Between stuffing myself with pineapple tarts and cooking up a storm in Singapore, there simply hasn’t been a spare moment since the Chinese year of the Tiger began on Sunday to sit down and pen an intelligible sentence.
Amid the bacchanalia, however, some lessons have been learned. The deeper ones — about family, love and the enduring power of ancestral lore — I won’t go into. (You’ll just have to buy the book.)
But the Chinese new year recipes — usually designed to conjure success, prosperity or love — now those, those I’m more than happy to share.
Over the last few days, I’ve had the good fortune of spending quality time in the kitchen with Auntie Hon Tim, the Colorado-based mother of my dear Auntie Donna in Singapore. Now, Auntie Hon Tim used to own and run a Chinese restaurant in Lakewood, Colo. — so she’s got some serious cooking chops.
Besides teaching me the quickest way to skim fat off a pot of stew and how to rapidly chop carrots without slicing off my fingernails, Auntie Hon Tim has been showing me how to make some of her favorite lunar new year recipes.
On her must list every year is fatt gou, or prosperity cakes — cupcake-sized desserts that she makes to send friends wishes of riches and sweetness in the new year.
Auntie Hon Tim’s cakes are super simple to make — they require just four ingredients (all-purpose flour, pancake mix, water and brown sugar) and the instructions basically involve stirring and steaming.
What you’ll have to be careful about, it turns out, is how many you give.
“Don’t give five!” Auntie Hon Tim sternly warns in Cantonese.
“Mm,” the Cantonese word for “five,” sounds like “won’t” or “don’t,” implying that the recipient won’t prosper in the new year.
Eight or “fatt,” which sounds like “prosperity,” is the luckiest number, of course. Nine or “gow,” a homonym for the word for “enough,” is great, too. And three, which sounds like the word for “business,” isn’t bad either.
If your head isn’t spinning by now from this lucky number speak, these cakes are worth a go. Like many other Chinese desserts, their sweetness is subtle and they’re not overwhelming or heavy.
And, hey, if eating some may bring you a year of good fortune, what’s not to love about them, right?
Here’s to a happy and prosperous year of the Tiger …
Auntie Hon Tim’s Fatt Gou Recipe
Makes six cakes
1 cup water (room temperature)
1/2 to 1 cup brown sugar (depending on how sweet you want the cakes)
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup pancake mix
Decoration: 3 dried red dates, each sliced in half (optional)
Stir together brown sugar and water until sugar has dissolved. Then, gradually mix in flour and pancake mix until a batter forms.
Insert six paper cupcake liners into six stiff tin-foil cups that will hold their shape during steaming. Fill cupcake liners to the brim with batter. If using red dates, cut dates in half and soak them in hot water for a few minutes to soften before using. Then, dot the top of each cake with half a red date.
Steam for 30 to 45 minutes — the cakes are done when you stick a toothpick in and it comes out clean.
If not eating right away, keep them refrigerated and re-steam them for five minutes before serving.