This was my first year hosting a holiday and probably the first time in over 10 years that I haven’t had to travel for Thanksgiving. Also, my mom is celebrating a milestone birthday at the end of the month, so I wanted to make something special for her while she was visiting us for Thanksgiving.
I know that she (and my dad) aren’t big fans of American sweets. They claim that our desserts are too sugary for their tastes. They much prefer the more subdued sweets that Chinese bakeries offer. We used to order Chinese bakery cakes all the time when we went to Philadelphia’s Chinatown for a meal. There was always a reason to celebrate some momentous occasion, and therefore, always a reason to eat these cakes.
The sponge cake layers are light and fluffy and do not taste too sugary. Two cake layers are sandwiched on top of vanilla custard and fresh fruits. The entire cake is covered in a freshly made whipped cream frosting and garnished with additional fresh fruits. I can see why my parents love this cake – it just seems healthier because the cake is lighter than their American counterparts.
I’ve had this cake bookmarked from Christine’s Kitchen Chronicles for a long, long time. And now was the perfect time for me to tackle it. Don’t be overwhelmed with the long list of ingredients and directions. The cake is actually very easy to make, and you’ll be rewarded with a beautiful Chinese style cake at the end.
Mom actually helped me bake this cake and had a blast making it. My dad happily ate the remaining custard with a spoon and is already looking forward to the day that my mom recreates it for him. This cake was a huge success and was enjoyed by all.
Happy birthday, Mom!
Chinese bakery-style cake
- 0.7 cups (~170 grams) all-purpose flour
- 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
- 0.8 cups (~200 grams) granulated sugar
- 6 eggs separated into yolks and whites, both at room temperature
- 1.4 Tablespoons (~21 grams) unsalted butter
- 1.4 Tablespoons (~21 grams) milk of choice
- 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1/4 cup granulated sugar
- 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
- 1/8 teaspoon salt
- 1 cup milk of choice
- 1 egg
- 1 teaspoon vanilla
Stabilized whipped cream frosting
- 2 Tablespoons cold water
- 1 teaspoon unflavored gelatin
- 2 cups chilled heavy cream
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 2.5 Tablespoons powdered sugar
- various fruits of different colors and shapes, sliced (mangoes, grapes, strawberries, blueberries, etc.)
Make the cake
- Preheat oven to 340 degrees F. Line two 8″ or 9″ round baking pans with parchment paper and grease the paper and sides of the pan with non-stick cooking spray or butter. (I used silicone baking pans so I skipped this)
- Separate the eggs and place the egg whites into large stand mixer bowl and the 6 egg yolks into a separate large mixing bowl. It’s imperative that there isn’t any yolk in the egg white portion!
- Mix 0.4 cups of the sugar with the egg yolks and beat until slightly thick and pale yellow. Stir in vanilla.
- In the bowl of a large stand mixer, beat egg whites until they are about halfway to forming stiff peaks. Add the remaining 0.4 cups of sugar in three separate additions while continuing to beat the egg whites. Continue whipping until stiff peaks form, creating meringue.
- Gently fold in half of the meringue into the egg yolk mixture using as few strokes as possible. Gradually add flour and baking powder and mix carefully. Add the melted butter and milk to the batter. Gently fold in the remaining half of the meringue.
- Divide the batter and pour into the two prepared pans. Bake for about 20-25 minutes in preheated oven until the cakes are a light brown and a toothpick inserted into center comes out clean. (Your baking time may be shorter if you use a dark, matte, or non-stick pan, and your baking time may be longer if you use a glass, aluminum, or other shiny pan).
- Note that you should bake the two cake layers immediately after the batter is done to prevent the liquid from separating from the rest of the cake.
- Remove cakes from oven and leave in pan and allow to cool to room temperature. You may also wrap the cooled cake layers in saran wrap if you are planning to assemble the cake in the same day.
For the custard filling
- In a medium saucepan, whisk the sugar, flour, and salt. Add 3/4 cup of milk and mix until smooth.
- Bring mixture to a boil at medium heat, whisking constantly. Do not scrape off any clumps that form on the sides and bottoms because they will leave clumps in your custard.
- Cook another 2 minutes and remove from heat (do not turn off the stove). The mixture should have thickened up dramatically.
- Mix the egg with remaining 1/4 cup of milk, then pour it into the mixture in the saucepan. Whisk vigorously to combine. Return the mixture to the heat and cook until it just starts to boil. There will be a lot of lumps initially but just keep whisking over the medium heat and most of the lumps should disappear.
- Remove from heat and immediately stir in vanilla. Transfer the custard to a bowl and cover with plastic wrap. If there are still lumps in the custard, you can 1) keep whisking until they disappear, 2) strain the custard using a fine mesh sieve to get rid of the lumps, or 3) scoop them out with a fork or spoon.
- Chill at least 2 hours in the fridge or overnight.
For the Stabilized Whipped Cream Frosting
- Sprinkle the gelatin powder over the cold water and let it sit for 5 minutes.
- Dissolve the gelatin by placing it in a bowl over a small pot of simmering water and stirring until the mixture turns clear. Let the mixture cool but do allow it to get cold.
- Beat the heavy cream using an electric stand mixer (or a hand-held mixer) on low speed for about 30 seconds, or until small bubbles form.
- Increase the speed to medium and continue beating for an additional 30 seconds.
- Increase speed to high and beat until just before the cream becomes soft and poofy.
- At this point, slowly add the sugar and vanilla while continuing to beat the cream until it is almost at stuff peaks.
- Finally, add the melted gelatin mixture and keep beating until the cream becomes super thick.
- Use frosting immediately or refrigerate for later use.
To Assemble the Finished Cake
- Carefully remove cakes from pans. If desired, you can peel or cut away the browned top parts of the cakes using hands or a knife. Level the surface of cake with a knife to make the cakes as flat as possible.
- Prepare the fresh fruits to be placed between the cake layers. You’ll need enough fruit to cover the entire surface between the two cake layers and any additional fruits that you’ll want to garnish for the top of the cake.
- Make a simple syrup of 2 parts water to 1 part granulated sugar: Mix the two ingredients together in a saucepan and heat it up just until all the sugar dissolves. Squeeze in the juice from half a lemon. Brush each cake with a thin layer of simple syrup on all surfaces.
- Lay the first cake layer down onto plate. Spread half of the cooled custard onto the top of the cake layer leaving about 1/2″ margin around the edge of the cake. Add the fruit on top of the custard, and be sure to cover the entire custard area. Add remaining custard on top of the fruit.
- Place the second cake layer on top of the fruit filling. Gently push down on the layers and wipe away any excess custard that escapes out of the sides of the cake.
- Frost the sides and top of the cake using the whipped cream frosting. Use a wide blade or a offset spatula for best results.
- If you want to give your cake an extra special professional-looking touch, you can make a glaze to top the fruits on the top of the cake. In a saucepan, heat 1/4 cup of fruit preserves (any flavor) with an equal amount of water. Stir until boiling. Let the mixture reduce by continuing to boil off the water until you reach a glaze consistency (it should be runnier than honey). If desired, you can strain the glaze through a fine sieve to get rid of the fruit and/or seeds. While the glaze is still warm, gently brush over your fruit and let it dry to achieve a shiny finish.
- Finally, chill the cake in the fridge and for a few hours to let the frosting set. The cake is best served the same day it is made.