It took twelve years of waiting and finally, I'm happy to announce, it's my turn this year. That's right! It's the year of the horse on the lunar calendar - Gong Hei Fatt Choy everyone. For those who celebrate the Chinese New Year - 龙马精神! 万事如意!
As part of the tradition during the new year, you are expected to shout out auspicious sayings and well wishes to your families and friends, and anyone that crosses your path. Obviously I don't meant just yell out randomly on the street, that would just makes you look a bit doolally.
Chinese are firm believers in luck and good fortune hence during the fifteen days of New Year, any dishes that have auspicious sounding names and ingredients will be served up in great abundance. One such magic dish is this steamed sponge cake.
Known as Huat Kueh (in Hokkien - a dialect spoken by most in Singapore) or Fa Gao (in Mandarin), the signature 'blossom' top of this cake symbolises prosperity.
These cakes are usually steamed in individual porcelain bowls. This helps to spread the heat evenly and encourage the batter to rise, yielding a light and spongey texture. However, if you do not have enough bowls, feel free to use a mini muffin tin. Make sure they fit into the steamer and line them with either greased parchment paper or muffin case. Once steamed these will looks just as attractive.
The difference between the Chinese's version and the Nyonya is that we uses Gula Melaka (palm sugar) and coconut milk which enriches the cakes, giving them a more fragrant twist. These are usually eaten warm just as they are. However, I like to serve it with palm sugar syrup, drizzled generously over the sponge cake, smothering it with caramel, toffee-like sweetness…mmm…delicious.
Ingredients (makes 4)
175g rice flour
175ml tepid water
1 tsp dried yeast
2 tbsp sunflower oil
100g plain flour
1 tsp baking powder
oil, for greasing
caster sugar, for shaping the cake
For the syrup:
150ml coconut milk
150g Gula Melaka/palm sugar
25g soft brown sugar
2 pandan leaves, cut into small pieces
For the serving syrup:
200g Gula Melaka/palm sugar
Start by making the syrup. In a small pan, combine the coconut milk, palm sugar, brown sugar and pandan leaves and simmer over medium heat until the sugar has fully dissolved. Strain into a bowl and leave to cool completely.
In a large mixing bowl, combine the rice flour, water and yeast and whisk until smooth. Cover with a clean tea cloth and leave to stand for 1 hour to allow the test to work it's magic. After these time, the batter should be frothy.
Add the cooled syrup and oil into the batter. Mix well and then sift in the plain flour and baking power and whisk until smooth. Cover with a clean tea towel and leave to stand for 30 minutes.
Meanwhile, prepare the steamer and bring the water to a vigorous boil.
Lightly grease the rice bowls with sunflower oil. Place the bowls in the steamer and steamed for 5 minutes.
Give the batter a final stir and ladle into each bowl until just below the brim.
Dip a spatula into some oil, follow by some caster sugar and draw a 'X' shape across the top of each bowl. This helps to encourage the top to 'blossom' or Huat when cooked. Cover and steam for 18-20 minutes, until the cake is well risen. Test by inserting a skewer into the cake, it should come up cleaned.
While the cakes are steaming, make the accompanying serving syrup. Combine the water and the palm sugar in a pan and warm over medium heat. Stir until the sugar has dissolved completely. Remove and leave to cool.
Serve the cakes warm, with the syrup on the side for the guest to drizzle over as desired.