Firstly, I want to say that this cake recipe is not my recipe. I found the recipe on a blog named My Edible Memories, written by a very talented baker, Lucy. Lucy has created her own fabulous tutorial for baking this cake, which I would definitely recommend reading. My goal in writing my own tutorial is to add some of my personal tips and tricks to Lucy's original recipe and to share these tips with my friends who have expressed an interest in baking this cake themselves.
The Chinese bakery-style cream cake can best described as a fruit and custard filled sponge cake with a light whipped cream frosting. Variations on this style of cake are commonly sold in Chinese bakeries, including Tai Pan and Fay Da which are the two most popular chains in Flushing and Chinatown.
I am not sure what the proper Chinese name is for this style of cake or if there even is one - there doesn't appear to be a lot of documentation on this style of cake except for the few blog entries and baking how-to's that can be found on the Internet. The Koreans have a specific name for this cake which they call the Saeng Cream Cake (쌩크림 케이크) or fresh cream cake. When I was originally researching the recipe for the Chinese cream cake, I came across the following very well done tutorial on how to make the Korean fresh cream cake.
In order to properly make this cake and have adequate time to attend to all of the details that can make the difference between just a good cake and a great cake, allow for about 4 to 4.5 hours from start to finish. The more times you make the cake the quicker you will be able to do it, however do not be tempted to rush too much at the cost of quality.
Certain steps of the recipe, particularly the baking of the meringue cakes, require things to be done quickly. To ensure that you do not fumble looking for ingredients or cooking utensils during these steps, it is important to have everything ready in advance so that you can execute the steps with as little delay as possible.
This list includes many basic ingredients that you likely already have in your kitchen, therefore you may not need to do much shopping at all in order to make this cake.
- All purpose flour (1 lbs. or more)
- Granulated sugar (1 lbs. or more)
- Confectioner's sugar (1 lbs. or more)
- Heavy cream or Heavy Whipping Cream (1 pint)
- Vanilla extract or vanilla bean paste
- Unflavored gelatin (found in the Jello section of the supermarket)
- 1/2 dozen large eggs
- Unsalted butter
- Whole milk
- Jar of fruit preserves (strawberry or apricot)
- 1 honey dew melon
- 3 or 4 kiwis
- 1 lemon
- 1 medium sized box of strawberries
- 1 box of parchment paper
Baking tools and cookware
- Two 8-inch or 9-inch cake pans. Preferably the professional style pans that are made from aluminum and that are *NOT* non-stick coated. The lack of a non-stick coating will allow the meringue cake to stick to the sides of the pan when baking and help hold itself up vs. colapsing on itself.
- Medium sauce pan, two (or more) stainless steel prep bowls (or glass if you prefer).
- Hand mixer or stand mixer with wire basket whip. While having a stand mixer is not a requirement, it can be a big benefit in terms of allowing the cook to work hands free as well as providing more consistent whipping performance.
- Utensils: Wire whisk, rubber spatula, measuring cups, chef's knife or pairing knife, pastry knife for smoothing frosting, kitchen brush, peeler (for peeling the kiwi).
- A hand-powered egg beater can be beneficial for smoothing out the lumps in the custard, however it is not required.
- Melon baller (small and medium) for creating melon balls.
- Sieve for straining the reduced fruit preserve glaze. Small paint brush for applying the glaze.
- Pastry piping bag and medium/large size decorative tip(s).
- Spinning cake platter or lazy susan to make decorating the cake easier.
- Cooling racks for cooling the cakes.
Making the cake in four easy steps
The creation of the Chinese creme cake is composed of four separate steps. I have found that executing the steps in the order listed below makes the best use of overlap and waiting time and results in the fastest end to end time for making the cake.
Step 1 - Prepare the custard
The custard is the filling that goes in between the two cake layers, along with the fruit. The custard in this recipe is a sugar/vanilla custard that should appeal to most tastes. As an alternative, a taro-root based custard can be substituted for a more authentic Chinese taste. Since the custard needs to chill for at least two hours, it makes sense to get it out of the way first. You can even prepare the custard the night before making the cake. Bring the custard out of the fridge about 15 minutes before you begin assembling the cake so that it can warm up to a spreadable temperature.
Ingredients for custard filling
- 1/4 cup of granulated sugar
- 1/4 cup of all purpose flour - it is better to use all purpose flour vs. cake flour as cake flour does not have enough protein to help support the meringue cake and using cake flour will result in a denser and flatter cake.
- 1/8 tsp kosher salt
- 1 cup of whole milk
- 1 large egg at room temperature
- 1 tsp vanilla or vanilla paste - when using vanilla paste, you can use slightly less than 1tsp as the paste is more concentrated.
Directions for making the custard
1. Warm 3/4 cup of the milk over low heat in a sauce pan and add the dry ingredients while whisking to create a smooth mixture.
2. Once combined, bring the mixture to a boil for an instant while whisking constantly to keep the mixture smooth, then lower the heat and cook for another couple of minutes to thicken the mixture and then remove the sauce pan from the stove. *Note: if you are using copper or cast iron (Le Creuset) cookware, be mindful of the fact that these materials retain a lot of heat and be sure to periodically whisk your custard mixture for the first few minutes after removing it from heat or it will continue to thicken and possibly form lumps.
3. Mix the egg with the remaining 1/4 cup of milk and combine with the mixture in your saucepan. Return the saucepan to the stove and whisk vigorously over medium heat until the mixture returns to a boil. It is important to continually whisk while heating the mixture in order to ensure that the mixture is as smooth as possible. If your arm tires from whisking, you can alternatively use the hand-powered egg beater to smooth out the mixture, but be very cautious about spilling the mixture from beater too aggressively. Once the mixture reaches a boil, remove from heat.
4. Add the vanilla to the mixture and transfer to a bowl. Cover the bowl with Saran wrap (if possible the Saran wrap should touch the top of the custard mixture to prevent the formation of skin). Refrigerate the custard for at least two hours or longer (overnight) if desired.
[Upper left], milk, sugar, salt, flour mixture reaching first boil. [Lower left], using hand-powered egg beater to supplement whisking and smooth out custard. [Right], custard reaching final consistency.
Step 2 - Bake the meringue cakes
The light and fluffy texture of the Chinese cream cake is achieved by using meringue style cake. Meringue is a mixture of sugar, flour and whipped egg whites. The whipped egg whites give the meringue it's light and airy body.
Preparation and sequencing is of the utmost importance in the baking of the cakes. The whipped egg whites can quickly loose their air and therefore must be mixed with the rest of the ingredients and transferred to the oven for baking as quickly and gently as possible. Therefore, be sure to pre-heat your oven to 350 degrees before starting the baking steps and have all required ingredients measured and close at hand.
Ingredients for meringue cake
- 3/4 cup of all-purpose flour
- 3/4 cup plus 1tsp of granulated sugar (split into 2 even portions)
- 6 large eggs, separated into yolks and whites - a simple way to separate eggs is to put two bowls side by side and crack the egg into your hand over the bowl that will contain the egg whites. Let the egg white slip through your fingers while keeping your fingers spaced close enough to hold the egg yolk. Once all the egg white has slipped through, place the egg yolk gently in the egg yolk bowl.
- 1.4 tbsp butter, melted
- 1.4 tbsp milk
- 1/2 tsp vanilla extract or vanilla paste.
Directions for baking the cake
Cake batter and baking
1. Prepare your cake pans by cutting out two parchment paper liners to fit on the bottom of the pans. Before putting the parchment paper liner in each pan, spread butter on the bottom of the pan only, not on the sides. Place the parchment paper liner in the pan and spread butter on top of the liner and then dust with flour, shaking the excess flour out of the pan.
2. Prepare all ingredients in advance and place them within reach of your workspace. Let the eggs warm up to room temperature before separating the yolks and whites as it will be easier when the eggs have warmed up. Put the sugar in two separate containers, and put the melted butter and the milk in their own small containers or glass bowls. If you are using a stand mixer for whipping the your egg whites, crack your eggs and put the whites directly into the mixer bowl.
3. Mix half of the sugar with the egg yolks until the mixture has a pale yellow and smooth consistency, add the vanilla. (set aside). Make sure that you use a fairly large mixing bowl for the egg yolks as you will eventually need to add the whipped meringue and flour into this bowl.
4. Whip the eggs whites until they reach a foamy consistency, but not so far as to achieve stiff peaks. Add the remaining sugar in several additions, while continuing to whip until you achieve stiff peaks.
5. Add half of the whipped egg white mixture to the egg yolk mixture and slowly and careful fold in with the rubber spatula. Add in the melted butter and the milk.
6. Gently fold in the remainder of the egg white mixture and continue to fold, scraping the sides and the bottom of the bowl, until fully combined. Divide the mixture evenly between the two cake pans and place quickly into the oven for baking. Before placing the pans in the oven, shake them lightly from side to side to help even out the distribution of batter in the pans - this will help ensure that the cakes bake as evenly and flatly as possible (to minimize the need to level them with a knife after baking is finished).
7. Bake for 20 - 25 minutes, use a cake tester to check for readiness towards the end.
1. Once the cakes are finished baking, let them cool in the pan and remove them to cooling racks.
2. Using a serrated bread knife, or your fingers, remove the brownish film that forms on both sides of the cake. This can be done by rolling the film off in sections or by making a clean cut with the serrated knife. If you leave any part of the brown film on the cakes, it will harden and become noticeably chewy in the finished cake.
3. In a small sauce pan make a simple syrup with two parts water to one part sugar. Dissolve the sugar in the water over low heat and add the juice from half a lemon once dissolved. Brush the simple syrup onto all sides of the cakes to help keep them moist.
4. Place the bottom layer of your cake onto a rotating cake tray or lazy susan (to make decorating the cake easier). Place parchment paper strips around the edge of the cake with the borders of the strips sitting just underneath your cake. These parchment strips will prevent the frosting from sticking to the cake tray and make for a nice clean edge once they are removed after you have finished the first part of frosting the cake (do not leave the parchment paper in place while putting any decorative edging on the cake with a piping bag or removal of the paper will disturb the edging). In lieu of the parchment paper strips, a wet paper towel can be used to clean up frosting that spills on the cake tray.
Step 3 - Cake Assembly
While the cakes are baking, you can use that time to cut your fruit in preparation for cake assembly. There are many options with regard to which fruits to use in the Chinese cream cake as well as how to cut and display the fruit on the cake. Some common options for fruits include honey dew melon, kiwi and strawberry. Cherries are also a good decorative choice.
Directions for assembling the cake
1. Cut the fruit (this step can be done while the cakes are baking). Assuming that you are using honey dew melon, kiwi and strawberry as your fruits, the approach that I prefer for cutting the fruit is to make balls out of the melon using a melon baller, make half circles out out of the kiwi slices and make wedges from the strawberries.
2. Place the first layer of the cake on your cake plate or lazy susan. Using about 1/2 of the available custard, spread a thin layer of the custard on top of the cake layer (you can use the back of a large spoon to do this). Spread the custard so that it covers the cake layer to within about 1/2" of the edge. Leave some room around the edge so that the custard can spread out when you put the fruit and second cake layer on top of it. *Note: remember to bring the custard out of the fridge about 15 minutes before starting assembly of the cake.
3. Add the fruit of top of the custard. I prefer to intersperse the melon and kiwi in the center of the cake and put the strawberries around the edge, however any method will work.
4. Using the remaining custard, spread a layer on top of the fruit and smooth it out with the back of a spoon.
5. Add the second cake layer on top of the bottom layer with the custard/fruit/custard filling in the middle. Check the cake for level at this time. If the cake is not level, you can use pieces of fruit to shim it until its level (strawberry wedges work best for shimming). At this point the cake is completely assembled and ready for the final step - frosting and decorating!
Assembling the cake in three steps, 1) Add custard on top of first layer, 2) Add fruit on top of custard, 3) Apply another layer of custard on top of the fruit and then add the second layer of the cake.
Step 4 - Frosting and decorating the cake
Once the cake is assembled, it is time to make the whipped cream frosting, frost the cake and apply the fruit decorations. Since the whipped cream needs to be cold when you are making it and working with it, it is a good idea to be prepared to decorate your cake as soon as you finish making the whipped cream. Have all the tools you need ready, including an icing knife and pastry piping bag and decorative tip.
Ingredients for whipped cream frosting
- 2 tbsp cold water
- 1 tsp unflavored gelatin - can be found in the supermarket in the Jello section.
- 2 cups (1 pint) of chilled heavy cream
- 1 tsp vanilla
- 2.5 tbsp of confectioner’s sugar
Directions for preparing the whipped cream frosting
1. Place your mixing bowl and wire whisk(s) into the freezer for about 5 to 10 minutes before using them to prepare the whipped cream. This will ensure that the cream stays as cold as possible.
2. Add the unflavored gelatin to a small bowl with the 2 tbsp of cold water. Let it soak for about 5 minutes and then dissolve the gelatin into the water by holding the bowl (carefully) over a pot of simmering water to slowly heat it while continuously stirring. Once dissolved, the gelatin and water should be almost clear. Set aside and let cool to a luke warm temp, but do not let the gelatin cool or sit too long or it will harden.
3. Take your chilled mixing bowl and wire whisks out of the freezer and add the 1-pint of chilled heavy cream to the mixing bowl. Beat the cream in your mixer or with your hand mixer in the following manner.
a. Beat the cream slowly until it just starts to form bubbles (30 sec.).
b. Increase the mixing speed to medium until the wire whisk leaves some trails in the cream (30 sec.).
c. Increase the mixing speed to high and mix the cream until it becomes billowy. Add the sugar and vanilla carefully while continuing to mix until the cream becomes just stiff. The cream will begin to stiffen within a minute of adding the sugar. As soon as the cream is just becoming stiff, add the dissolved gelatin while continuing to mix. Once the gelatin is added, the cream will further stiffen and dry out. After adding the gelatin, continue beating the cream for about 30 more seconds or until you are satisfied that it is stiff enough, but not too dry or clumpy.
4. Once you are finished with beating the whipped cream, use it immediately for frosting the cake, or refrigerate it for later use. If refrigerating the cream for later use, be mindful of the fact that the cream may stiffen slightly when refrigerated, but it will loosen up again once you start working with it.
Directions for decorating the cake
1. Begin by applying a generous layer of cream on the top of the cake with your icing knife and then covering the sides of the cake. Smooth the top and sides with the icing knife (it is helpful to continuously wipe your knife with a rag or paper towel to prevent bits of frosting from leaving trails while you are attempting to smooth).
2. Apply decorative edging or shells or any type of frosting decoration that you choose using your piping bag and a large sized decorating tip.
3. (Optional) Once the base frosting and decorative frosting is finished, you can put the cake in the refrigerator to chill for a while before beginning the application of the fruit. It's a good idea to chill the cake if the frosting steps took a long time (15min or more) and if you anticipate that adding the fruit will also take you a while. The frosting will begin to break down if left at room temperature for too long.
4. Add the cut fruit to the top and/or sides of the cake. There is no right or wrong method for adding the fruit to the cake, basically anything will work. I prefer to add the melon balls around the outer edges with the kiwi in the middle and strawberries at the center.
5. The final step of decorating the cake is to apply a thin glaze to the fruit to make it glisten. This glaze is prepared by adding equals part of water and fruit preserves (strawberry or apricot works well) to a small sauce pan and boiling the combination until it reduces. Poor the reduction through a sieve into a small bowl. Use a small paint brush or other similar brush to apply the liquid to the fruit.
6. Once the fruit on the cake has been glazed, put the cake in the refrigerator for a hour or two to allow it to chill and firm up before serving. The cake is best served the same day, however it will survive overnight in the fridge if necessary.
Congratulations! Your cake is now finished. Enjoy.