This time last year, Rob and I were sweating in the pollution-induced haze of Medan, Sumatra watching New Years fireworks crackle over the wild assortment of rusted tin roofs. We had been in Indonesia only two weeks, and in a bewilderment of culture shock we wondered with excitement and some trepidation what adventures the Year of the Dragon (and our own Year of the Durian) would bring.
While our bellies were stuffed with durian from Ucok’s Durian Stall, families around us were probably enjoying Nian Gao, a steamed cake made of rice flour and fruit thought to bring good luck and prosperity for the coming year. The original new year’s cake likely didn’t include much fruit, due to it being winter in China. But the Chinese didn’t stay in China. They emigrated, spreading out across trading routes in tropical Southeast Asia. Hence, Durian Nian Goh.
|picture from spoonful.com|
As I’ve mentioned before, ovens are a rare beast in Asia, which makes
steaming the most practical, and honestly healthier, thing to do. Steamed cake may have originated in China (along with rice!), but like rice itself, steamed cakes are now a ubiquitous feature of most Asian countries. In the Philippines, they’re called Puto, in Vietnam, Bánh bò, and in Malaysian, Mah Lai Goh. Whether mixed with taro root, yam, banana or durian, the best thing about these cakes is that they’re traditionally gluten-free and vegan!
There are lots of recipes for steamed cakes, but Nian Gao refers specifically to the cake eaten during the Spring Festival. The name “Nian Gao” is a sort of double entendre, translating literally as both “sticky cake” and “higher each year” – denoting the belief that eating it on the first day of the New Year will lead to progress, success and improvements in the coming year. The Chinese character for prosperity is typically engraved on the top of the cake.
|photo from My Baking Diary|
Durian Steamed Cake 1
- 1/2 cups (100g) durian flesh
- 3/4 cups+2 tbsp (200g) water
- 1 1/2 cups (150g) self raising flour***
- 3 tbsp (30g) rice flour
- 2 tsp double action bakign powder
- 1 to 1 1/2 cup sugar (100-150g) sugar
- 1 tsp custard powder
- Mix durian flesh and water in blender for 2 minutes. Pour in a bowl.
- Gently fold in the rest of the ingredients, and using a whisk, stir to combine (about 3 strokes).
- Collect your steaming equipment. This comprises of a larger container that can heat water and either one or several smaller containers that fit inside it. Make sure all mini-containers can fit flat-bottomed inside the larger container. Good examples are sauce pans, cooking pots, crock pots and baking pans, pyrex containers, small mixing bowls. Get creative! There’s something in your house you can use.
- Fill the large container 2/3 with water and heat to a boil.
- Pour batter into a smaller containers and neatly place into boiling water, making sure the batter cups are placed flat and not at an angle. If you want, you can line the small containers with cupcake liner.
- Cover and steam for 15 minutes.
Durian Steamed Cake 2 (Durian Nian Gao)
- 1 cups water
- 1/2 cup durian flesh
- 2 1/2 cups dark brown sugar, packed
- 1/2 cup vegetable oil
- 41/2 cups rice flour
- 3 dried red dates or raisins for garnish
- In a
large saucepan, boil the water. Add the sugar and the oil, and stir just
until the sugar is dissolved. Whisk in the durian flesh. Set aside to cool for about 20 minutes.
- Mix the
rice flour thoroughly with the cooled liquid and transfer the mixture
into either one 8-inch round glas or metal pan, or several small cupcake-sized containers.
- Put an
inch of water into a wok, a large pot, or a large flat pan and carefully
set the pan of batter in the water. Cover with foil and set the heat to low. Steam the mixture for about 50 minutes.
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