This year, I’m sharing something my mum made for us. We call it nan gua bing, which literally translates to pumpkin cakes, but she uses sweet potato instead. Of course, because I’m required by law to do everything in two different ways, I used two types of sweet potato – the ubiquitous orange, and purple yam. I dislike colour dye, so it thrills me when I discover beautiful natural pigments. This sweet potato mochi cake is stuffed with red bean paste and heated up to create a crispy-yet-soft exterior. Now that I’m away from home, I can whip up a batch of these and immediately be transported back to my mum’s kitchen, waiting by the counter for these cakes to finish cooking and stuffing them in my mouth.
Lunar New Year is one of my favourite times of the year because everywhere I turn I see my favourite things: noodles, dumplings, rice cakes, red bean that and matcha this.
- 2 large orange sweet potatoes
- 2 cup mochiko (sweet rice) flour (see Note)
- 1 cup sesame seeds
- vegetable oil, to shallow-fry
Red bean paste
- 1 cup dried red beans (azuki)
- ¾ cup white sugar
- 100 ml vegetable or coconut oil
Oven temperatures are for conventional; if using fan-forced (convection), reduce the temperature by 20˚C. | We use Australian tablespoons and cups: 1 teaspoon equals 5 ml; 1 tablespoon equals 20 ml; 1 cup equals 250 ml. | All herbs are fresh (unless specified) and cups are lightly packed. | All vegetables are medium size and peeled, unless specified. | All eggs are 55-60 g, unless specified.
You will need to begin this recipe 1 day ahead.
To make the red bean paste, soak the red beans in cold water overnight (8-10 hours), then rinse and drain.
Place the beans in a saucepan and cover with water until water is 2.5 cm above the beans. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to low and cook, adding just enough water to keep the beans submerged as needed, for 1½ hours or until beans have burst open. Take one in between your fingers and if it smashes open easily, it is done. Add the sugar, in 3 batches, stirring constantly until the sugar is dissolved and the mixture is thickened. Use your wooden spoon to draw a line at the bottom of the saucepan – if the line doesn’t disappear immediately, it is ready. Cool slightly, then using a stick blender or regular blender, blend until smooth. Stir in oil and set aside to cool completely.
Preheat the oven to 200°C. Meanwhile, to make the mochi cakes, place the sweet potatoes on a baking tray and roast for 45 minutes or until fork tender. Cool, then peel and discard the skins.
Transfer to a large bowl and mash slightly. Add 1½ cups mochiko flour and combine using a wooden spoon or your hands. If the mixture is too wet, add the remaining ½ cup mochiko flour. The resulting dough should resemble the consistency of play-doh. It will be very soft and will no longer stick to your hands.
Pinch off about 2 tablespoons of dough and roll between your palms into a ball. Using your index finger and thumb, pinch a well, forming a cup. Place 1½ tablespoons of red bean paste in the well, then pinch dough closed. Roll again between your palms to form a ball, then roll in sesame seeds to coat. Place on a flat surface and press gently with your palm. Repeat with the remaining dough.
Heat the oil in a frying pan over low heat. In batches, gently place the mochi cakes in the pan, making sure they do not touch each other. Cook for 5 minutes or until browned, then flip over and cook for a further 5 minutes or until browned and mochi cakes are more translucent than opaque.
Remove from heat and serve warm.
• Mochiko flour is made from sweet (glutinous) rice. Available from Asian food stores with dried red beans.
Recipe from le jus d’orange by Betty Liu, with photography by Betty Liu.