Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Cake Walk


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.


Anita said...

I ate those paper-wrapped chiffon cakes too! They were always so light and fluffy, I never thought about what was in them! Thanks for recreating the recipe, I'll have to try it! P.S. I love Vitasoy guava too!

Cheryl said...

That was such a cute story. It made me remember my walks home from school.

Nothing wrong with a good chiffon cake and even better with meyer lemons in it.

Anonymous said...

Hi Mary - I loved your story, and I too am saddened that walking to school is becoming much more rare.

Your cake looks wonderful!

Helene said...

I remember eating my first "chiffon cake" in America. See, "chiffon" in french means "rag" or "towel" so I always found it amusing at first to it. i just like their simplicity and down to earth quality. Yours look wonderfully fresh!

Deborah said...

What a beautiful cake!!

I don't have memories of walking to school, but I do have memories of riding the bus. We would have to wait at the top of the road - on the side of the highway!! I lived on a County Road, and for some reason, back then it didn't seem dangerous to stand on the shoulder of the highway waiting for the bus....

Nora B. said...

What a wonderful story. I miss those paper wrapped cakes from the Chinese bakery. It must be a world-wide phenomenon.

Anh said...

Beautiful, beautiful! You have inspired me to give chiffon cake a go soon!

Peabody said...

Yes, kids really can't do anything now a days. :(

Henny A. said...

I went to college in San Francisco and loved walking (and eating my way) through Chinatown.
Your cake looks delicious and I can't wait to make one myself. Thank you for sharing your recipe.

Mercedes said...

What a lovely story- I also walked to school, though it was only 2 blocks, and I agree with your sentiments. Chiffon cake is great!

Anonymous said...

Lovely cakes, Mary. I enjoyed your walk home story, too. It seems like the best treats are the ones from childhood.

MyKitchenInHalfCups said...

Meyer Lemon Cake . . . . now that would be just good.
As for walking to school, it's probably as much about the time and love shared as the walk. I biked one of my boys to preschool two years and we both enjoy the memories. And a car ride can cocoon you away from the world and it's irritations and interruptions for the perfect time to share stories.
In the end it's about feeling close. Beautiful memories.

Lisa Johnson said...

I'm liking all these cakes! ; )

Anonymous said...

i discovered these cakes at my local chinese supermarket last year. they weren't given a name there, so my sister and i have always called them 'fluffy cakes' because of their delicious lightness. it was interesting to learn more about them! i'm craving one now though... ;)

smoykim said...

Our family made that same discovery that those Chinese sponge cakes were alot like chiffon cakes. A wonderful discovery at that, because there are no Chinese bakeries where we live. I will have to try your recipe.

My sister and I walked to school alone in our youth but we did not have the fortune to wander by any bakeries. :) Regretfully, I can't imagine letting my children do the same in this day and age.

Anuhea said...

I too loved your story about walking home. It sounded so sweet and made me feel sad that I had to take the bus over a mountain to get home- I sure missed out! That cake sure looks good!

Elle said...

Meyer lemon chiffon cake sounds wonderful.
It is to bad that we have to worry when our children walk anywhere. Life certainly seems more dangerous than it was 20 years ago...OMG I sound like an old foggie!...maybe I am one.

eatme_delicious said...

I linked here from cookie baker lynn's blog. The cake sounds and looks delicious and I'm definitely saving the recipe to make later. :) Thanks for posting it!

Anonymous said...

This lemon cake looks delicious!

Those "paper-wrapped" cakes are a favourite of mine too whenever I come across them, and I recently saw a recipe for them on a food blog from Hong Kong:
Maybe you'd like to try it sometime!