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Ring In the New Year with Water Chestnut Cake!

“Ma-Tai Gao” Water Chestnut Cake

My best friend gets weak in the knees for the jelly texture water chestnut cake.  Though 马蹄糕 ma-tai gao is available year round at dim sum, Lee Ann looks forward to Chinese New Year, the one time in the year when her aunt would make it.  I was surprised by the stark difference between the restaurant and homemade version of this treat.  Though this cake is available in Chinese bakeries during the New Year, the extra effort in making one is well worth it – especially when it’s for a friend.  Wishing you and yours a happy new year!

Water chestnut flour can vary between brands – use Pan Tang water chestnut flour.  The cake is simple and forgiving, but labor intensive.  Get fresh water chestnut if available.  Fresh water chestnuts are sweet and crunchy and leave your mouth feeling dry – think a cross being a grape and and apple.  Get a few extra to snack on

Water Chestnut Cake Recipe

Ingredients:

  • 1 lb fresh water chestnuts (~20 pieces),2 cups chopped
  • 150 gram rock sugar (25%-30% of box or half cup or a medium size chunk)**
  • 1/2 cups of water
  • 250 grams of sifted Pan Tang water chestnut flour mixed with one cup cold water***

Variation: Add other ingredients into the cake like cooked goji berries, cooked Chinese almonds (apricot seeds), toasted pinenuts, or even soaked white fungus.  Additional ingredients would be added during the same step as adding the water chestnut into the pot.  I recommend adding one at most two additional ingredients.  Having too many would not allow the ingredients and texture to come through.

**If you get rock sugar pieces – approximate 2/3 cup.   Some folk prefer using brown sugar candy (2 slabs) or a combo both.  Though you can use any type of sugar, my preference is rock sugar for a cleaner taste.
***Pan Tang Water Chestnut Flour comes in 250g or 500g package.

Directions:
Rinse water chestnut until clean.  This may take up as many as 10 rinses.    Cut the ends of the water chestnut and peel skin.  Course chop the water chestnuts and set aside.

Heat 3.5 cups of water on stove and dissolve sugar.  Turn heat of pot to low.

Create water chestnut mixture:  In a separate bowl sift water chestnut flour and add 1 cup of cold water.

Add chopped water chestnut into the pot of heated sugar water.  Stir in water chestnut mixture. Continuously stir the pot while adding the mixture.  Stir mixture on low heat until thickens and become slightly opaque (as oppose to white).  Roughly 5 minutes.

Pour mixture into greased pan.  Smooth the top of the cake with a spatula to make an even surface.  Trick is to wet the spatula. Add a few drops of oil on top and spread evenly with your finger tips.

Steam for 35-40 minute.  Put a steamer on to the bottom of the wok or stock pot.  Add water until it reaches the top of the steamer.  Place the cake on top of the steamer.  Turn stove on medium to medium high, until water comes to a rolling boil.  Lower the heat to medium/low – maintain the boil.  Check water level after 20 minutes.  Add more boiling water into pot as needed.

Let the cake cool.  Slice and pan fry before serving.  The cake is served hot.  The texture changes as it cools.  If you are just having one slice, pop it in the microwave to heat up.

Yields (2) 8 inch or (1) 10 inch

This recipe is based off of My Grandmother’s Chinese Kitchen: 100 Family Recipes and Life Lessons, by Eileen Yin-Fei Lo.  The main difference in my recipe is the use of rock sugar over brown sugar, and also the use of fresh chestnuts. I also found that sifting the flour is an important step.

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