Chinese New Year is a really exciting time around Hong Kong. All the shop fronts are decorated with blossoms and little kumquat tress, their pots wrapped in gold fabric and their leaves adorned with red packets and ribbons. The buses and trains are crowded with people carrying branches in bud, and garlands of flowers to decorate their home. The shops are full of oranges, endless piles of boxed biscuits and chocolates to give as gifts. Each supermarket has a wrapping station set up behind the tills so the newly purchased confectionery can be wrapped in rich red paper ready to hand out to relatives and loved ones. Each has racks laden with red banners, paper snakes and lavish gold colored decorations, all to be hung up around the home to help usher in good luck for the new year. Children are waiting with anticipation for the lai see from their relatives, decorated red packets filled with newly pressed money in auspicious amounts. The dim sum restaurants are attended by the St John’s ambulance as the retirement homes bring their residents out for their New Year meal. Shops and restaurants close for the period to allow families to have rare time spent together.
Today the temples are filled with people laden with huge bunches of incense. Every possible surface is covered with piles of oranges. Families are all together, the small children are dressed up in their best red, silky traditional outfits. Families without children have put little Chinese jackets on their dogs instead! Last night our neighbours were up eating well into the night, and today their houses are buzzing with activity and laughter. Delicious smells are wafting through the windows. There’s a real celebratory atmosphere in the air.
This recipe is not really a traditional New Year recipe. It’s not, to my knowledge, one of the foods with special symbolic meaning such as dumplings to represent money, or noodles for longevity, however it is one of my favourite things to eat out with my Chinese friends. It’s a recipe I’ve been trying to perfect and not yet got quite right, however I’m sharing it with you today in the hope that someone out there will know it’s secret and help me out. When it’s perfect it’s a delicious light, steamed sponge, mine is still a little heavy. It normally arrives on the table still steaming when we go out for dim sum, and however full we are, and however much we’re overdone the dumplings and buns, there is always a little room for this.
(Recipe from Christine’s Recipes)
Steamed Sponge Cake
150 gm caster sugar
150 gm cake flour
Few drops vanilla extract
1/8 tsp salt
– Place a large deep mixing bowl on a sauce pan with simmering water, just like if you want to melt chocolate. The temperature should be just warm because you don’t want to cook the eggs at this stage. Break one egg at a time. Add into the bowl together with small amount of sugar and beat until completely combined. The recipe I used suggests using an electric whisk, but I used a balloon whisk and a lot of elbow grease! Continue to beat the eggs and sugar over high speed for about 5 minutes until the volume of the mixture increases, becomes soft, bubbling and pale.
– Add a few drops of vanilla extract. Combine salt with flour. Sift in flour into the egg mixture little by little, fold in gently trying not to knock the air out of the eggs.
-Line baking paper in the bamboo steamer. Pour the batter into the steamer. Place in a wok (or a steamer), covered, and steam over high heat for 30 minutes. Test by an inserted bamboo stick or needle that comes out clean. Serve hot.
Wishing you all a very happy and prosperous year of the Snake!