Chinese Water Chestnut Cake 馬蹄糕
By Ellen L. Published: 2017-01-28
We've been busy preparing for Chinese New Year 農曆新年; it's pretty festive here in HK this year. Picking out our lucky flowers at the crush of humanity that is the Chinese New Year Flower Market, cleaning our darnit too small of a house, getting our little red packets prepared as gifts to children and unmarried big persons. And the food! There's New Year's food everywhere one looks, it's just fabulous! The traditional trinity of cakes that one must have during the Chinese New Year, at least here in Hong Kong, is as follows: Sweet Rice Cake Nian Gao 年糕, Radish Cake 蘿蔔糕, and Water Chestnut Cake 馬蹄糕. The Three Queens that welcome the Lunar New Year! We have already posted about the first two cakes and you can just click on the links above to find our recipes. Today we will complete the trinity with the recipe for Water Chestnut Cake, or 馬蹄糕, a very unique sweet jelly traditional Chinese cake that is made with both fresh water chestnuts and water chestnut flour.
This Chinese Water Chestnut Cake is unique in its taste. It's subtle. It's not totally a jelly though it has the translucent characteristics of jelly when hot. And it's not really a cake at all either. Its texture is harder than jelly and it's not too sweet and there is the wonderful crunchy fresh sweetness of the water chestnut bits. I think that the secret to this cake is understanding that it's meant to thoroughly celebrate 'water chestnut 馬蹄'. If you understand that then the subtleness of the taste and texture of this cake really comes through.
To make this cake you will need to get some water chestnut flour, or 馬蹄粉. You can find it at your asian grocer or supermarket. They might not have it all year round but for sure they will have it during the Chinese New Year season. This flour is actually more of a starch and is also used as a thickener and as a crispy coating for deep fry.
And fresh water chestnuts, or 馬蹄, of course. To check for freshness give all the water chestnuts a squeeze. The fresh ones will be rock hard. The not so fresh chestnuts will feel soft. Also look for any signs of mold. Mold is a no-no but if you see mud that's okay cuz these chestnuts grow in the mud and you will just need to give it a rinse to get it off. Sometimes it's possible to find pre-peeled water chestnuts which is great because peeling the chestnuts is a pain in the b**t...but do check for freshness all the same. In grocery stores you can find canned water chestnuts which are pre-peeled which is awesome but naturally it won't be as tasty as fresh ones.
To peel the chestnuts, slice off the top and bottom skin first with a sharp paring knife and then carefully slice off the peel along the sides. Do be careful your fingers while slicing. The fresh water chestnut is then usually diced but I got fancy here and decided to use my new mini star cookie cutter to fancy up my Water Chestnut Cake. Aren't my little stars cute?
|Dark and light brown slab sugar...quite a color difference, eh?|
The last consideration is that of the sugar. The kind of sugar traditionally used is the slab sugar, or 片糖, which is a slab of soft barely refined sugar cane that the Chinese love to use for desserts for the rich taste and shiny gloss that it provides. The slab sugar comes in different variations of color that will also affect the color of your food, lighter brown to darker brown. I used the darker brown for my cake for the extra depth of flavor. Or if you would like to have a white water chestnut cake you could use regular white sugar instead but the taste will be sweet but not as complex.
Here is the cake batter poured into the cake pan ready for the steamer. My mix is overcooked a wee bit, I should point out; the batter should be still quite liquid and not lumpy like in the photo (I got spaced out and forgot to turn off the heat when I poured in the flour mix...oops!) Nevertheless it worked out okay as most of the cake smoothed itself out during the final steaming.
Once steamed, let the cake cool completely before attempting to slice it. Otherwise you're gonna get some weird looking slices. To serve your wonderful Chinese New Year treat slice the water chestnut cake into 1/4-1/2" thick slices and lightly fry on each side until golden and heated through.
Alright, dear readers, til we meet next. In the meantime, Happy Chinese New Year! 新年快樂! Gong Hei Fat Choi! 恭喜發財! Welcome the Year of the Rooster!
|Pan frying the water chestnut cake slices in my cast iron pan|
Chinese Water Chestnut Cake Recipe 馬蹄糕
(makes one 7" by 3" cake, adapted from epicurious recipe here)
Prep time: Cook time:
Ingredients:2 cups plus 1/2 cup water, 590 ml
1 1/2 slabs slab sugar 片糖 2 cups fresh water chestnut, diced small (about 8 chestnuts)
4 oz water chestnut flour 馬蹄粉, 115g
Stir 1/2 cup water into water chestnut flour. In medium pot heat the rest of water and sugar slabs over medium heat, stirring until the sugar is completely melted. Add in the diced chestnuts and let simmer for 30 secs. Turn off the heat, give the water chestnut flour and water mix a thorough stir and then pour into the sugar water while stirring constantly. The batter should thicken up quite a bit. When completely mixed with no lumps pour into lightly oiled pan. Bang the pan lightly a few times on the counter to pop any trapped air bubbles. Steam in steamer over high heat for 20-30 mins or until set and translucent. Let cool completely in the pan, then pull at cake edges with fingertips to loosen the cake all around and then gently pull the entire cake out. To serve, slice into 1/2" thick slices and fry lightly on both sides until golden and heated through.
Tip: If you want your cake less firm and more jelly like add a bit more water.
More Chinese New Year Recipes at The Hong Kong Cookery: