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Cakes at a Chinese Bakery

Our large Chinese grocery store has a bakery counter. I believe the bakery is contracted out to another owner who does the baking on-site. Either way, the staff is very harried and speaks minimal English and I speak no Chinese of any variety so I can't ask questions.

There are some beautifully decorated Western-style layer cakes labeled "Red Bean Cake," "Taro Cake," "Chestnut Cake," etc. Does this mean that these cakes are white or yellow cake layers with red bean, taro, or whatever filling between the layers or is the title ingredient actually incorporated into the cake itself? I'm not eager to spend $22 just to satisfy my curiousity.

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  1. Yes, the inbetween layers will be taro, chestnut or red bean paste. They typically have single serving sizes for sale as well. You might want to have a taste test first.

    1. Chestnut cakes are to die for. Red bean and taro are both acquired tastes.

      7 Replies
      1. re: PeterL

        "Red bean and taro are both acquired tastes."

        Really? How so? Red bean is pretty common, and they even make chips out of taro.

        1. re: ipsedixit

          I noticed that a lot of people who have not had red bean pastries before tend to be "ho-hum" about the flavor until they have tried it several times.

          1. re: hannaone

            Yeah, I agree that red bean and taro in dessert form are both acquired tastes to the Western palate. And I also think chestnut to a point as well (though not as much so as red bean and taro). While I love chestnuts, I know quite a lot of Americans who don't agree with me. I've noticed that Europeans tend to like chestnut more.

            1. re: Miss Needle

              I enjoy eating chestnuts on their own or in dishes but I've never quite enjoyed the texture of flavour of chestnut pastes that are common in Chinese-style cakes (and by extension some European ones as well).

            2. re: hannaone

              I absolutely love red bean, taro, and chestnut. I'm going to be making red bean hamantaschen for Purim (talk about ethnic crossover!) and have gotten a request for a chestnut torte for Passover. No problem with those flavors.

              I was thinking more along the lines of:
              if it's only the filling that has the named ingredient, then I can make a version of it at home for a lot less cost. If the cake itself is made of that ingredient, then I would either need a recipe or a taste to try to copy it.

              Thanks for all the answers.

              1. re: rockycat

                Yeah, it's usually just sponge cake with taro (or red bean or chestnut) filling sandwiched in-between, plus some fruit slices thrown in for variety (e.g. kiwi slices, strawberry, peach, mango, etc.)

            3. re: ipsedixit

              Red bean is an acquired taste. I've seen the stuff most of my life and still don't like it.

          2. If this is a real Chinese bakery, the cake layers themselves will be a bit diff than what an American palate is used to. They're really soft and fluffy, more like sponge or chiffon cakes than a standard layer cake. They actually remind me of Wonder Bread in that they're so airy, and you can take a piece and roll it into a little ball. Don't get me wrong, I like them, but if you're expecting a "regular" cake with heft and chew, you will probably be surprised.

            1. Last week, I purchased a cake from a bakery within a Chinese market (99 Ranch), and the office was delighted. I didn't get the red bean, taro or chestnut cake, but a simple white cake w/whipped frosting and sliced fruit on top. The cake itself was light and airy and not overly sweet. The frosting too, was light and airy.

              Now, the office wants this cake for all special occasions.

              3 Replies
              1. re: OCAnn

                Asian cakes are pretty good. I much prefer the less sweet Korean or Chinese cakes to the oversweet American varieties.
                The different fillings/toppings like fresh fruits, bean paste, mint, semi-sweet creme, nuts, etc are great.

                1. re: hannaone

                  I grew up on Chinese cakes, got a whole sheet cake from Queen's Bakery when my uncle use to own it. When I tasted my first American cake, I was kinda disgusted b/c it was soooooo sweet. I use to like mine with fresh strawberries or bananas or peaches.

                2. re: OCAnn

                  Cakes from a bakery in Chinatown were standard for my last office. They were sheet cakes of the light-sponge type cake with a mixture of fresh fruit and whipped cream between the layers and whipped cream icing. Light, not too sweet, and usually much less expensive than the comparable sized "American" cake. No icky fake buttercream frosting, either.

                3. Does anyone have a recipe for these types of cakes. There is a place I can buy them, but my budget does not always fit. I'm a good baker, fwiw. I love the texture and the less sweet taste.

                  10 Replies
                  1. re: dct

                    Just a reminder that any recipes need to be posted on our Home Cooking board, although you're welcome to post here mentioning that you've put one up over there.

                    1. re: dct

                      Many of these cakes are steamed rather than baked. The steaming develops the unique texture.
                      I think I may have a recipe, if I can find it I will post on the homecooking board and link it from this thread.

                      1. re: hannaone

                        They're steamed? How interesting, I have to try one. I love chestnut puree.

                        But my favorite item from a Chinese bakery is the egg tart.

                        1. re: dolores

                          Not all are steamed. The basic sheet cakes are not steamed, but the chestnut cake may be, not sure on that one.

                          1. re: justagthing

                            Actually all the sponge layers (i.e. the sheets in between the fillings) are steamed.

                            1. re: ipsedixit

                              Well, IIRC, my cakes were from Queen's Bakery and the sheet cakes there, full size, were baked not steamed. In fact I just called my mom to confirm, lol. Back in the day, my uncle owned that bakery.

                              1. re: justagthing

                                Here in the states some of the bakeries have westernized somewhat and use ovens, some have not and still steam their cakes.

                          2. re: dolores

                            Household ovens are a recent innovation, and many rural homes still do not have one, so most cooking was/is done over charcoal/wood flame.
                            There are some appliances similar to I think a dutch oven, but these were generally used in communal kitchens instead of home kitchens.
                            That's why most traditional Korean and Chinese have very few "baked" food recipes and have so many stir fry, soup, and braise recipes.

                            1. re: hannaone

                              Actually, aren't ovens (as we know them today) more of a western or European innovation?

                              Even recently, as early as the mid/late 1970s, most homes in Taiwan did not have ovens.

                              1. re: ipsedixit

                                Yeah, they are a "western" thing. Innovation was the wrong word, more acquisition or imported idea.
                                It's the same in Korea, until gas and electric became more wide spread in the 1970s through the 80s, most homes used either the Korean ondal heating system or propane table/counter top burners.
                                There were some large clay and stone ovens that were derived from something similar to kilns, but these were only found in the royal kitchens or some village's communal cook areas, and later in homes of the rich.

                      2. To go back to the OP's question.
                        The batter used is most likely from "scratch" versus a cake mix.
                        I don't know if your bakery uses the steamed or baked method, but either way if the cake is white or yellow, the "flavor" is probably just in the filling/topping, unless it is nuts of some type. The nut topped cakes will often have ground nut or nut powder mixed into the batter.
                        If the cake has some color to it (pink, red, green, etc) then some of the topping ingredient (juice, berries, leaves) has probably been mixed into the batter.