Pau Pau's Steamed Cupcakes (Fa Gao)

January 24, 2022
1 Ratings
Photo by Kristina Cho
  • Prep time 20 minutes
  • Cook time 15 minutes
  • makes 10
Author Notes

I called these Pau Pau’s Cupcakes growing up. She only makes them for Chinese New Year, but I look forward to the tall, blossoming cake all year long. Fa gao is also sometimes called “prosperity cake,” because the bigger and taller the cake tops bloom, the more prosperous your new year promises to be. Unlike what most people would consider a cupcake, fa gao isn’t frosted or decorated in any way. It is an unassuming cake, with a bloomed top that gives it a little flair.

As a kid, I had a particular way of eating Pau Pau’s cupcakes. First, I’d pluck off each petal and eat them one by one, and then I’d smash the base of the cupcake into a dense little pancake to munch on. (Please tell me someone else ate them this way?) Perhaps I subconsciously picked up on the pancake-like flavor as a kid—flavor that comes, literally, from pancake mix. Yep, there’s Bisquick in Pau Pau’s recipe! Back in Hong Kong, Pau Pau used a self-rising flour that’s made specifically for fa gao. When the family immigrated to the United States, she had to work with the ingredients she could readily access at the local markets in downtown Cleveland. It turns out that self-rising flour and Bisquick have virtually the same ingredients: all-purpose flour, baking powder, and salt. Only the addition of hydrogenated vegetable shortening in Bisquick sets them apart.

It cracks me up that Bisquick has been Pau Pau’s secret ingredient all these years. Say what you will about boxed mixes, but after fifty years of using Bisquick, it has become essential to the soft texture of her fa gao.

• For this recipe, you’ll need individual 3-inch cupcake or tart molds and a bamboo steamer (with matching pot for boiling water).

• My typical steamer setup: I set bamboo steamers over a heavy-bottomed pot that’s the same diameter as the steamer (about 10 inches for both, in my case). It’s simple and straightforward, and it prevents the bamboo steamer from burning or catching on fire. A tight seal between the steamer and the pot traps the steam, to cook the food inside. I normally fill the pot with 3 to 4 inches of water, which should allow for continuous steaming for 10 to 30 minutes. You can always refill the water between batches, if needed. —Kristina Cho

Test Kitchen Notes

Excerpted with permission from Mooncakes & Milk Bread © 2021 by Kristina Cho. Photography © 2021 by Kristina Cho. Reproduced by permission of Harper Horizon, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers. All rights reserved. —The Editors

What You'll Need
  • 150 grams (1 1/4 cups) pancake mix, such as Bisquick
  • 150 grams (1 1/4 cups) all purpose flour
  • 130 grams (2/3 cup) firmly packed dark brown sugar
  • 300 grams (1 1/3 cups) water
  1. Prepare your steamer setup and bring water to a rapid boil. Line ten individual 3-inch cupcake molds with paper liners and arrange in two bamboo steamers.
  2. In a medium mixing bowl, whisk to combine the pancake mix, flour, brown sugar, and water until smooth. (The batter should be thick but runny.)
  3. Divide the batter evenly between the molds, filling each about three-quarters full. Stack the bamboo steamers and cover with a lid. Steam for 15 minutes. Lift the lid, remove the steamers, and allow the cupcakes to cool for 5 minutes. Serve warm or at room temperature. Cupcakes can be stored in an airtight container (a resealable bag works great) at room temperature for up to 4 days.

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1 Review

Betty.Beanz February 20, 2022
This recipe was easy to do and the finished product was delicious! I bought your cookbook. Super happy that I did. Thank you.