Steamed cupcakes: fatt gou/ huat kueh 發糕

I’m back to experimenting with steamed Asian snacks. These ‘exploded’ steamed cupcakes (which probably accounts for their name in Chinese which means ‘risen cake’) are quite common. In Singapore, they are usually referred to by the Hokkien pronunciation, huat kueh, but I’m more at home with the Cantonese name, fatt gou, which is also used in the Malaysian Chinese bilingual cookbooks.

Fatt Gou Huat Kueh

While all the Malaysian Chinese recipes I’ve found use yeast, the recipe in this Taiwanese book of Chinese cakes used only baking powder – much easier and also avoids triggering possible food sensitivities to yeast I might have.


350g low-protein flour /cake flour
150g wheat starch 澄粉
20g baking powder
125g sugar [reduced from 350g]
1 egg white [see my method of separating eggs]
50ml oil [I used coconut oil for flavour]
250-270ml water

For brown-coloured cakes: cocoa powder to taste
For pink-coloured cakes: 150g strawberry jam


1. In a bowl, mix the white sugar, egg white, oil and water until evenly combined.

2. Mix the cake flour, wheat starch and baking powder in a large bowl. At this point, I noticed a slight sourish, sort of chemical smell coming from the flour mixture but I’m still not sure what it was.

3. Add the liquid mixture to the dry ingredients. Mix until there are no more lumps of flour. Unlike normal wheat flour-only batter, the addition of wheat starch makes this batter clump together more easily and therefore can be cleanly divided

4. Divide into 2 or three portions depending on number of colours/flavours desired. Add in the cocoa powder and/or strawberry jam to one portion each and mix well. I made cocoa and plain.

After adding cocoa powder to the batter, it because a bit more stiff, and this produced a better result. After trying out one batch of mixed cocoa & plain cakes, I realised this and added more cake flour to my white batter.

5. Pour the batter into cupcake moulds. I made three sizes: large (round and square), mini and bite-sized, using a combination of silicone baking cups and an aluminium tray with bite-sized shapes which I lined with paper cups.

Fatt Gou mixed

Do not use square moulds as I did. None of the square cakes was able to produce the desired flower-shaped ‘explosion’ on top, as you can see below.

Fatt Gou square

6. Steam the cakes. IMPORTANT: the water must be at a rolling boil, on high heat and do add sufficient water to steam the cakes for 15 minutes. Given the amount of dough I had, I had to steam the cupcakes in three batches (could have squeezed into two lots if I had been organised enough).

The first thing is that I was very pleased with the successful splitting of the cake tops, unlike with the brown sugar steamed buns 黑糖饅頭 I made some time back. Only for the round shapes though, as I noted above.

If you look at the second photo above, particularly the large brown cake, you’ll notice the cakes have an attractive glossy sheen. This effect is created by the wheat starch. The glossy skins can be easily peeled off, just as with char siew pau.

Texture-wise, it had a distinctive very crumbly texture that reminded me of Chinese steamed buns I’d eaten in shops and restaurants before, perhaps char siew pau skin. It was great to produce a kind of texture I’d never made before, yet one that was immediately recognisable to my palate.

However, that strange smell from the flour mixture gave the white cakes a slightly odd taste. This was masked by the cocoa powder in the brown ones. So perhaps one should avoid making these cakes in ‘plain’ flavour. But this also raises a worrying issue – just what is that smell/taste? The first thing that came to mind is that chemicals are often used to bleach and process flours. Wheat starch probably requires more processing than regular flour so is a likely candidate for chemical additives. I have used wheat starch before without noticing anything (such as here), but then again it was only in much smaller quantities. While I have been eating these cakes with no reactions, the idea of chemical fumes from my flours is rather off-putting and certainly undesirable.

Another important point to note is that these cakes do not seem to freeze well and cannot be reheated in the microwave. Microwaving them the same way I do with all my muffins and cakes so far turned them into hard lumps with plastic skins. So you’ll need to steam them to reheat, and even this did not produce a nice texture on the inside.

While I was pleased with the shape and texture, my concerns about the wheat starch and the fact that these do not freeze/reheat well mean that they are not practical as part of my weekly bento/snack reserves.


6 Responses

  1. may i know how many grams of cocoa powder must we add in for the brown colour fa gao?
    thanks =D

  2. Hi xj,
    Sorry, I can’t remember how much I used and the original recipe just says ‘a bit’. I suggest you add in 1tsp at a time until the batter is the colour you like. Good luck!

  3. Thanks for the recipe. It looks delicious. I am looking for recipe for this kind of cake, sort of spongy rice cake, very light, (using RICE FLOUR), regions Ningbo, zhejiang province.

  4. Hi Hunghar,
    The Ningbo rice flour cake sounds great! Unfortunately I’ve never come across it, but I would love to try, especially since I try to avoid baking with wheat flour these days. Do let me know if you find a good recipe for it :).

  5. try microwave with a cup of water. The cake will turn out n soft :)

  6. Try Chinese Snacks by Huang Su-Huei

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