Niangao, literally meaning year cake, is a must-have dish prepared by the elders as a good luck offering so that their children will grow up well and be blessed with good health.
The custom is said to date back to as early as the Zhou Dynasty, circa 1046 BC. During that time, people would have the cake in the hope that it would bring a bountiful harvest.
By the period of the Spring and Autumn (722-481 BC) in ancient China, there was folklore regarding Wu Zixu, a general and politician of the Wu Kingdom and later celebrated as a heroic figure.
Having foreseen the fall of the kingdom before his death, Wu told his relatives that the public should dig out and steam the glutinous rice flour-made bricks of the guard wall buried in the ground in case of famine during wartime.
People pass on the tradition in remembrance of Wu.
Back to the present, Hong Kong features year cake with a wide range of choices. The traditional brown ones are made by raw slab sugar, while the snowy white ones often come with coconut milk.
Regardless of the one you opt for, be ready to take in a huge content of glutinous rice flour and sugar. And if you have them sliced and fried instead of steaming, you will have added in fat, even more sugar and calories because of the additional coating of liquid egg yolk.
How can one enjoy the tempting dessert healthily? The only way to do so is to cook it yourself.
Chef Kit Mak has come up with a new recipe of golden custard year cake.
“The ready-made ones available in the market are usually excessively sweet as sugar can lengthen the storage time. In my recipe, custard powder, coconut milk and salted duck egg yolk are used instead. With a pinch of salt, it tastes wonderful with a sweet aftertaste.”
Meanwhile, Mak suggested that the cake can be powdered with a very thin layer of flour for frying; or alternatively simply powdered with some shredded coconut, which will give a texture closely similar to that of Japanese mochi.
Let’s try out the following steps to make the healthier treat for you and your family.
Ingredients:300g glutinous rice flour30g rice flour2.5 tbsp of custard powder2 salted duck eggs260g coconut milk140g water170g sugar4g salt
Method:1. Take out and steam the duck egg yolks well.2. Mix the glutinous rice flour, rice flour and custard powder.3. Add water, salt, sugar and coconut milk into the pot and heat the solution over low heat until sugar and salt is melted.4. Mix the powder from Step 2 and the hot but not boiling solution from Step 3 well. Sieve the mixture by using a sifter to give a smooth paste.5. Break the cooked duck egg yolks by hand into the sieved mixture.6. Pour the mixture into a greased container and steam it for around 75 minutes.7. Cool down the cake and then refrigerate it.
The cake is ready to be served cold as dices topped with shredded coconut, or to be reheated by frying on both sides of the slices.
This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Jan. 23.
Translation by Darlie Yiu
[Chinese version 中文版]
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