3 Chinese dried red dates
5 slabs brown candy (peen tong), about 11 ounces
3 teaspoons vegetable oil
7 cups glutinous rice flour
1 tablespoon white sesame seeds
1 large egg
vegetable oil, for pan-frying
In a small bowl, soak the red dates in 1/4 cup cold water for 30 minutes, or until softened. When softened, remove and discard the pits.
Cut each brown candy slab into 8 pieces. Place sugar in a heatproof bowl, pour 2 cups boiling water over the sugar, and set aside until dissolved and completely cooled.
Grease a heatproof 8-inch round, 3- to 4-inch-deep, straight-sided bowl, such as soufflé dish, with 2 teaspoons vegetable oil.
In a large bowl, place rice flour. Make a well and stir in cold sugar water. Knead dough in the bowl, adding an additional 1/3 cup cold water until dough is smooth, slightly moist, and shiny, 5 to 10 minutes.
Place the dough in the prepared dish and pat until it fills the dish evenly.
Cut the red dates into halves and place cut-side down in a ring around the outside of the dough, leaving a few to decorate the center.
Sprinkle the top with sesame seeds. Coat with the remaining 1 teaspoon oil, using your fingers and lightly pressing down on the dates and sesame seeds.
Bring water to a boil over high heat in a covered steamer large enough to fit the dish without touching the sides of the steamer. Carefully place the dish into the steamer, cover, and steam 35 to 40 minutes on high heat. Check the water level and replenish, if necessary, with boiling water. The cake is done when it begins to pull away from the sides of the pan. Carefully remove the dish from the steamer and pour off any excess liquid on the surface. Place on a rack to cool. Loosely cover and set at room temperature in a cool room until the next day, when it will be ready to eat.
Run a knife along the edge of the cake to loosen sides. Place a cake rack over the bowl and invert to unmold. Flip the cake right-side up onto the cutting board. Wrap the cake in plastic and refrigerate until ready to use.
When ready to eat, cut the cake into quarters. Cut each quarter crosswise, not into wedges, but into two 2-inch-wide strips. Cut each strip crosswise into scant 1/4-inch-thick slices. This is the typical way of slicing a cake Chinese style. Beat an egg in a small bowl, until frothy. Dip the slices in egg.
Heat a 14-inch flat-bottomed wok or skillet, over medium heat until hot but not smoking. Add just enough vegetable oil to barely coat the wok, add the egg-dipped slices in batches and cook 2 to 3 minutes per side, until golden brown. Serve immediately.
Makes one 8-inch cake, about 72 slices.
How to Serve and Store Chinese New Year's Cake:
I've never met anyone who served the entire cake at once. During the first ten days of the New Year's celebration a few slices of all the different New Year's cakes are fried every morning for breakfast or when friends or family stop by. The cake will keep nicely in the refrigerator for ten days if wrapped in plastic wrap.
Source: Wisdom of the Chinese Kitchen by Grace Young
Simon & Schuster
Date: January 12, 2003