黑糖糕 (hei tang gao) Brown Sugar Cake is a specialty of, and most closely associated with the Penghu (澎湖) Islands (archipelago actually) off the west coast of Taiwan. Though it seems the cake’s ancestry stretches back to Okinawa and the Japanese period, as explained by the Penghu National Scenic Area. I however, have never been to Penghu. Luckily I didn’t have to go there to find the cake, since the cake is also popular in Taiwan proper.
I first had the Brown Sugar Cake was in Taipei at this little bakery that was down a few blocks from the hotel we always stayed in. I should say every time I had Brown Sugar Cake was at this particular bakery in Taipei. Because after the first time I became so incredibly addicted to them that I went back to the bakery every time we were in Taipei to see if they had any. The cake has a springy, slightly chewy texture, slightly sweet taste, with a wonderful aroma that has a strong hint of molasses that I just can’t resist
Since ovens are a rarity in Taiwan, usually only seen in commercial kitchens, this cake is of course steamed. Which might surprise those unaccustomed to such things, considering how light and airy the cake is and how golden the top is. The rice flour in this cake gives it a wonderful, slightly chewy (what they would call “Q” in Taiwan) texture (something that I grew extremely fond of) that is a bit different from “western” cakes.
Being Stateside I really missed this cake so I just had to track down a recipe for it. The following recipe is adapted from Carol 自在生活. Both Taiwanese flour and brown sugar are of a little different consistency than the US (the first is softer and the second is drier), but I crossed my fingers and hoped for the best. And, well, success! The texture is spot on (thanks to the rice flour) and the taste is wonderful. Her recipe calls for the addition of a little honey lending a slightly more floral note to the aroma. Next time I may switch out the honey and use molasses instead, just to give it a stronger brown sugar aroma.
This recipe makes one 9 inch round or 8 inch square cake. The recipe is fairly simple, but it takes a couple steps.
Part I. Sugar Syrup
- 130 g. (4 1/2 oz. or about 2/3 c. packed) brown sugar
- 2 T. honey
- 1/4 c. of water
- In a sauce pan combine ingredients and heat gently to dissolve the sugar and honey.
- Turn off heat and let cool completely.
Part II. Main Batter
- 130 g. (4 1/2 oz. /a scant 1 c.) of all purpose flour
- 35 g. (1/4 c.) of rice flour
- 35 g. (1/4 c.) of glutinous rice flour
- 2 t. baking powder
- 1 t. baking soda
- 3 eggs
- 1/2 c. milk
- 1/4 c. oil
- roasted white sesame seeds for topping
- In a bowl beat the eggs and mix in the milk, oil, and the cooled Sugar Syrup.
- In a separate large bowl sift in the flour, rice flours, baking soda and baking powder. Whisk together to make sure they are mixed evenly.
- Make a well in the center of the flour mixture, pour in the liquid ingredients. Whisk together until fully incorporated.
- Let the batter rest for 20 minutes at room temperature.
- While the batter is resting line a 9 inch round or 8 inch square baking pan with parchment paper and get your steamer going.
- After the 20 minute rest, pour the batter into the pan and place the pan in the hot steamer. Steam for 30 minutes over medium-high heat.
- Take the pan out of the steamer, sprinkle the top with sesame seeds and let cool in the pan on a wire rack.