Valentine’s Day is on the horizon, which led me to wondering – other than chocolate – are there really any desserts associated with Valentine’s Day (I couldn’t find any)? This search led me further afield to the intriguingly named “Wife Cake” (aka Sweetheart Cake). Wife cake is a traditional Chinese cake, made with a flaky pastry surrounding a sweet, candied winter melon center. I have seen a ton of different names for this same cake, but according to Wikipedia, the literal translation from the Cantonese lou po beng is “Old lady cake” with “old lady” being used in the sense of “wife” (get it!?). Winter melon (despite the name) is actually a squash and can be prepared in both sweet and savory ways. Candied winter melon alone is a popular snack around Lunar New Year and you should be able to find it in a well-stocked Asian grocery. Since these cake are filled with winter melon, it is no surprise that they are also particularly popular around Lunar New Year – which is coincidentally 2 days after Valentine’s Day in 2018. If you are looking for a treat to celebrate Valentine’s Day OR Lunar New Year, here are recipes for Wife Cake from My Kitchen Snippets, Gwai Shu Shu and More than bread.
Saturday is Chinese New Year – kicking off the year of the horse! Chinese Fa Gao 发糕 aka “Prosperity Cake” is a delicious part of Chinese New Year festivities, and is said to bring good luck. So what makes this cake so “prosperous?” Turns out wordplay is part of it – “fa” means both “prosperity” and “raised.” The recipe for Fa Gao is super simple – and consists of not much more than sugar, rice flour, water and baking soda (hence the “raised”). The rice flour imparts a a more sticky, dense texture, which comes through during the steaming. The individually-sized cakes, baked in cupcake tins, have a distinctive split at the top. Even if they are not flavored, the cakes are often dyed in bright colors for the festive holiday. Check out the Fa Gao recipes from Kirbie Cravings, Random Cuisine and Yes to Cooking to add to your Lunar new Year Table.
This lunar new year, the pastry post-doc is celebrating with an entirely new cake preparation format – steamed. Yep, the cake in question, Nian Gao, is actually a sweet steamed Chinese cake made from glutinous rice flour and brown sugar. Nian Gao (or nin gou) is popular across China, and varies widely by region, as well as in the Chinese diaspora. It is considered a lucky food to have around the New Year, partly because of its name. According to Wikipedia:
It is considered good luck to eat nian gao during this time, because “nian gao” is a homonym for “higher year.” The Chinese word 粘 (nián), meaning “sticky”, is identical in sound to 年, meaning “year”, and the word 糕 (gāo), meaning “cake” is identical in sound to 高, meaning “high or tall.”
Nian Gao is traditionally steamed, and therefore has a more gelatinous texture, as in this recipe, though Chow.com also has a baked recipe. Honestly, though the baked cake may be more familiar, I really appreciate the steaming technique, which is definitely not utilized in many Western sweets. Here’s to a sweet new year!
Happy Lunar New Year! In China, today is the start of the year of the horse, and it’s time for delicious, celebratory treats as well. We’ve always loved the pretty Chinese cakes made in traditional wooden molds, like mooncakes. But the Red Tortoise Cake (In Hokkien dialect, “Ang Ku Kueh”: 紅龜粿) kicks it up another notch by being shaped like a turtle! Red Tortoise Cake is filled with mung bean paste and covered with a skin of glutinous rice flour and sweet potato (colored red), then steamed on a banana leaf.
The turtle represents longevity, and auspicious cakes are popular for Lunar New Year, birthdays of elders, and to celebrate a baby’s first month. Due to this, you can find them year-round. Along with China, the cakes are also popular in areas with Hokkien-Chinese communities, like Singapore. You can get a turtle cake mold online, and try a recipe from Nasi Lemak Lover. Or perhaps you have your heart set on a tiny, clay rendition of a Tortoise Cake!
Happy New Year! Monday, Jan 23rd marks the start of the Lunar year – and the Chinese year of the Dragon. In Salvador, there actually are a few Chinese restaurants, so maybe we will be able to partake (we even saw a Macanese restaurant – cool!). One Chinese food we are craving in honor of the new year is Xiao Long Bao (XLB). XLB are dumplings from Eastern China, which are filled with gelatin (which then melts to liquid through steaming), earning them the English nickname of soup dumplings. While we are admitted XLB novices, XLB have quite a cult following among foodies, and there are countless blog posts reviewing and critiquing dumpling offerings in America and abroad. Eating XLB is also an art unto itself, since the liquid filling of the XLB has the potential for explosion!
Soup Dumplings at Bund Shanghai in San Francisco