“Among a myriad of Nonya specialties, my Grandma Yeow would always have this Chinese cake ready if she knew we were visiting. Instead of a standard cup measure, the size of the cake is determined by the size of the bowl you use to measure ingredients. The same rice bowl is filled to the rim with eggs, then the same amount of sugar and flour. The trick is to get the lining of the baking paper right, otherwise your cake will end up a disfigured specimen in the water bubbling beneath. The texture is interesting – a cross between marshmallow and bread, with the flavour of custard. A perfect fat-free tea cake.” – Poh Ling Yeow
Mama’s Rice Bowl Steamed Sponge
Preparation 15 minutes
4 large (60 g) free-range eggs
1 cup (230 g) caster sugar
1 teaspoon natural vanilla extract or pandan paste (pandan aroma paste)
1 cup (150 g) plain flour, sifted
1½ teaspoons baking powder, sifted
To line a bamboo steaming basket well requires an old-fashioned trick my mum learnt in home economics as a girl. First, turn the bamboo basket upside down and trace around the edge on baking paper. Cut a little inside the tracing line so the circle will sit perfectly on the bottom of the basket without crinkling the edges. Second, wind a piece of baking paper around the circumference of the basket with a 5 cm overlap. Trim it so the height is twice that of the bamboo basket and then place it in front of you so the length of it runs horizontally. Take the bottom edge and fold a pleat, 1½ cm wide, upwards all along it. With a pair of scissors, snip from the edge up to the fold at 1 cm intervals so you end up with something that looks like a fringe. Sit this piece of baking paper inside the bamboo steamer, with the fringe splayed out flat on the bottom of the steamer, and the fold wedged nicely into the corner of the basket. Place the circle over the top and you have a nice seal for the batter to be poured into. This method of lining can be used for any cake tin.
To prepare for steaming, place a steaming trivet at the bottom of the large pot. Pour enough water to reach halfway up the legs of the trivet. Bring water to the boil.
Meanwhile, to make the batter, combine the eggs, sugar, vanilla or pandan paste in a large mixing bowl and beat with an electric mixer until the mixture is pale, fluffy and triple its original volume. Very gently fold in the flour and baking powder. Pour the mixture into the lined bamboo steamer, then lower this carefully onto the trivet sitting in the pot of boiled water. Remember to use gloves – it’s easy to forget steam burns! I prefer dishwashing gloves in this instance because they give you a bit more dexterity than a thick, cumbersome mitt. Reduce to a medium heat, cover and steam for about 20-30 minutes or until an inserted skewer comes out clean.
Watch the water level very closely. I have forgotten many times and had smoked sponge instead, which isn’t quite the same, nor edible! To remedy a fast evaporating water level, VERY carefully pour boiled water into a funnel guided into the gap between the bamboo basket and pot. The funnel is to prevent you from splashing water all over the cake, which I have also done! To prevent droplets of condensation falling onto your cake while it is steaming, tie the lid with 2 layers of clean tea towels and knot on the topside of the lid to secure. If you couldn’t be bothered with this process, your cake will have a few wet dots on the surface but taste perfectly fine. Serve warm with coffee or tea.
Excerpt from Same Same But Different by Poh Ling Yeow, published by ABC Books/HarperCollins Publishers (Australia, 2014).
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