29 April 2017

Steamed Red Date Huiji Layer Cake 养生养颜红枣汇集千层糕

Check out my other dishes created with Huiji Waist Tonic:
Stir-fry Pork & Kidney in Huiji sauce 汇集炒猪肉猪腰

I was introduced to the Steamed Red Date Layer Cake 红枣千层糕 in Hong Kong by the HB who had tried it during a previous business trip. Apparently it's quite a popular dessert in Hong Kong and usually sold in Dim Sum restaurants. We both love the chewy texture of the cake which bears a resemblance to the local Kueh Lapis Sagu or Nian Gao but made using red dates. This steamed cake is not common in Singapore and so far I only found it at Tai Cheong Bakery, Holland Village. So as usual, I decided I must try to make this at home, adding it to my long-list of to-makes (since more than a year ago) :p.

Been procrastinating until recently where I was offered a complimentary bottle of Huiji Waist Tonic 汇集补腰精 and try to introduce it to any cooking/baking dishes. I've heard about Huiji Waist Tonic, supposedly good for strengthening the body and waist, as well as invigorate vital energy and blood, but have never drank it before because I thought I don't need any health tonics :p But I guess age is catching up and I ought to start maintaining my physique!

I learnt that Huiji is made with 6 different kinds of premium-quality herbs: Cordyceps, Ginseng, Du Zhong, Dang Gui, Shou Wu and Da Zao with no alcohol content, added sugar, honey or thickening agents, even suitable for vegetarians. Other than drinking it directly, it is also suitable for cooking as an alternative to actual herbs. After researching on the internet, I was surprised to see that this tonic is already widely used in many dishes/recipes.

In terms of taste, Huiji is bittersweet with strong hints of tonic aroma. I guess it depends on individual preference; the HB and kiddo don't like to drink it neat because of the tonic taste but I'm ok with it. And so I decided to introduce it subtly to the red date cake because I thought the combination would work well with each other. In fact, Da Zao (Chinese Date, Fructus Jujubae, 大枣) is already a key ingredients in Huiji. Da Zao or Hong Zao (Red date) itself is a superfood which is packed with nutrients and vitamins with a host of benefits such as maintaining youthful looking skin, as well as great for nourishment especially for ladies. Most of the time I use red date when cooking soups, or in desserts like Cheng Tng, but using it as an ingredient in cake is a first (not counting medjool dates which I use for sticky date bundt cake).

The red date cake is typically steamed layer by layer to increase its chewiness and also because of aesthetic I guess. I decided to make it 7 layers, with 4 layers of original red date cake and 3 layers added with Huiji.

In terms of preparation, it's a bit time consuming but actually recipe itself is fairly straightforward.

First of all, boil the red dates in water for 30 mins and let it cool down for 1-2hrs.
Next, mash and strain the cooked dates to extract the red date juice.
This step can be prepared a day in advance.

Ingredients include red date juice, red date sugar (can be found at NTUC Finest or Cold Storage, or replace with brown or red sugar), mixture of tapioca starch, glutinous rice flour and water chestnut flour and Huiji Waist Tonic.

Melt the red date sugar in the red date juice and let the mixture cool completely before use. This is important as hot mixture will "cook" the flours instead of dissolving them. *I didn't add all the red date sugar shown in the picture, but to taste (used about half portion only).

Add the red date juice gradually to the flour mixture, and stir till the flours has dissolve. Strain the batter to get smoother texture. The red date batter is ready for use.

Take out a portion of the red date batter and add Huiji Waist Tonic.

Oil a 7" square baking pan and place it inside a steamer. Bring water to boil on medium high heat. Add the red date batter for the first layer, steam for 8 mins, follow by Huiji layer for another 8 mins. Continue until all batter used up. There should be 4 layers of red date and 3 layers of Huiji red date. After adding the last layer, steam the whole cake for another 40 mins.

Let the cake cool down completely before unmoulding. It's still very soft and difficult to unmould and cut neatly. So if wish to get neat cuts, chill the whole pan in the fridge till firm. To cut the cake, oil the knife as the cake is quite sticky.

*I reserve a bit of red date batter to make a mini cake so that the HB can try the original taste without the Huiji.

Steamed Red Date Huiji Layer Cake 养生养颜红枣汇集千层糕
(makes one 7" square 7 layer cake)

  • 400g pitted red dates, halved
  • 1.25L (about 5 cups) water
  • 70g red date sugar or red/brown sugar (less sweet version, to taste)
  • 240g tapioca starch
  • 60g glutinous rice flour
  • 30g water chestnut flour
  • 120ml water (more or less, as necessary)
  • 50ml Huiji Waist Tonic
  1. Rinse and drain the red dates,  place them in a pot, add 1.25L water and bring to boil. Boil for 30 mins, then let the red date water mixture cool down for 1-2hrs.
  2. Mash the cooked red dates and sieve to extract the juice, which is about 480ml (could be more or less, depends on type/quality of red dates).
  3. Pour the juice into a pot, top up additional water (120ml, could be more or less) to bring total amount of liquid to about 600ml, add the red date sugar and bring to boil till sugar is melted. Set aside and let the red date juice cool down completely.
  4. Place the tapioca, glutinous rice and water chestnut flours into a large mixing bowl and stir well to mix. Add the red date juice gradually and stir till all the flour is melted.
  5. The batter comes up to be around 750ml. Take out about 150ml, add Huiji Waist Tonic, stir well to mix. Now there are 2 portions, about 600ml of red date batter and 200ml Huiji red date batter.
  6. Oil a 7" square baking pan and place the pan inside a steamer. Bring water to boil on medium high heat.
  7. Pour about 140-150ml of red date batter into the pan, steam for 8mins, follow by 60-70ml of Huiji red date batter, steam for 8 mins. Continue until all batter used up, there will be 4 layers of red date batter and 3 layers of Huiji red date batter. After last layer is added, steam the cake for about 40-45 mins.
  8. After steaming, let the cake cool completely before unmoulding.
  9. Cut the layer cake into bite size pieces and serve.
*Amount of sugar has been reduced for this recipe, feel free to adjust according to taste (red date also has natural sweetness). The red date juice may taste quite sweet at first, but after adding the flour mixture, it's balanced out.
*After the cake is cooled from steaming, it will still be very soft and difficult to cut neatly. For ease of cutting and serving, it's best to let the cake chill in the fridge till firm. To serve, steam the slices for 5-8 mins.
*The cake is quite sticky, to get neat cuts, oil the knife after each slice.

I love how this Red Date Huiji Layer cake turns out :) The texture is bouncy and chewy (what we call QQ). Just the right amount of sweetness, with distinct taste and fragrance of red date and undertone of Huiji tonic.

I let the HB try the mini red date cake first and he gave thumbs up saying that it's exactly the same as what we've eaten in HK! Then he tried the version with Huiji and said it was nice as well; overall the taste was quite balanced without overwhelming tonic taste. The kiddo who is super picky and would gagged at the taste of tonic ate it without fuss and also gave thumbs up =D

Really pleased that I can now have my dessert which tastes yummy and nourishing at the same time! This recipe is certainly a keeper for me :)

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