Last Thursday was the first day of the Year of the Ram, and homemade sweets are definitely in order for this two week celebration. Some tasty candied almonds might be the perfect offering for family and friends, or perhaps a plate of laughing doughnut holes. The main point is that people should have a wonderful time, and food always is important to achieving that, at least in our home.
One of our favorite New Year sweets is this, a Cantonese steamed cake that is lightly sweet and takes all of about 5 minutes to put together. This fluffy confection looks very much like an English sponge cake, so my guess that Chinese cooks transmogrified a European recipe to fit local tastes, for soy sauce gives the cake its rich color and a subtle suggestion of xianwei to this dim sum teahouse classic.
Never content to let good enough alone, I was tweaking this recipe lately, trying to make it perfect with just the right balance of sweet-salty-creamy, and so I ended up with a whole bunch of different takes on this recipe. The last two contenders were submitted to our resident food critic, 20-month-old Mr. Enzo, who declared this one the winner in the accompanying video.
Not only that, but when reviewing this short film, he said “好吃！” (Delicious!) – and I am proud to say that this was the first time he ever said that – as he recalled his meal. My favorite part in the clip is when he lingers over the two versions before settling on the pale cake. Yes, the boy has taste.
Malay Sponge Cake
2 large eggs, room temperature
6 tablespoons sugar
5 tablespoons peanut or vegetable oil
7 tablespoons milk (whole or low fat)
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 tablespoon regular soy sauce
1 cup cake flour
2½ teaspoons baking powder
1. Heat the water under a steamer to boiling, then reduce the heat to low. Spray an 8- or 9-inch round cake pan with oil and line the bottom with parchment paper.
2. Use a hand mixer to whisk the eggs until light and airy, and then slowly beat in the sugar, oil, milk, vanilla, and soy sauce. In a separate bowl toss together the flour and baking powder, then beat this into the egg mixture until the batter is smooth. Pour the batter into the prepared pan and steam the cake for around 15 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool the cake in the pan, then remove it and cut it into wedges.