Now is the time to be excused for buying a new outfit and eating more then usual. Why? Tomorrow is Chinese New Years! I knew I had to come up with a recipe to share that would be perfect to celebrate this occasion. I am not going to show a noodle recipe, or a dumpling recipe ( look for this in a few days time) but go for something a little more obscure. Having lived in China for about six years I became accustomed to the wide variety of appetizing dishes that are traditionally cooked around this time of the year. I have also been craving one particular dish, and that is what I am going to share with you today: Chinese Pumpkin Cakes.
Cake is often served for New Years as well as being a popular gift to give to friends and family, you may have seen cakes shaped like a pair of carps which symbolizes good wealth for the year in pictures or at Asian markets and restaurants. This cake is called Nian Gao (年糕) which literally mean New Year Cake. This cake is made from glutinous rice flour and coconut milk, sometimes with the addition of ingredients such as red bean paste, taro root paste, or lotus seed paste stuffed inside and then steamed. Another version is eaten as a savoury dish that is fried up and served with meat and vegetables. Pumpkin cakes are a bit different, but equally if not better then Nian Gao.
The first time that I remember eating pumpkin cakes was at the Guangxi University for Nationalities (which appears to have had a name change since I was there) in Nanning, China. It was down the street from the school my mother taught for. My two sisters, mother and I were brought to one of the cafeterias at the university that was known for its good food, and I must say that compared to food that I had going to university there is no competing here. The food was better prepared, and so much variety, one could never have eaten all the dishes they served no matter how long you went to university. This university was mainly for ethnic Chinese students to attend so it made sense that the food would reflect the various regions of China. I was skeptical about the cakes, as with many of the other dishes, but I was not disappointed. These cakes are pan fried in oil and served hot. They are soft and chewy and usually filled with red bean paste, if you have ever had Japanese mochi it is similar in texture. I was hooked on these cakes and any chance to eat at the cafeteria was a happy occasion. There were many other dishes that I loved from the cafeteria but the pumpkin cakes stood out amongst them all. Also anything with pumpkin is always fine in my books.
I will be making several of these small flat cakes and sharing them with friends and family whilst celebrating a New Year.
- 2 Cups pumpkin mashed, canned or fresh
- 2 Cups glutinous rice flour
- ¼ Cup white sugar
- ½ Cup red bean paste (optional)
- Sesame seeds (optional)
- Oil for frying, canola is the best
- Combine pumpkin and sugar, mix to blend.
- Add flour. Start with 1 cup, mix then add more by the half cup. The dough should be thick, but spongy.
- Knead for a few minutes until it begins to form a ball.
- Divide dough into 3-4 small balls. Roll out one ball into a log.
- Cut into 6-7 smaller portions and roll into balls.
- Lightly oil your surface and take one ball and flatten out to ½ inch thickness. Place a small ball of the red bean paste in the middle and press down.
- Pull up sides of pumpkin dough and pinch to seal, flatten out once more. Sprinkle sesame seeds onto top and press into dough.
- Move cakes to a greased piece of parchment and form over cakes.
- To deep fry: Heat up about 2-3 cups oil in wok or large pot, stick a chopstick into middle of pot to test temperature. If bubble form it is ready. Lower heat to low-medium and slide cake into the oil. Do not do more then 2-3 cakes at a time. Let cook until both sides turn golden brown. Remove from oil and place on paper towel to remove excess oil. Repeat process until all are done.
- To pan fry: Spray a wide pan with oil and slide cakes into pan. Fry on medium-low heat until golden brown on both sides. Remove to paper towel to remove excess oil.
- Set on plate to serve. Best when warm.
Notes: If you do not want to use all the dough place in a greased bowl, cover with cling wrap and place in refrigerator. Will keep for 3-4 days.
Glutinous rice flour is gluten free, it is commonly found in Asian markets as is red bean paste.
Be careful and keep an eye on the cakes cooking as they easily get burnt. Some of mine got burnt, others were under-cooked so its definitely a fickle dish, but still taste scrumptious!
If you have a griddle and wish to pan fry instead of deep fry I recommend you use it to cook the cakes.