This is why I love being Chinese. Not even a month since New Years and we're celebrating again!
Being in Australia, and away from the majority of our relatives, Chinese New Year is not a huge thing for us, but we always do try to celebrate it, even if it only really involves the mandatory red pockets from our parents in the morning, and a nice Chinese New Year dinner at night.
And sometimes, if we have time for it and the weather's not too hot, we get around to making some Chinese New Year snacks as well. I didn't quite get around to making anything as involved as honeycomb crisps, peanut filled pastries or smiling mouth cookies this year, so I threw together a quick water chestnut cake instead.
Whilst the classic New Year Cake (年糕) and Radish Cake (蘿蔔糕) are the more common cakes you tend to see around Chinese New Year, any type of cake can really be used to celebrate Chinese New Year because the word cake in Chinese is pronounced similarly to the word tall, therefore symbolising the promise of a better year.
For me, it's just another excuse to have cake really.
Water chestnut cake is my favourite of Chinese cakes- essentially a simple sugar syrup mixture, thickened into a jelly-like consistency from chestnut flour. Chunks of water chestnut add some addition textural contrast- if you've never tried water chestnut, it is similar to the texture of a pear, although not nearly as sweet. Fresh water chestnuts make for an amazing snack, but you'll have a hard time locating some in Australia so the frozen ones will do for this recipe.
We've been through a fair amount of water chestnut cake recipes and this is the one we ended our search at because it is the texture and the taste that we are after. The flavour mostly comes from the sugar, so it will vary depending on the type of sugar used, but the subtle taste of the water chestnut and the unique texture still remains regardless. I would definitely recommend this recipe for any water chestnut lovers!
Water Chestnut Cake 馬蹄糕 Recipe
Recipe from Hong Kong Snacks Cookbook
320g water chestnuts (I used frozen)
320g water chestnut flour
480g cane sugar (I used 300g)
1T lard (I used vegetable oil)
5.5 cups water
- Wash the water chestnuts and cut into small pieces
- Mix water chestnut flour with 1.5 cups of water to make a paste
- Boil the remaining 4 cups of water with the cane sugar until melted
- Add lard and water chestnuts. Boil breifly and turn off heat.
- Wait for 3 minutes and then quickly pour in mixed water chestnut solution in the boiled sugar solution. Mix quickly to form a paste
- Pour into a greased cake tin and steam for 30 minutes until cooked
- When cold, cut into slices and pan fry in oil until gold on both sides before serving.
- The recipe can be tweaked, but I would recommend keeping the ratio of chestnut flour to water the same- this is what gives it the correct texture.
- Because water chestnut does not have much of a flavour, the flavour mostly comes from the sugar so you can change it to suit your tastes. We tend to use Chinese brown sugar (which results in a darker cake), but in this instance, I used rock sugar (cane sugar) for a whiter result.
- The texture of the cake can vary considerably depending on how it is mixed:
- In the method described in the original recipe, the water syrup mixture (step 3 and 4) is set to cool for 3 min before the flour solution is added. When this method is used, the resulting cake is smooth and attractive.
- The method I prefer is to add the flour solution immediately tot he boiling syrup mixture. This 'cooks' the flour and immediately turns the mixture into a thick paste. This results in a chewier cake, although not as smooth.