Steamed or baked? You decide.
Second only to New York, San Francisco is home to an enormous population of Chinese-Americans. As one of these Chinese-Americans, I wanted to share a traditional steamed sponge cake that my mom bakes with me for my birthday, in addition to an updated version that she came up with inspired by a more western style of cakes.
The steamed cake is traditional and my preferred/favorite one; as a kid I'd always half to have a glass of water handy (no joke here) because I'd try to eat bites that were too big and that would get stuck in my throat. It was a recipe taught to my mom by her own mom (so my grandma), and it was also her birthday cake because my family rarely had the means to afford an actual fancy cake. This one is quite simple, requiring just basic ingredients and about 20 minutes of prep time, and it's more like steamed bread than cake. The baked one was a version my mom came up with since she wanted a version that had a crispy outer layer. It's the more complicated style, requiring a bit more care, but honestly I find the simpler, steamed cake far better.
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For the steamed sponge cake (size of small 9" pan), you'll need:
-5/4 cups of flour
-1 cup of white cane sugar
-1 teaspoon baking powder
-No salt required, though for larger sizes use a pinch or two
The night before you plan to bake this delicious cake, pull out your eggs and put them out in room temperature for them to warm up a little. This will allow your eggs to be easier to mix and dissolve the sugar and other ingredients.
Alternatively, if you do this spur-of-the-moment, at least put the eggs in a warm water bath for a few minutes.
Before beginning, set up your "steaming system" -- grab a wok or large pan and fill it about halfway with water. Place your steamer rack in the middle, making sure that it isn't submerged in the water, before turning up the heat. In the meantime as you wait for the water to boil....
When finished with this batter, pour it into your pan and place the pan on the rack (make sure the water is fully boiling). Place a lid on your wok/pan, and patiently wait for 30-45 minutes (depending on size of your cake) until the cake is done. To periodically check if it's done, poke a chopstick or similarly sharp object into the cake to make sure it's almost done. If no batter covers the object when you remove it, your cake is ready! If not ready, put it in for 10 more minutes, or until your object is clean upon removal. For the steamed cake, it doesn't matter too much if you leave it in for longer than necessary, so if in doubt just wait a while longer.
After you've determined that the cake is done, turn off your stove and carefully lift the cake and rack out. Set it somewhere safe for the cake to gradually cool (the cake won't be cut fully if you cut when it's still hot).
Enjoy! No need for fancy whip cream and whatnot, though a glass of water is suggested for when you inevitably shove too much down your throat. ;)
For the baked cake (size of standard bundt pan), you'll need:
-2 cups of white flour
-5/4 cup of white cane sugar
-3 teaspoons of baking powder
-<1 teaspoon of salt
-1/2 cup of oil (vegetable or olive, any is fine)
-3/4 cup of water (you can mix and match the oil and water, as long as your totals add up to 5/4 cup)
Then in the container with the yolks, use a utensil (chopsticks are always my weapons of choice, but up to you) to whip them a bit to mix before gradually adding the 3/4 cups of sugar (save the remaining 1/2 cup for later). You can choose not to go to crazy with the sugar, depending on your preferences. Do NOT add all the sugar at once unless you want to spend decades mixing; doing the addition gradually will quicken the process as you allow the sugar to dissolve.
Before beginning this part, preheat your oven to 350o and set the timer to 1 hour. Lightly grease your baking pan of choice with oil or butter so that your cake comes out easily.
Pour your entire mixture into a greased baking pan of your choice (some form of bundt pan works best) before shoving it into your preheated oven.
Once 45 minutes is up (woot), poke a chopstick or similarly sharp object into the cake to make sure it's almost done. If no batter covers the object when you remove it, your cake is ready! If not ready, put it in for 10 more minutes, or until your object is clean upon removal.