My mother used to walk me and my brothers to school every morning and then walk us home in the afternoon. The one mile walk down to our elementary school in North Beach seemed to go quickly. But walking home seemed to take forever even though it was pretty much the same distance with slight variations in the route we took. But no matter which route we chose to walk, it was always uphill on the way home. (Okay, so maybe forever is an exaggeration. But in my defense I was a child and everything was overly dramatic and took forever.)
Sometimes, when we took the route through Chinatown on the way home, we would get free samples at the fortune cookie factory or we would stop at a bakery on Stockton Street and mother would let us pick one treat from the bakery case for ourselves. Sometimes it was a coconut bun, a cocktail bun (no, not as in alcoholic, but so named since the bun looked the tail of a chicken) or my personal favorite, the paper wrapped cake. I know the name is rather boring but it is the literal translation from Chinese. As far as I know, it goes by no other name.
The paper wrapped cake is a plain, springy mini cake baked in a tapered cylindrical mold about 1.5 inches in diameter at the base and widens slightly at the top to about 2 inches. I would say the pan is similar to a popover pan. A square of waxed paper lines the mold before the batter is poured. The baked mini cake is about 3-4 inches tall, pale yellow but golden brown on top. I would gradually peel away the waxed paper to reveal more and more cake of the eggy, spongy yellow cake until it was all gone. Sometimes in kid like fashion I would even lick crumbs off the paper before balling it up and handing it to my mom for future disposal. (My mother was the kind keeper of all our refuse until we got to the next trash bin. She also held the empty "juice boxes" of Vitasoy guava drink or chocolate soy milk.) It wasn't the healthiest after school snack but I always have fond memories of the walk home and the occasional Chinatown snack.
[ This has nothing to do with cake, but it makes me a little sad to think about how walking to school, as opposed to being driven to school, seems to be such a rarity these days. I'm not sure if it is for reasons of safety or of distance, but the "neighborhood school" in San Francisco appears to be a distant memory. ]
I recently made my first chiffon cake. It was then that I realized the paper wrapped cake was like a chiffon cake. I guess I shouldn't be surprised since a lot of those Chinatown bakery sweets are not butter based (since butter is expensive), but probably oil, shortening (gasp) or even lard (double gasp) based. I just always classified that style of cake as "Chinatown style". But now that I know chiffon cakes are a close match, I can make them anytime AND I know exactly what's in the cake.
Meyer Lemon Chiffon Cake
1 1/2 cups cake flour
3/4 cup granulated or superfine sugar
1 1/3 tsp baking powder
1/3 tsp salt
1/3 cup canola oil
1/3 cup egg yolks (3 to 4 yolks), lightly beaten
1/3 cup fresh meyer lemon juice
2 tbsp grated lemon zest
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 cup egg whites (about 8 large)
1 tsp cream of tartar
Preheat the oven to 325°. Line 24 standard (4 fl oz capacity) muffin cups with paper liners.
Sift the cake flour, sugar, baking powder and salt into a large mixing bowl. Stir in the oil, egg yolks, lemon juice, zest and vanilla until mixture is smooth, but be careful not to over mix. Set aside while you beat the egg white.
Beat the egg whites until frothy. Add the cream of tartar and continue beating until soft peaks form. Gently fold the beaten whites into the lemon batter. Fill the cupcake wells approximately 3/4 full.
Bake approximately 20-25 minutes, until the cupcakes bounce back when lightly pressed with your fingertip. Let cool for 10 minutes in muffin pan then remove the cupcakes from the muffin pan and cool on a wire rack.
Note: I made my chiffon cakes in 3x5 inch loaf pans this time, but I don't remember how long I baked them. So I included directions for baking them in a muffin pan.