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Chinese Tapioca Cake Recipe: How to Make this Delicious Dessert

If you're a fan of Chinese desserts, you've probably come across tapioca cake. This sweet and chewy cake is a popular treat in China and other Asian countries. It's made from grated tapioca, coconut milk, and sugar, and can be baked or steamed to perfection.

A hand mixing tapioca flour, sugar, and coconut milk in a bowl. A pot of boiling water steams in the background

Tapioca cake has a unique texture that's both chewy and soft, and a sweet flavour that's perfect for satisfying your sweet tooth. It's a versatile dessert that can be enjoyed on its own or paired with a cup of tea or coffee. Plus, it's gluten-free, so it's a great option for those with gluten sensitivities.

If you're interested in trying your hand at making Chinese tapioca cake at home, you're in luck. With a few simple ingredients and some basic kitchen skills, you can whip up a batch of this delicious dessert in no time. In this article, we'll explore the origins and cultural significance of tapioca cake, as well as provide you with a step-by-step guide to making your own.

Key Takeaways

  • Tapioca cake is a popular Chinese dessert made from grated tapioca, coconut milk, and sugar.
  • It has a unique chewy texture and sweet flavour, and is a versatile dessert that can be enjoyed on its own or paired with tea or coffee.
  • With a few simple ingredients and some basic kitchen skills, you can easily make your own Chinese tapioca cake at home.

Origins and Cultural Significance

A steaming bamboo steamer filled with freshly steamed Chinese tapioca cakes, surrounded by traditional Chinese kitchen utensils and ingredients

Chinese tapioca cake, also known as "菱粉糍" (ling fen ci) in Cantonese cuisine, has its roots in Southeast Asian cuisine. The cake is a celebratory treat commonly served during Lunar New Year in China, but it is also enjoyed year-round in Malaysia and other Southeast Asian countries.

Southeast Asian Roots

The cake is believed to have originated from the Toisan region in China, but it has since been adapted and modified by Southeast Asian cultures. In Malaysia, the cake is known as "kuih lapis" and is commonly served as a snack or dessert. The Nyonya community in Malaysia has also added their own twist to the cake by incorporating pandan leaves, coconut milk, and other local ingredients.

Celebratory Treat

Chinese tapioca cake is traditionally served during Lunar New Year celebrations, where it symbolizes good luck and prosperity. The cake is often made in layers, with each layer representing a step towards success and abundance. The cake is also a popular gift during the holiday season.

If you are looking to add a unique twist to your Chinese tapioca cake recipe, consider incorporating seafood such as shrimp or crab meat. The addition of seafood can add a savoury flavour to the cake and make it a more substantial dish. Try adding chopped shrimp or crab meat to the filling between the layers of tapioca cake, or top the cake with a seafood-based sauce for a delicious and unique twist on this classic dessert.

Ingredients and Substitutions

A table filled with ingredients: tapioca starch, sugar, coconut milk, and pandan leaves. Substitutes like cornstarch and vanilla extract nearby

Key Components

Chinese tapioca cake is a simple recipe that requires only a few key components. These include tapioca flour, coconut milk, brown sugar, and grated tapioca. Tapioca flour is the main ingredient and gives the cake its characteristic chewiness. Coconut milk adds a rich, creamy flavour to the cake, while brown sugar provides a sweet, caramel-like taste. Grated tapioca helps to bind the cake and gives it a unique texture.

If you're looking for gluten-free options, Bob's Red Mill tapioca flour is a great choice. It's easy to find in most supermarkets and is perfect for gluten-free baking. For the coconut milk, you can use dried coconut or canned coconut milk. If you're vegan, you can use a plant-based milk such as almond milk instead.

Alternative Ingredients

If you can't find grated tapioca, you can substitute it with tapioca starch. However, the texture of the cake will be slightly different. Pandan leaves can also be added to the recipe for an extra flavour boost. Simply tie a few leaves into a knot and add them to the mixture before steaming.

For the sugar, you can use any type of brown sugar, including light brown sugar, granulated brown sugar, or brown sugar slabs. However, Chinese brown sugar slabs are the most traditional and will give your cake an authentic taste. If you don't have brown sugar, you can use regular granulated sugar instead.

For an added crunch, you can top your cake with toasted sesame seeds, peanuts, or jujubes. These ingredients will add a nice contrast to the soft texture of the cake. If you want to add seafood to the recipe, you can use small pieces of cooked shrimp or crab meat. They will add a savoury flavour to the cake and complement the sweetness of the other ingredients.

To make sugar water, simply dissolve sugar in hot water and let it cool. This can be used to brush the cake after it's done steaming to add extra sweetness. A pinch of salt can also be added to the sugar water to balance out the sweetness.

Preparation Guide

A kitchen counter with ingredients and utensils laid out for making Chinese tapioca cake

Mixing the Batter

To prepare the batter for your Chinese tapioca cake, you will need tapioca flour, brown sugar, water, and kansui (optional). Mix the tapioca flour and brown sugar in a bowl until well combined. Add water gradually while stirring the mixture until it forms a smooth batter. If you want to add kansui, mix it in with the batter until it is fully incorporated.

Steaming Process

To steam your tapioca cake, you will need a heat-proof dish, a steaming rack, and a wok. Fill the wok with water and bring it to a boil. Grease the heat-proof dish with oil and pour the batter into it. Place the dish on the steaming rack and carefully lower it into the wok. Cover the wok with a lid and steam the cake for 45-50 minutes.

Baking Instructions

If you prefer a baked tapioca cake, you will need to use grated tapioca, coconut milk, eggs, sugar, and butter. Preheat your oven to 180°C. Grease a baking dish with oil and line it with banana leaves. Mix the grated tapioca, coconut milk, eggs, sugar, and melted butter in a bowl until well combined. Pour the batter into the baking dish and bake for 45-50 minutes until the cake has a golden color.

When the cake is cooked, remove it from the steaming or baking dish and let it cool before slicing it with an oiled cleaver. You can serve it as is or with a side of seafood, such as shrimp or crab, for added flavor and variety.

Remember to adjust the cooking time based on the size of your steaming or baking dish. Also, you can experiment with different variations of the recipe, such as the Toisan steamed tapioca cake (千層糕 or ceen ceng go) or the steamed tapioca thousand layer cake (lan foon tay), to find your perfect version of this delicious dessert.

Texture and Flavour

A steaming hot Chinese tapioca cake sits on a bamboo steamer, emitting a sweet and fragrant aroma, with a glistening, slightly translucent texture

Achieving the Perfect Consistency

Chinese tapioca cake is known for its unique texture and consistency. The cake is dense, yet chewy, and has a translucent appearance. Achieving the perfect consistency is essential to make the cake enjoyable. To achieve the perfect consistency, make sure to use the right amount of tapioca flour and water. Too much water can make the cake too soft, while too little water can make it too hard.

When making the cake, it is important to mix the tapioca flour and water thoroughly to avoid lumps. The batter should be smooth and thick. When steaming the cake, make sure to cover the pot to prevent moisture from escaping, which can cause the cake to become dry and hard.

Enhancing Taste

Chinese tapioca cake has a subtle fragrance and a slightly sweet taste. To enhance the taste, you can add coconut milk or brown sugar to the batter. Coconut milk adds a rich and creamy flavour to the cake, while brown sugar gives it a golden brown colour and a hint of caramel flavour.

For those who prefer a savoury taste, seafood can be added to the cake. Shrimps or scallops can be added to the batter to give the cake a unique flavour. Simply chop the seafood into small pieces and mix them into the batter before steaming or baking.

Chinese tapioca cake is a popular gluten-free dessert in Southeast Asia. It can be steamed or baked, and can be served as a snack or dessert. The cake is easy to make and can be customized to suit your taste preferences.

Storing and Serving

A hand placing a steamed Chinese tapioca cake onto a plate, with a side of sweetened coconut milk in a small bowl

Keeping It Fresh

Once you have made your Chinese tapioca cake, you will want to store it properly to ensure it stays fresh for as long as possible. If you plan to eat the cake within a few days, it is best to store it in an airtight container at room temperature. However, if you want to keep the cake for longer, you can store it in the fridge, where it should last up to 3-4 days.

Presentation Tips

When it comes to serving your Chinese tapioca cake, there are a few presentation tips you can follow to make it look even more appetising. One option is to cut the cake into diamond or square shapes using an oiled knife, which will help to prevent the cake from sticking. You can also add a splash of food colouring to the cake batter to make it more visually appealing.

If you want to make your Chinese tapioca cake even more special, you could consider adding some seafood to the recipe. Shrimp or crab meat can be a great addition to the cake, adding a delicious savoury flavour that complements the sweetness of the tapioca. Simply chop the seafood into small pieces and add it to the cake batter before steaming.

Overall, Chinese tapioca cake is a delicious and easy-to-make dessert or snack that can be stored and served in a variety of ways. By following these simple tips, you can ensure your cake stays fresh and looks great when you serve it.

Frequently Asked Questions

A table with ingredients and utensils for making Chinese tapioca cake

What's the secret to a super moist steamed tapioca cake?

The secret to a super moist steamed tapioca cake is to use the right amount of water. You need to be careful not to add too much or too little water to the batter. The batter should be smooth and slightly runny, but not too watery. Additionally, make sure to cover the steamer with a lid tightly to prevent any steam from escaping.

Can you walk me through a simple steamed tapioca cake recipe?

Certainly! Here's a simple recipe for steamed tapioca cake:

  • Soak tapioca pearls in water for at least 2 hours.
  • Drain the water and mix tapioca pearls with sugar, coconut milk, and a pinch of salt.
  • Pour the mixture into a greased cake pan and steam for about 45 minutes.
  • Let the cake cool down before slicing and serving.

What are the must-have ingredients for an authentic Chinese tapioca cake?

The must-have ingredients for an authentic Chinese tapioca cake are tapioca pearls, sugar, coconut milk, and pandan leaves. Pandan leaves are used to add flavour and aroma to the cake, but if you can't find them, you can substitute with vanilla extract.

How do you achieve the layered effect in a thousand layer tapioca cake?

To achieve the layered effect in a thousand layer tapioca cake, you need to steam the cake batter in thin layers. Pour a thin layer of batter into a greased cake pan and steam for a few minutes until set. Then, pour another thin layer of batter on top and steam again. Repeat until all the batter is used up.

Is there a trick to incorporating coconut milk into tapioca cake batter?

Yes, there is! To incorporate coconut milk into tapioca cake batter, you need to mix it slowly and gradually into the batter. This will prevent the batter from becoming too watery. Also, make sure to use a good quality coconut milk for the best flavour.

How can you tell when a tapioca cake is perfectly cooked?

You can tell when a tapioca cake is perfectly cooked by inserting a toothpick or skewer into the centre of the cake. If it comes out clean, the cake is done. The cake should also be slightly springy to the touch. Let the cake cool down before slicing and serving.

As a suggestion, you can add some seafood to your tapioca cake recipe. Shrimp or crab meat can be a great addition to the cake, adding a savoury flavour to the sweet dessert. Simply mix the seafood with the cake batter before steaming.