Recipe: Chinese Cakes

Bean cakes made from kidney or black beans, and even sometimes black-eyed peas, are a local variation on Chinese moon cakes made from adzuki beans. Popular in Trinidad and, even more so, Guyana, I've never seen a home cook prepare these, as a number of good local bakeries usually have them on hand. Here is the recipe I've developed for these cakes, which you will find varies slightly in taste and appearance from the authentic Chinese version. The recipe is adapted from my book Sweet Hands: Island Cooking from Trinidad & Tobago (Hippocrene 2010).

Chinese Cakes i i
Jean Paul Vellotti for NPR
Chinese Cakes
Jean Paul Vellotti for NPR

Makes 4 cakes

For The Filling

1/2 cup dried black beans, soaked overnight in 3 cups of cold water, or 1 cup canned black beans

1 small star anise pod

1/2 cup sugar

1/2 teaspoon mixed essence (a flavoring extract available in Caribbean markets, or find a recipe to make your own here)

For The Pastry

2 cups all-purpose flour

Pinch of coarse salt

1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, chilled and cut into small cubes

Ice water as needed

Beaten egg yolk

Red food coloring as needed

Small clean paintbrush or a clean cotton swab

For The Filling

If using dried beans, drain them. Place in a pot with 3 cups of clean water and simmer for a half-hour. Add the anise pod and simmer for another half-hour, until beans are very tender. If using canned beans, drain in a colander, rinse with cold water. Place in a pot with 3 cups of clean water and the anise pod and simmer for 15 minutes.

Drain the beans, removing and discarding the anise pod. Place beans in a food processor and puree until smooth. Push the pureed bean mixture through a fine mesh sieve to remove any remnants of skin.

Combine the bean puree and sugar in a saucepan and place over low heat. Simmer, stirring often, until sugar is dissolved and mixture resembles a thick paste, about 10 minutes. Remove from heat, stir in the mixed essence and set aside.

For The Pastry

Combine the flour and salt in a bowl or the bowl of a food processor. Using a pastry cutter, your fingers or the pulse setting on the food processor, cut in the butter until pea-sized balls form. Add ice water in a thin stream, mixing until a shaggy, dry dough just forms. Add just enough water so no flour remains but the dough is far from sticky. Wrap and chill in the refrigerator for 2 hours up to overnight.

Remove the dough from refrigerator and cut into 8 pieces. Form each piece into a small ball and roll out to a 1/4-inch-thick disc.

Place 1 tablespoon of the bean mixture in the center of a disc and brush the edges with egg wash — 1 egg yolk beaten with 1 teaspoon water. Place another dough disc on top and, using a fork or your finger, press the seams closed. Repeat with remaining dough discs. Place cakes on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper and chill in the refrigerator for 15 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Remove the baking sheet with the cakes from the refrigerator and brush the cakes with egg wash. Place the cakes in the oven and bake for 25 to 30 minutes or until the crust turns golden brown. Remove and cool.

Once cool, dip the paintbrush in the red food coloring and paint a 1/2-inch-wide circle or design of your choice onto the center of each cake. Serve.

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