This was another one of those almost-disasters, or a cooking adventure if you look on the bright side :). It’s Project No. 3 in my exploration of alternative flours and different ingredients as part of food rotation to deal with food intolerances. The new flour used here is Water Chestnut Flour (click on link to read more).
I found similar recipes in two different cookbooks: Dim Sum by Chan Chen Hei and 糕&炒年糕 by 金華, and ended up following the latter recipe simply because the quantities of ingredients were in round numbers and hence easier to measure out :). The book also has step-by-step photo instructions.
The ten water chestnuts I had purchased, after peeling, weighed 150g, which determined that I would have to base the rest of the ingredient quantities around that, i.e. half the amount stated in the recipe.
125g water chestnuts [I used up all 150g that I had on hand]
125g water chestnut flour
70g caster sugar [reduced from the original amount of 200g! and it was still too sweet!!]
[omitted 12g custard powder]
1) The instructions are to mix water chestnut flour and custard powder with 125ml of cold water and mix evenly into a smooth batter.
However, I have commented here on the ‘nasties’ in custard powder, which is basically a combination of corn flour, flavourings and yellow colouring – usually annatto or tartrazine, which can both cause a whole host of allergic reactions.
So I had to figure out what to substitute the custard powder with. Decided I could forgo the fake custard taste and artificial yellow colour, but thought the thickening function might be important so I added one teaspoon of cornflour to the water chestnut flour.
I later discovered the reason for using cold water: because on heating, the flour immediately thickens and hardens into a semi-solid!
2) Chop the water chestnuts. Chef Chan Chen Hei’s instructions say not to dice them too finely or you’ll lose the crunchy texture of the water chestnuts in the final product, but also not to cut them too coarsely or the dish will look rough.
3) In a pot, bring to the boil the remaining water, adding the caster sugar and chopped water chestnuts. Cook until all the sugar is dissolved.
4) Add the batter slowly whilst stirring the boiling liquid all the while. Keep stirring constantly until you have a smooth, thick paste.
This is where I made a total mess of the dish :P. As I was trying to scrape the last traces of batter out of the bowl, I didn’t realise that what had gone into the boiling sugar liquid had solidified into a big clump! Some of it turned transparent but there were white bits where the batter had become trapped with a solidified outer layer.
Taking the pot off the stove, I tried to break up the solidified bits but it was impossible and I finally had to resort to using a handheld blender to try and break up all the bits. In the process, the water chestnuts pieces were also pulverised of course. It was impossible to get a smooth liquid but when it all seemed reasonably even in texture, I proceeded with the recipe instructions.
5) Pour the cooked batter into a square or rectangular dish. You may want to line the dish with cling film for easy removal of the steamed cake later. Place the dish in a wok and steam over high heat. The instructions said 45 mins, but Chen Chan Hei’s book says 20-25 mins. Since I was using half the quantity, I set the timer for 15 minutes. The dish had turned translucent after 15 mins but I left it for an extra 10 mins just in case.
6) After steaming, cut the cake into slices. I found that the cake became more firm when it cooled.
7 ) Can be eaten cold, reheated by steaming, or fried. I found the dish tasted too sweet at this point, and gave me the feeling of being rather yin. So although I had planned to eat it after steaming, I decided to fry it in batter to counter the sweetness and ‘cooling’ effect.
Batter ingredients & method (from Dim Sum by Chan Chen Hei)
— 1/2 quantity
150g all-purpose flour
1/4 Tbs baking powder
50ml cooking oil [this seemed like a frighteningly huge amount so I just used 1 Tbs :P]
Combine dry ingredients with enough water to make a thin, smooth batter. Leave to stand for 30mins then test consistency again, adding more water if necessary. When ready to use, stir in the oil. Cut water chestnut cake into strips, dip into batter and deep fry.
Verdict: Really need to try again!!
At a basic level, the dish was surprisingly palatable despite the disaster halfway. Tiny scraps of crunchy water chestnut were still occasionally discernible, but as you can see in the photo, the texture was lumpy, resembling sago pearls. That can be quite nice too, but obviously that’s not what this dish is supposed to be like.
The fried batter was nice and crispy, but just sooo oily, it gets a bit heavy to eat more than two pieces or so. You can cut down the amount of fried batter by cutting larger pieces (like the larger piece in the background of the photo) but then in this case, there would be way too much overly-sweet water chestnut cake in proportion to the unsweetened batter.
6/12/07 update: Just thought of another way to eat the steamed water chestnut cake. I really don’t want to make the fried version again because it’s simply too oily for my taste. I wanted to find some way to tone down the excessive sweetness of the water chestnut cake, so unsweetened red bean soup seemed like a good idea. Since the water chestnut cake has a texture somewhat like sago pearls (actually, it’s closer to the crispy+chewy texture of Chinese shredded jelly fish salad), anything you can put sago into would also work here. In theory it worked OK, but I think the taste of this water chestnut cake just isn’t that appealing to me so I didn’t enjoy the red bean version very much either :(.