavors in this bao/cake. Such as date sugar, slab sugar, black sugar, palm sugar or rock sugar. Just remember to dissolve the hard sugar first by mixing it with hot water instead of room temperature water and then let it cool before adding both to the flour.

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Use a whisk to mix the mixture. Do you see the bubbles? It is the yeast that reacts with the liquid and releases bubbles of carbon dioxide to lighten the batter. Later, when the batter reaches the heat, the yeast will have a similar reaction again and will help the cake rise.

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To obtain a smoother batter, filter it through a sieve to remove any hidden flour lumps. If the mixture is too thick to pour easily, add more water, a little at a time, until it can be poured easily.

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One very funny thing about Chinese prosperity cakes is that they are really just another form of muffin or cupcake. Chinese cupcakes, how beautiful! So get out the cupcake molds and paper liners because here we are.

Place the molds filled with the coating in a steamer basket. Run the water in the steamer until it boils.

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Pour the flour and sugar mixture into the cupcake liners. Only fill up to 80% to leave enough room for your “prosperity” explosion, also known as the cake that rises so much that it completely splits. Once you have finished pouring, place the basket over the steamer and cover with the lid.

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There are two tips I’ve learned from my experiences making bao. This first one is, I think, the key to making the sandwich explode gloriously. You need to steam on high heat! The first couple of times I made it I lowered the heat, thinking that such delicate rolls should be better steamed at lower temperatures. WRONG! High heat all the way!

The second tip I have for you is to use a bamboo steamer or add a towel on top of a metal steamer before adding the lid. The bamboo steamer lid absorbs condensation, the metal lid does not drip.

The first time I used a metal steamer and the condensation water collected on the lid dripped all over my poor cake/rolls, gelling and preventing further expansion. I’m back to using my good old bamboo steamer, although I had to quickly run to the kitchen store and buy a new bamboo lid (my old one recently fell apart). Bamboo lid, no more dripping problems.

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This last step is optional but, really, why not? It’s so fun to score sandwiches like this and it looks amazing! Simply use a bit of red food coloring and the end of a chopstick and stamp your cakes with a nice Chinese mark. I remember my dearest grandmother doing the same with her bao.

That’s all for this simple but extremely lucky cake/sandwich! Make some today and see if your luck is bright for the coming New Year!

Happy Chinese New Year from all of us at The Hong Kong Cookery!

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Fa Gao Chinese Prosperity Cake Recipe

New Year’s cake

(for 8 cakes) Preparation time: 5 minutes Cooking time: 20 minutes

Ingredients:

Directions:

Whisk together the flour and baking powder. Add brown and white sugars. Whisk to mix. Add the water and mix until there are no more lumps. Use a scraper to push the mixture through a sieve to ensure a smooth batter. The mixture should be pourable with the consistency of liquid honey.

Prepare the steamer with water and heat it to boiling over high heat. Off the heat, add the cupcake molds to the steamer basket. Line each mold with a cupcake liner. Pour the mixture into the baking cups, filling them only 80% to allow them to rise during steaming.

Place the steamer basket on top of the steamer. If using a metal steamer, place a towel over the steamer, making sure to tie the loose ends of the towel so it doesn’t come close to the heat source. Close the lid tightly and steam on high heat for 20 minutes. Do not open the lid while steaming. When finished, remove the cake/rolls from the steamer and remove them from the molds.

Prepare a small portion of liquid red food coloring in a bowl. Dip the fat end of a stick into food coloring and use it to stamp the cakes in the center.

Your prosperity cakes are ready to eat! If you don’t eat it immediately, cover it airtight and store it in the refrigerator for up to 5 days. When ready to eat, steam for 4 minutes or until heated through. Enjoy the good luck!

New Year’s Eve Treats at The Hong Kong Cookery:

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