One of my all-time favorite things to do is go out for dim sum. Nothing like rounding people up (the more the merrier!) and ordering dish after dish of dumplings, buns, egg tarts, and other dim sum treats. This turnip cake makes a regular appearance at dim sum and I'd never given much thought to how it was made or even what it was made out of. Pan-fried and served up in slices, it's crispy on the outside and smooth on the inside studded with bits of pork belly and chinese sausage. So I knew that turnips were somehow involved, and bits of meat, but beyond that I was usually too busy eating it to really contemplate if this was something I could make at home.
When my friend Vincci invited me over to her house with her sister to make turnip cake for Chinese New Year I jumped at the offer. Free baking lesson!
If you want try making this at home (which I highly recommend) then you'll need to head to an Asian grocery store for most of the ingredients. First up are these long white turnips that make up the base of the cake.
We used a food processor fitted with a grater attachment to shred the turnips into snowy white piles. It made short work out of what would have been a bit of a chore seeing as we were making a triple batch of the recipe.
Next, you'll need Chinese sausage and pork belly strips which are marinated in a thick sauce....
Vincci's recipe also includes dried shrimp which hasn't ever been included in the turnip cakes that I've had at dim sum. It's a delicious addition and now I feel like the restaurants are skimping out on me.. hey, where's the shrimp!?
All the filling ingredients go into a hot wok and are stir-fried until they're hot and delicious. So, so delicious. If I had been alone with the big wok of pork belly, sausage, shrimp, and mushroom significantly less would have made it into the cakes and significantly more would have made it directly into my mouth.
The tasty, tasty bits get set aside to cool and drain off the excess fat while the turnip takes it's turn in the wok. It's cooked over medium heat with some rock sugar which looked exactly like maple fudge to me. Once again, if I had been alone I probably would have taken a bite out of it. It's not nice to horrify your gracious host so I left the rock sugar alone.
You can replace rock sugar with a bit of brown sugar.. or take the opportunity to use some of that brown sugar you forgot to package up that turned into a sad, solid lump. It can't just be me that has solidified brown sugar hidden away..
Once the turnip has cooked down it's mixed with rice flour and a starch. We used green bean starch but you can also use wheat starch. Vincci mentioned a couple of times to make sure that the flour is regular rice flour and not glutenous rice flour. The ingredients come together to form a thin batter which is poured into metal cake pans or pie tins. The filling bits are then folded in and the pans are placed in a steamer.
When I read through the recipe that Vincci had emailed me, I was unsure of how the cakes were steamed. When a recipe uses a new technique it's easy to imagine that it's going to be difficult but it turns out that steaming is as simple as baking. The pans were placed in a layered steamer over simmering water until they were cooked through. The recipe called for 45 minutes but we had used such large pans that the cakes took around an 1h 15minutes before they were cooked through. Vincci sent me home with my own gigantic cake, so free lesson and free cake! I think I'll need to drop some baking off in the near future as a thank you.
At home, once the cake was cool I sliced it up...
..and pan fried it until the edges were crispy and brown. They were delicious, I suspected they might even be better than the ones we get at dim sum.
My friend Sam confirmed these suspicions. I fried up some of the cake for her one evening and we both agreed it was delicious. The next weekend we were at dim sum and ordered some of the turnip cake (despite having eaten my weight in it the week before) and were surprised by how much better the homemade cake had been. Way more flavor with all the filling bits and even a better texture.
Thanks again Vincci for teaching me how to make this! Now if I could only find someone who wants to show me how to make siumai and ha gao then I'd be all set.