To celebrate Chinese New Year, here’s a recipe for new year cakes known in Taishanese as ‘faat tay’ . ‘Faat’ is the same word as in the traditional new year greeting ‘gung hei faat choi’. ‘Tay’ is the Taishanese word for cake. If you make these and then tell your average Australian what they are called, expect unfriendly jokes about how they are, in fact, ‘farty’ cakes. Or maybe that was just my cultured colleagues at the archives. And my five-year-old.
The recipe is simple (and vegan – no eggs, butter or milk) and they’re quick to make. As well as the name, expect comments about the topping – instead of icing, faat tay have black sesame seeds and faat choi (black moss or hair moss) on top.
Made the proper way – the way it’s done in the village – the cakes are steamed in a wok over a wood-fired stove (see the picture below). Since I don’t have an old-style Chinese stove at home, or an enormous wok, or the lovely little pottery dishes that the cakes are steamed in, I’ve had to improvise. I’ve also had to improvise with the recipe too. I’ve seen recipes for similar new year cakes in recipe books, but they included ingredients like yeast and eggs, which this recipe doesn’t.
You should be able to get the faat choi and black sesame seeds (haak jee ma) at your local Chinese grocer. You only need a tiny bit of faat choy for each cake, but you might just have to buy an enormous bag of it.
225 g self-raising flour
2 tsp baking powder
150 g Chinese brown slab sugar (peen tong), broken into pieces
6 tbsp oil
225 ml water, plus water to use when steaming cakes
black moss (faat choi)
black sesame seeds (haak jee ma)
24 small patty pans (cupcake molds) or Chinese teacups
1. Dissolve the peen tong in the water. Either heat them together on the stove or boil the water and leave the peen tong in it until dissolved. Set aside to cool.
It’s best if you can break the peen tong up first – try whacking it with the handle of a heavy knife or chopper. The sugar can take a while to dissolve, so it’s best to do this step well before you plan to actually make the cakes.
2. Sift flour and baking powder into a bowl.
3. Stir sugar water and oil into flour mixture.
4. Mix well, and beat to get out the lumps if necessary.
5. Bring some water to boil in a large wok.
6. While the water is coming to the boil, put batter into patty pans. Depending on the type of patty pans/teacups you use, you might want to grease them with some oil to stop the cakes sticking. Put patty pans into bamboo steamer in the wok and cover.
7. Steam over a high heat, with water at a rapid boil.
8. When the cakes are about half done but still sticky on top (after about 2–3 minutes), sprinkle a small amount of faat choi and black sesame seeds on top.
9. The cakes are cooked when a skewer comes out clean, and the tops have ‘popped’ (they should crack). It will take between 5 to 10 minutes. The cakes will not be brown because they are steamed.
10. Remove the steamer from the wok and let cakes cool.
Other similar recipes
Similar recipes for steamed cakes can be found here:
- Steamed rice flour cupcakes, in S.C. Moey, Chinese Feasts and Festivals: A Cookbook, p. 73
- Sponge cupcakes, in Cecilia Au Yang, Dimsum (ISBN 7-80653-083-5), p. 98
- Steamed sponge cake, in Grace Young, The Wisdom of the Chinese Kitchen: Classic Family Recipes for Celebration and Healing, p. 46