Introduction: Chinese Sponge Cake: Two Ways

About: In which I turn the thoughts from my head into objects in my hands

My mom is a master in the art of baking traditional Chinese food, and since it was my birthday semi-recently (last year of being a teen, yay?), she baked my annual birthday cake with me when I came home for the break. And yes, WITH me because I'm at the point where I can competently bake without creating a huge mess in the kitchen (my cookies still need improvement, though..).

There are two versions: one baked, and one steamed. The steamed cake is more 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.

Step 1: Materials

As general cooking supplies, you'll need:

  • egg beater
  • chopsticks, spoons, forks (basically, utensils to help you beat up your ingredients ^^)
  • baking pans
  • stove/oven
  • steamer rack
  • sifter

For the steamed sponge cake (size of small 9" pan), you'll need:

  • 6 eggs
  • 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

For the baked cake (size of standard bundt pan), you'll need:

  • 7 eggs
  • 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)

Step 2: Overnight/prior Preparations: Egg Warming

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.

Step 3: Steamed Cake Part 1: Batter

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....

Crack your 3 eggs into a single container and whip them together with your egg beater. Gradually add in the 1 cup of sugar, and whip until all the sugar is fully dissolved (about 15 minutes). Add in the teaspoon of baking powder as well.

Pull out your sifter and slowly sift in your 5/4 cups of flour (mixing in between is better but not required if your hand coordination isn't up for it). Continue mixing until you reach the desired consistency depicted in the last image above.

Step 4: Steamed Cake Part 2: Steaming

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. ;)

Step 5: Baked Cake Part 1: Egg Yolks

For the baked version, begin by pulling out the 7 eggs and separating the egg whites and egg yolks when you break them.

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.

Decide the ratio of water and oil (as long as it adds up to 5/4 cup; I went with 3/4 cup water and 1/2 cup of oil) before gradually adding it in as you mix.

Next, pull out your flour and sifter. Slowly sift in your 2 cups of flour (mixing in between is fine but not required), and add more or less depending on the consistency. 2 cups of flour generally works, but to be precise, you only need to add enough flour to reach the desired consistency and color in the last picture above.

Set everything aside for later use... as you turn to the egg whites.

Step 6: Baked Cake Part 2: Egg Whites

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.

In the container with the egg whites, whip the egg whites while gradually adding in the leftover 1/2 cup of sugar. (as you can see, the general theme of finesse is good to have..). You'll need to whip the egg whites and sugar for about 15 minutes total, or until the resulting mixture is a nice milky white that doesn't slide when you tilt the bowl. If you pull your egg beater out, peaks of the mixture should form but they should be strong enough that they don't sink.

Once complete (finally... yes, that takes a while), grab your bowl from the egg yolk additions and add it all to the whipped egg whites. Gently fold the mixtures into each other so that you form a nice, pale daffodil color.

Step 7: Baked Cake Part 3: Baking

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.

In the one hour interim before you get to eat your cake, surf instructables for your next weekend project (this is a pretty mandatory step for your happiness, I assure you).

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.

Remove your cake from the pan, put it on a nice plate, and a) stare at its beauty for a few minutes/hours/days or b) TEAR INTO A FEW SLICES LIKE YOUR INNER DERANGED ANIMAL. The inside should be nice and fluffy (plus moist, unlike the steamed version), and the outside should taste crispy.

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