White Sugar Cakes (Bai Tang Gao)

Bai Tang Gao (Mandarin)
aka White Sugar Cakes

I make this treat for the kids when I am feeling nostalgic about the old dim sum days with my parents.  This dessert was once a staple at the old dim sum houses, bakeries, and tofu shops of New York City’s Chinatown. This cake is known for its light texture and honeycomb striations. Nowadays, this tender cake is hard to find as the traditional bakeries and tea houses start closing. What makes this delicious dessert special is not only is it naturally gluten-free (being a rice flour-based dessert) but it goes back as far as the Ming Dynasty. It is said that a street hawker, named Liang from the Guangdong (Canton) Province during the Ming Dynasty, made a mistake with the rice and water ratio of his sponge cake. The resulting white sugar cake was so popular, that it became a staple of the area. We can’t go back in time but with five simple ingredients, we can make this treat at home.

Use white rice flour.

Total Ingredients

  • 1 teaspoon of instant yeast
  • 1 tablespoon of warm water
  • ½ cup of organic sugar
  • 2 cups of water
  • 2 cups of white rice flour (do not use brown rice flour)
  • Oil spray (I prefer to use avocado oil.)
Yeast Starter

Step 1: Yeast Starter

(1 teaspoon of instant yeast * 1 tablespoon of warm water)

  • Mix one tablespoon of warm water with the instant yeast in a small bowl.
  • Make sure that the water is not too hot and that you stir till the yeast is dissolved.
  • Set the yeast starter aside and begin making the sugar syrup.
Sugar Syrup

Step 2: Sugar Syrup

(½ cup of organic sugar * 2 cups of water)

  • Combine half of a cup of sugar with the two cups of water in a saucepot and heat over medium heat.
  • Stir the sugar and water solution in the pot over the heat until all the sugar dissolves and creates a uniform solution. The result should be a very light (watery) sugar syrup.
  • Once the sugar is made, turn off the flame and set it aside to cool for approximately thirty minutes.
The little pinholes are the bubbles forming!

Step 3: The Batter

(Yeast starter * sugar syrup * 2 cups of rice flour)

  • In a large bowl, place the two cups of white rice flour, sugar syrup, and the yeast starter.
  • Stir the ingredients in the bowl till it is a smooth batter. The batter will be light and should look like melted vanilla ice cream.
  • Lightly spray a nine-inch glass pie dish and spread out the layer of oil evenly.
  • Pour the batter into the pie dish and cover with a plate (or plastic wrap).
  • Let the batter rest for approximately an hour, after which you should start seeing bubbles in the batter. (This is a reason why I like using a glass dish because you can see the bubbles from the side of the dish.)
Just a bowl and a pot of water.

Step 4: Steaming

  • I don’t use a fancy steamer; I place a bowl in a pot of water as my steamer.
  • Heat the pot of water till the water boils then lower the heat to MEDIUM.
  • DO NOT steam the batter at a high boil, this will cause the cake to swell and contract. This will result in a wrinkly and dense cake.
  • Place the dish in the pot and steam the batter for approximately 20-30 min.
  • Once the batter has set and the cake has risen, turn off the flame and let it rest in the pot (with the lid off) for another ten minutes before taking it out.
  • You can serve it warm or at room temperature.
  • ENJOY!

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