Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Chinese New Year Cake with Shredded Coconut

Each year we buy Chinese New Year cakes or "nian goa" which are made of glutinous rice flour and sugar and steamed for about one hour until it solidifies. Dad recalls my late Grandmother steaming her cakes for 24 hours and they would last for a year without going moldy (the cakes we buy today start going off within a month). The cakes are brown due to the caramelisation (the cheats version uses brown sugar), sweet and have a sticky and gelatinous texture.

There are old wives tales associated with making these cakes ~ enquiries should never be made as to whether they are ready as it would result in pockmarked cakes, and pregnant or women having their periods should never be present as it is said the cakes will never set! Since these cakes are made in huge batches for Chinese New Year and represent prosperity, it is probably wise to be respectful of the traditions or feel the wrath if the cakes don't turn out well.

As I'm Cantonese, it is tradition to slice the cakes, dip it in egg and pan fry them so they are slightly crispy on the outside but still soft and gooey on the inside (how I like my men but perhaps tough rather than crispy). As I was born in Malaysia, the ethnic Chinese slice and sandwich the cakes between pieces of taro or sweet potato, drip it in egg and pan fry them until they are even crispier but less gooey. Another version which is what we have made here is to steam the cakes until it's really gooey, and with a pair of chopsticks, twist the cake into bite size blobs and roll them in shredded coconut. Since I live in Oz and fresh coconut is hard to come by (and frankly who can be bothered has the time to shred a coconut), we buy our coconut frozen so we steam it with the cake. I have to say I like this version the best and it's just as good after it's been refrigerated which is what we've had to do since Melbourne is experiencing a really long and uncomfortable heatwave.

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