My Asian family, like others, tends to have a sensitive sweet tooth when it comes to desserts. "Not too sweet" is always the rule and is also the highest of compliments.
Chinese bakeries only sell one type of tiered cake that's comparable to American cake: the steamed sponge cake or chiffon cake. You will seldom find any other cake on display. From birthdays to graduations to weddings, it is your only option. It is an egg-y, yellow cake with white whipped cream and fruits. I would describe it as light, fluffy, refreshing, and "not too sweet." I never really feel guilty eating a second (or third) slice.
This is my tried, true, and tested recipe for "Chinese bakery cake" (or "gai dahn goh"). I first found one online here, tested & modified it several times, and here it is. In the past 6 months, I've baked this 3 times for my niece's, mom's, and boyfriend's grandmother's birthdays. Even my mom (my biggest supporter yet criticizer) has given this cake a thumbs up! Although traditional Chinese cakes are steamed in a wok, this recipe calls for it to be baked in an oven. Call this a Chinese-American cake, if you will!
CHINESE BAKERY (CHIFFON) CAKE
modified January 2014 with pictures to address questions I've received
5 eggs, separated at room temperature
1 1/2 c. cake flour, sifted
1/2 tsp. baking powder, sifted
1/2 tsp. cream of tartar
1 c. sugar, separated
1/2 c. water
1/4 c. vegetable or canola oil
1 tsp. vanilla extract
2 8" round cakes
electric mixer with whisk attachment
2 mixing bowls
2 8" round pans
1. Preheat oven to 340F deg.
2. Separate the eggs.
3. In the first bowl, beat on high speed the yolks and 2/3 cup of sugar until pale yellow, thick, and ribbons form (approximately 3 minutes).
|pale yellow & thick|
Then sift together cake flour and baking powder on top of it and mix on low speed until just combined. Add water, oil, and vanilla and beat briefly on medium speed until creamy and well blended.
4. In the second bowl, whip egg whites with an electric mixer fitted with a whisk attachment until slightly foamy. Add cream of tartar. Increase power to high speed until stiff peaks have just formed (approximately 3 minutes). Then gradually add in 1/3 cup of sugar while the mixer is still on. This is meringue.
|stiff peaks - the most important step!|
5. Combine the meringue into the yolk mixture and gently fold with a spatula until incorporated so that the batter is all one color. Do not over mix or take too long on this step, or the meringue will deflate and result in a flat, dense cake.
|batter is very pale yellow and airy - do not intentionally flatten the air bubbles|
6. Do line the bottoms of cake pans with parchment paper and evenly separate batter into 2 pans while smoothing out the tops with a spatula. Do not grease or line the sides of the pans. This will allow the batter to stick to the sides and maintain its height.
Immediately place in the oven and bake for approximately 18-21 mins or until tops of the cakes are barely golden.
7. Remove from oven and let cool before handling. The sides of the cake should automatically shrink away from the pans as it cools.
|fresh out of the oven and slightly golden|
|while cooling (note the shrinkage)|
|natural shrinkage during cooling makes it easy to pop out|
|beautiful, fluffy cakes (inverted)|
8. Frost however you like. My family prefers this cake with fresh whipped cream & fruits.