Chinese New Year Prosperity Cake

Chinese New Year traditions are fascinating.  I love the way that certain foods are associated with Chinese New Year because of their auspicious meanings, or because they sound like words that are lucky.  One celebratory food item is a simple steamed dessert called ‘fagao’ (發糕) popular in Taipei bakeries throughout the Spring Festival holiday.  ‘Fa’ means to rise, which symbolises rising fortunes and luck.  And it is also the same character used in ‘facai’ (發財, to become wealthy). Gōngxǐ fācái (恭喜發財), is one of the most common greetings over the festival period; even my toddler knows how to recite it when receiving red envelopes.

Fagao are often eaten at breakfast or as a dessert, in a similar way to steamed breads such as mantou.  From my research I gather that traditionally fagao were made predominately from glutinous rice flour, which does not always rise on cue unless the flour is fresh.  The recipe I used was from a Taiwanese cooking periodical called ‘Happy Kitchen Magazine’ (快樂廚房雜誌) published by popular the Taiwanese food and cookbook publisher Y Tower.  (If you can read full-form Chinese characters, it is worth checking out their recipe database.)  Although the ingredients are based around wheat flour, I still take it as reasonably authentic.  Actually, the finished product tasted very similar to the fagao sold commercially only with the advantage of being freshly made.  And just in time for breakfast: they were surprisingly fast to whip up.

Taiwanxifu Toddler helping Mum in the kitchen

The original recipe called for 8g of baking powder.  I was a bit distracted by Taiwanxifu Toddler wanting to ‘help’ and only added 5g, yet my fagao still rose like beautiful round orbs.  Phew!  Glad I didn’t deflate any Chinese New Year’s luck.  If you want to really ensure that your fagao rise into tall cracked peaks, add 8g of baking powder but I am sure that 7g would be sufficient.  The traditional flavour is brown sugar, but you can experiment with other flavours if you prefer.

Ingredients

190 ml of water
50g white sugar
40g brown sugar
160g low gluten flour (or all purpose flour)
7g baking powder
40g glutinous rice flour

Method

1.  Combine the water and sugars in a small saucepan and stir over a low heat until dissolved.  Remove from heat.

Combine the sugars and water in a saucepan over low heat

2.  In a large mixing bowl, add the remaining dry ingredients.  (Taiwan sells flour according to whether it has a low, medium or high gluten content.  Substitute a flour suitable for baking cakes, e.g. plain or all purpose flour, if you cannot find low gluten flour.)  Pour in the warm sugar liquid gradually, mixing until it is just combined.  Do not to over mix — it is okay if the mixture is still a little lumpy.

Add the liquid gradually

3.  Spoon the mixture into a bowl or paper cases.  The object is for the fagao to rise high, so fill to at least 2/3rd or 3/4 capacity.  I used Chinese rice bowls; no need to grease or prepare any fancy equipment. If using paper cases, place them in a cup or mould to hold them into shape or else they will end up flat. 

The fagao mixture spooned into a Chinese rice bowl

4.  Using the small plastic cup provided with your electric cooker, measure out two cups of water and add to the outside of the cooking pot.  Press down to start cooking, and wait until the water starts just starts to steam before carefully placing the fagao into the pot. (If you don’t have an electric steamer, put 350ml of water into the bottom of a medium-sized saucepan.  Place a trivet over the water, and then place the Chinese cups on top.)

Placing bowls of fagao mixture into my trusty TaTung electric steamer

5.  Steam until the water in the pot has evaporated.  This should take around 20 minutes.  Do not lift up the lid to see if the fagao are rising.  Like baking a souffle, it is best not to interfere.  

Yeah! My fagao rose to the occasion.

 6.  Eat straight away, or save until the next day and re-steam briefly to heat.

 

 

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About taiwanxifu

‘Taiwanxifu’ (pronounced ‘shee foo’) means ‘Taiwan daughter-in-law’ in Chinese and has been my nickname ever since I married my Taiwanese husband, Sam. I love sampling Taiwanese food, even local specialties such as stinky tofu, pigs blood cake and Taipei beef noodle soup with offal. But there are many other options on the menu. Promise!
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6 Responses to Chinese New Year Prosperity Cake

  1. Ivy Chen says:

    Serina, It’s fantastic work. I am afraid that fagao will be gone with my parents and parents-in-law. You are truly Taiwanxifu!

    • taiwanxifu says:

      Dear Ivy, you are too kind. I only cook simple things, and then only rarely. You are the real master chef. I should have asked you first for a ‘fagao’ recipe.

      Actually, I was fascinated by ‘fagao’ because they were one Chinese New Year tradition that was never in my northern-Chinese centric textbooks that were the basis of my Chinese (and Taiwanese) education. I am finding that there is a real difference between the ‘textbook’ version of Chinese New Year traditions and how people actually celebrate them.

  2. Estee Chin says:

    Loving those fagao…my kids love it. I was wondering what steamer you have there? If don’t mind i really wanna lookup in the website . I’m leaving in USA and really like to have a steamer like that to make life easy!!!! I have been watching some Taiwanses cooking online lately…and they have been using the same steamer as you. If you don’t mind please let me know. Thanks!

    • taiwanxifu says:

      Fagao were surprisingly not too hard to make. The steamer is made by a Taiwanese company called Ta-tung. It is a fixture in almost every Taiwanese kitchen. It usually only comes in olive green or burnt orange, although they do special editions from time to time. But don’t let the retro colors turn you off. It is so handy, not just for perfect rice, fagao but also steamed buns, soups, and even for sterilizing baby bottles. Many students leave Taiwan to study overseas clutching one. We are in Australia at the moment and brought one over for family (there is one shop in Brisbane that sells it but there is a long waiting list).

  3. Kenneth says:

    Hi I am hoping you see this and reply quick cause I was planning to make these today. But can i use normal rice flour in place of glutinous rice flour? I’ve researched it online but no sources seem to be helpful.

    • taiwanxifu says:

      From my previous research, I seem to recall the “proper” fagao were made with sticky rice flour. Are you usingnwheat flour as well? Should be okay as rice flour percentage is small; texture might be slightly more gritty but I’m sure still delicious. Why don’t you try it and tell us?

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