Steamed sponge cake 水蒸蛋糕

Before I started experimenting with Asian snacks, I used to bake tea time snacks several times a week – as you can see from the earlier entries on this blog. So my weekly supermarketing would inevitably include dairy staples of butter and eggs. Recently, I noticed that my stock of eggs and butter has been sitting in the fridge for a long time and realised that it’s because of my concentration on Chinese and Japanese snacks, which are mostly steamed. At that point it also struck me that these Asian snacks are wonderful vegan or dairy-free recipes (just make sure you substitute vegetable oil in any recipes that call for lard!).

However, I had to find a way to start using up all those eggs so I chose a recipe for a steamed cake that uses eggs. In Chinese, dan gao 蛋糕 is used to refer to western-style cakes; the first character meaning ‘egg’ and the second ‘cake’. The character gao 糕 is also used to refer to all those steamed snacks, which don’t have eggs. So the Chinese name for this cake, with the word dan 蛋 immediately alerted me to the presence of eggs :). The recipe comes from the book 《糕&炒年糕》.

Steamed Sponge Cake

Ingredients

250g eggs [1 large egg = 60-65g]
150g low-protein flour/cake flour
50g wheat starch
1g baking powder (optional) [how to weigh 1g?? even digital kitchen scales aren't accurate with such small amounts! so I 'agak-agak' i.e. guessed :P]
75g white sugar [reduced from original amount of 250g in recipe and it was just the right amount of sweetness]
raisins to taste (optional)

Actually, apart from creaming and muffin mix method, I have very little experience with cake-making techniques. So working with eggs and whisking them was a bit of a challenge.

I didn’t know why the step-by-step photos showed first a yellow whisked mixture of whole eggs and white sugar, which had become white in the following photo so I thought I would try out the method used in this pandan chiffon cupcake recipe where the egg whites and sugar are whisked first, and then the egg yolks blended in. It gave me a chance to practise separating eggs ^_^ (had one casualty, which I used for French toast later).

Once the egg & sugar mixture was done, I folded in the sifted mixture of cake flour, wheat starch and baking powder.

The cake mixture then went into a oiled square baking tin. In the recipe book, cling film is used to line the containers but I thought oiling the tin might be less wasteful.

If so desired, you can sprinkle raisins to taste on the surface of the cake mixture. I used the same organic sultanas as I did in this oatmeal cake.

Steam for 20 minutes. After my problem with the overly-dense texture of these brown sugar steamed buns, I made sure the water was really vigorously boiling before I put the cake in to steam.

In terms of texture, the result was similar to the photo in the recipe book, but it still seemed rather too dense to me. In retrospect, I think I didn’t whisk the egg whites enough (tired! and the volume didn’t seem to increase anymore…), and only got to the ‘soft peak’ stage, when I really should have continued till the ‘hard peak’ stage.

Another problem was that there were large air holes in certain parts of the cake. Possibly I didn’t mix the dry ingredients properly. Alternatively, I should have banged the cake tin to release any air bubbles to the top of the mixture.

The texture was also sort of bouncy, just like the brown sugar steamed buns, so I guess this could be a characteristic of steamed cakes.

As for the taste, it was uh, rather egg-y. It smelled and tasted sort of like hard-boiled eggs!?! I wonder if more sugar would have masked the egg smell (after all, I used about 1/3 of the suggested amount)? Perhaps pandan leaf juice or vanilla essence would also have done the job.

[21/1/0 update: I found a solution to the strong egg taste! It goes away when the steamed sponge cake cools down. Discovered this after having included the steamed cake in several bento recently. This is similar to the advice Ann Mah gave me regarding making Spinach Chocolate Brownies from Jessica Seinfeld's Deceptively Delicious: the spinach taste is evident when the brownies are warm so they have to be served at room temperature/cold.]

Verdict: love the straightforward recipe and simple list of ingredients, but will need to try again to get a better result in taste in texture.

**Check out these other spongy steamed cakes I’ve tried:
Brown sugar steamed buns 黑糖饅頭
Steamed cupcakes: fatt gou/ huat kueh 發糕

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14 Responses

  1. I just want to let you know how much I’ve been enjoying your posts on sweet Chinese snacks (糕點), which have been a part of my life for so long but of which I know so little about (i.e. how-to’s).

  2. Thanks, commoi :). As you can tell it’s been a real learning journey for me. Like you, I’ve eaten many similar things lots of times but somehow never learnt to make them before. I only remember learning baking techniques during Home Economics class in school and at home, my grandmother specialised in baking rather than Asian snacks too. Plus when I was young, sweet chocolatey cakes were much more appealing than dou sar bao or wu tao kou!!

    There was just the one time many years ago when I got my grandma to show me how to make lor bak kou and that was it… Am hoping to try lor bak kou again soon but first I have to figure what to put in if I’m going to leave out all the traditional preserved meats and dried goods!

  3. another winner from you! this is one of my fav snacks and which i was planning to find out how to make!!

    what’s the purpose of hte wheat starch? can i omit it, you think?

    i have been out of action for last week cuz i sprained my back, and now still can’t sit or stand or walk for too long!

  4. Hi CP,

    Sorry to hear you are out of action! Looks like now is the time to pull out all your pre-cooked stocks from the freezer!

    I’m not sure what the wheat starch does. My guess is that it works like corn flour but I’m also not sure what effect corn flour has in cakes :/.

  5. Check out this recipe for a sponge cake recipe that can either be baked or steamed:
    http://nicerecipes.wordpress.com/2008/01/13/sponge-cake-ii/

  6. About the function of wheat starch.

    Just came across this on e-Gullet forum, re: cake flour:
    “you can substitute all-purpose/plain flour by removing three tablespoons per cup of flour and replacing it with corn starch or potato flour”.
    http://forums.egullet.org/index.php?showtopic=3774&hl=

    Possibly the wheat starch has the same effect as it is wheat flour minus all the gluten, so it using wheat starch will decrease the overall amount of gluten in the total volume of flour.

  7. niceties: My experience is similar: there is much more attention directed towards baking than to making Chinese “dim-sum.” My mum can make a few classics, like ma-dou-gao (馬豆糕) and whatnot.

    As I got older, I find myself going back and becoming increasingly interested in these traditional foods. I actually think I’m the only one in the family who still actually tries to make her own turnip cake (luo bo gao) for Chinese New Year. <– it’s the young ones who’re into the “vintage” things now. XD

  8. eh thanks thanks!! i am so happy about all the information here! i have learnt so much from u niceties! when i’m better and able to do more experiments, i’m going to try out all your cool recipes!!

  9. I found a solution to the strong egg taste! It goes away when the steamed sponge cake cools down. Discovered this after having included the steamed cake in several bento recently.

    This is similar to the advice Ann Mah http://annmah.net gave me regarding making Spinach Chocolate Brownies from Jessica Seinfeld’s Deceptively Delicious book: the spinach taste is evident when the brownies are warm so they have to be served at room temperature/cold.

  10. What are low -protein flour & wheat starch?
    I would like to steam the steamed sponge cake, but don’t know the above ingredients.

    Thanks
    angela

  11. Hi Angela,

    If you simply click on the link for the words ‘wheat starch’ in the recipe above you’ll get to my page explaining more about it.

    More info also in this entry on my blog:
    http://mainmainmasakmasak.wordpress.com/2007/12/16/wheat-flour-minus-gluten-equals/

    Good luck!

  12. i have not made a sponge cake before, and one of the ingredient of sponge cake is corn starch but on geting to the vendor’s place i discovered that she sells no corn starch. i want to kown if there will be any alternative in baking sponge cake without corn starch or something to use in replace of corn starch.

    • Getting the balance of flours for the right texture and leaving in cakes is not easy. Please have a look at my page on <a href="”>Flours and good luck experimenting!

  13. i have not made a sponge cake before, and one of the ingredient of sponge cake is corn starch but on geting to the vendor’s place i discovered that she sells no corn starch. i want to kown if there will be any alternative in baking sponge cake without corn starch or something to use in replace of corn starch.

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