June 3, 2013

Chinese bakery style strawberry cream cake

Becky's birthday was about a month ago, and she diverted me to the chinese bakery in Lexington on my way home from work to pick up some cake. We were all reminded how amazing chinese bakery cake can be; light and fluffy, not too sweet, with whipped cream frosting and fresh fruit. It is nice cake for any weather, but is especially good in the summer. Another notable virtue of this type of cake is that you can eat several slices at once without passing out. I do love a good butter cake with buttercream frosting, but it can only really be eaten in small doses.

The Mystery
After we all enjoyed chinese bakery cake, Becky said I should make that type of cake more often, such as for the kids' birthdays. I started snooping around online, and was surprised to find that apparently no one has the straight dope on chinese bakery cake. Maybe I would have more luck if I googled in Chinese! Some sources report that the chinese bakeries use chinese sponge cake mix, which makes a lot of sense, but which is useless for my purposes. Several sources report that this cake is closest to biscuit de savoie or genoise (european style sponge cake, leavened solely with egg foam, and tenderized with syrup). My efforts at genoise and biscuit have not been stellar, so I pursued other avenues.

My Attempt
Many online sources feel that chiffon cake best approximates chinese bakery cake. Chiffon cake uses vegetable oil as its fat, and is leavened both physically by egg foam and chemically by baking powder. This class of cake has a great story behind it, though the story is probably a simplified and dramatized version of how things really went down; just like most stories, right? For some reason I had never made this kind of cake before.

After printing out a bunch of recipes from the internet, I settled on this one to try first.

The cake was pretty straightforward to make. First we separated 8 eggs.

There was unfortunately a mishap on the last egg, spilling a broken yolk into the whites. So we had to use another 8 eggs, and used the first load of eggs for a lunchtime radish greens omlette plus waffles on Sunday morning.


Arrgh, ya bunch of bowl lickers!

We baked it for about 55 minutes in a removable bottom angel cake pan, then let it cool inverted for about 2 hours, then separated it from the pan.

Meanwhile we made a 3 cup cream batch of gelatin stabilized whipped cream. I wanted the extra stability for cake use, but I must admit I have often had trouble with both gelatin stabilized and cornstarch stabilized whipped cream. In both of these methods, you cook the stabilizer with some liquid, let it cool, then whip it into the partially beaten cream. My problem is that if I let it cool down to a point that I think won't be too hot for the cream, it is very gloopy and ends up making chunks in the whipped cream that don't get fully dispersed before the cream is fully whipped. Anyone have any helpful tips for this issue?

This time it turned out ok, with some remaining chunks but not too many. We also cut up 2 liters of fresh strawberries (minus some consumed during the process), and left them to macerate with a few TBS of sugar for about an hour.

We removed the cake from the pan and sliced it into three layers. When everything was ready, I assembled the cake.

First a cake layer, then a layer of the macerated strawberries, brushed heavily with their drained liquid, then a layer of the whipped cream. The center hole of each layer was filled with a parfait of cake trimmings, whipped cream, and strawberries.

Finally, the full stack was frosted with whipped cream and a few strawberry slices put on top. If this was a presentation cake, I would have needed more frosting since I only really had enough for a base coat on the outside. Probably 4 cups cream total would have done it. I think another liter of strawberries would not have been too much.

As it was, this made an enormous cake which I was a little worried about our family of five being able to finish in a reasonable amount of time.

But I need not have worried; we polished it off in 1.5 days. As I mentioned above, you can eat a lot of this cake at once.

Everyone was pleased with how it turned out. I think overall I would call it comparable to the chinese bakery cake. The biggest disparity was that the grain size of my cake is larger than the bakery cake. You can see in the section view that the size of the air holes in the cake are fairly large.

This doesn't take away from the pleasure of eating it though.

I had been thinking that I could run through my stack of recipes and find my favorite one, but after putting this cake away so quickly Becky begged me to not proceed with this belly busting plan. So maybe in another couple weeks...


Eva said...

Tartine has a nice chiffon cake recipe that I've made on multiple occasions. It's a great base for a strawberry bavarian, which I was reminded of when I saw your cake.

mssewcrazy said...

That looks so delicious-have never had a chinese strawberry cake but have eaten a chiffon cake a long time back.The children are so precious having fun with the cake making and eating. I learned the hard way about separating each egg into a small bowl as opposed to into the ones I had already done-it's murphys law that the yolk from the last one gets into the bowl. I meant to post on the other thread how cute the suspenders were on the daughter's gray skirt. I made those a few times but only used bought clips. The leather tabs looked very nice.

Holly Gates said...

@Eva: Just checked out the Tartine chiffon recipe - pretty close but not exactly the same as this one. I'll have to give it a go. I can't believe I never made a chiffon cake before, since they are pretty great.

@mssewcrazy - Yeah, you know the yolk had to break on the LAST egg of the bunch! Luckily we had two cartons of eggs in the fridge when we started.

Alex Carr said...

Delicious looking. Lucky family.

MichelleM said...

Looks sooo good! My crumb has holes this big too at times when I use all fresh eggs. The times the crumb is smaller is when I use boxed egg whites to top up to 1 cup/8 egg whites. Regardless, it is still yummy and the kiddies don't complain. Asian baking has a lot of little tricks/secret ingredients/stabilizers/cake mixes that give things their aesthetic effect but nothing beats homemade from scratch! :)

J. Lee said...

Hi Holly,

I chanced upon your blog while reading up on sponge cakes. Really enjoyed reading your blog and how your include your children in the process of everything. (:

Mimi Teh said...

I've been baking chiffon with great success lately. Lots of research and to know the know-hows about chiffon making makes me understand the whole process much more. I believe your "holes in the cake" is pretty normal. So fret not. You can reduce it by dropping the bowl of chiffon mix unto the table a few times gently. This is the case to release the "air bubbles" trapped in the mixture. You will still need those bubbles to help rise the chiffon. So do it gently. Good luck.

Lana said...

A product I use to keep my whipped cream from becoming watery is instant Clearjel (modified food starch). I purchase it from King Arthur Flour but have found it at grocery stores catering to Amish or Mennonite populations. It is also used in pie fillings and canning. Just be sure to mix the Clearjel and sugar well before adding to the cream.