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Aunty Pearlie’s Cantonese-Style Steamed Cake

September 28, 2007

Aunty Pearlie is not related to me by blood; she is, in fact, my friend Ivy’s mother. In Asian culture, we call our friends’ parents “aunty” and “uncle” as a form of respect. This was a concept my husband, let’s call him hungry_ hobbit (yes, he loves Tolkien!), could not fathom. When we were dating, I explained this cultural quirk to him and he asked if he could call my parents by their first names instead. I spoke with my parents and they agreed, seeing as he was American and all. The funny thing was, hungry_hobbit was still uncomfortable since he knew my parents were not used to their childrens’ friends (let alone boyfriends) calling them by their first names, so he ended up not calling them anything at all! Their conversations went something like this:

Mum: Good morning, *hungry_hobbit*. How are you?

Hungry_hobbit: Hello err (pause) … I’m fine.

Mum: Have you eaten, *hungry_hobbit*? (Our lives center around food so we always ask this question when we greet each other)

Hungry_hobbit: No. Have you and ermm … **mumble mumble** … (his head nodding toward my dad) had breakfast?

And so the conversation would go …

Thankfully, now that hungry_hobbit has settled into being the perfect son-in-law, he calls them comfortably by their first names.

Anyway, back to Aunty Pearlie. Aunty Pearlie is originally from Hong Kong, and moved to the U.S. in 1967. Her parents owned a butcher shop in Hong Kong which employed 13 employees. Together with her and her 11 siblings, plus her parents and a grandmother and grandaunt, there was a lot of cooking to be done in her household. (Yes, the employees were fed too!) Thankfully, they had two maids who cooked up two big meals a day and Aunty Pearlie observed them with a keen eye in the kitchen. Considering the family business, there was always a gamut of meat to choose from: chicken, duck, pork, goose, fish, etc.

Aunty Pearlie was visiting Seattle from Ohio and I asked her to share some of her favorite recipes. She obliged and I now have her recipes for sweet and sour pork, minus the glow-in-the-dark sauce served at many Chinese American restaurants, cold white chicken (both to come!) and this Cantonese-style steamed cake below. It’s a very simple recipe and while Auntie Pearlie dictated, I went through the motions. I used a stock pot with a steamer insert but for other ideas and tips on steaming see my previous post: My rise as steam queen.

Cantonese-style steamed cake

This sponge cake is quite like an angel food cake but uses whole eggs instead of just the whites. Sometimes you can find it at dim sum restaurants as ma lai go. Aunty Pearlie likes to make it in a round pan because she says, “The Chinese believe round means smooth for everyone. Square has sharp edges which means stubborn.” Try it with whipped cream, the way Aunty Pearlie’s grandkids like it!

Important: do not leave the batter to stand, the steamer must be ready when the batter is done.

Makes: 8 servings

4 eggs

1 cup granulated sugar

1 cup all-purpose flour

Fill the bottom half of your steamer with water, cover and bring to boil over high heat. Turn down heat to medium.

Meanwhile, in a medium bowl, beat eggs and sugar with a hand mixer until all the sugar dissolves. About 2 minutes. Test with your fingers to see if any granules remain.

Add flour and beat until pale and fluffy, about 4 to 5 minutes. Pour batter into an 8″ round glass casserole or soufflé dish.

Place in steamer rack. Cover the top of the steamer with a kitchen towel (to catch condensing water droplets). Place the lid on top andsteam for 20 to 25 minutes or until cake has puffed up and surface looks like it’s covered with moon craters. Insert a knife into the middle and it should come out clean.

Cool completely before cutting into slices.

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19 Comments leave one →
  1. April 30, 2014 1:35 pm

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    daughter and said “You can hear the ocean if you put this to your ear.”
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    and it pinched her ear. She never wants to go back! LoL I know this is
    entirely off topic but I had to tell someone!

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  3. Angeline permalink
    April 28, 2009 7:21 am

    This is the same recipe from my mum too. I tried it with different variation and it was fanastic! Try adding 1 juice and grated rind of an orange, it will smell like fresh morning breakfast! Add some cocoa powder to a bowl of the mixture and stir it in like marble cake…the kids will love your cake and crave for more. Experiment with more ingredients… might be surprice what a simple cake can turn out to be.

    • May 4, 2009 10:10 am

      hi angeline, your variations sound yummy! thanks for sharing.

  4. belpots permalink
    April 23, 2009 7:39 pm

    Thanks Pat, a bit of melted butter was added to the mix and baked as you mentioned. I may have overcooked it a bit but it still had the same taste as the steamed version. I think the baked version makes a good base for cream cakes.

    • May 4, 2009 10:11 am

      belpots, glad the cake turned out. sometimes it’s easier to turn on the oven rather than set up the steamer!

  5. belpots permalink
    April 12, 2009 3:49 am

    Hey I loved making this cake. My mum has designated that I make this cake for our special festivities each year. I am just wondering what oven temperature you would need to bake it? I might give the baked version a go. I seem to remember my mum adding a bit of melted butter to the mix to give it a nice buttery taste too.

    • April 22, 2009 10:03 am

      Hi Belpots,

      Try baking it at 350F. You won’t get the same texture as steamed but give it a go and tell me how it turns out.

  6. eve permalink
    November 10, 2008 7:19 am

    This did not rise at all in the oven; it was edible (to some) but flat. Next time I’ll add a teaspoon of baking powder.

  7. Mrs Eng permalink
    September 9, 2008 1:55 am

    I would like find find out the recipe for “Lo Mei” – the braised sauce is a bit of red in colour with chicken wing, dried tau pok, dried pig skin, dried cuttle fish etc. If you have the recipe, please email to me. Suppose to be a traditional cantonese food.

  8. Esther permalink
    July 16, 2008 8:03 pm

    Hi Aunty Pearlie,

    Do you have recipes for steamed cheese cake?

    Thanks in advance.

  9. February 5, 2008 11:49 am

    Eve, I haven’t tried it but I believe if you bake it instead of steaming it you’ll get a nicely browned crust on top. Try it and let me know!

    Yoke Har, thanks for sharing!

  10. yoke har permalink
    February 2, 2008 11:40 am

    Hey, cool, my mom make a fantastic version of this as well! I love this cake!

  11. eve permalink
    January 12, 2008 9:01 am

    That is exactly my grandmother’s cake! My sister & I have been trying for years to get her recipe but she uses teacups and rice bowls for approximate measurements. We especially like her baked version with the crunchy top crust which she says is the same recipe – ???.

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