So you’ve all heard me go on and on about how delicious the birthday cakes are at Chinese bakeries. And you would be absolutely correct in assuming that I’ve gone crazy trying to look for a recipe because as a person who loves baking and making desserts, a Chinese birthday cake would have been at the top of my list of difficult things to accomplish. I figured, there must be somebody out there that knows the recipe and that would post it on the internet. I was very sadly wrong… almost.
Well, I started looking for such a recipe several years ago, with no luck. All I ever found were other people posting the same question on forums looking for this recipe, but nobody ever knew. Then I found a reply to one of these questions from a cake decorator, who said that Chinese bakeries use a pre-prepared proprietary cake mix from other vendors as well as a non-dairy ready-to-use whipped topping that cake decorators order from companies. No wonder nobody ever knew the recipe. Then, this weekend, my parents were trying to figure out what kind of cake to buy my brother for his birthday, and I volunteered to make a cake for him. I wasn’t sure what I’d make, but it sparked my interest to look again for a Chinese bakery type cake recipe. I’m happy to report that after a long search I finally found this elusive recipe… in the form of a Korean ssaeng cream cake recipe that had to be translated into English and converted from metric units lol. These seem to be the Korean version of the same kind of cake, except there is actually a recipe for it. I substituted my own recipe for a whipped cream topping and a custard filling, using the Korean recipe mostly for the cake layers itself. The results were amazing, everyone in my family thought the cake was just as good and even better than the ones from the bakeries, because it tasted so fresh and light and moist. So now I present the ever-so-elusive Chinese bakery-style birthday cake recipe, enjoy! :)
Chinese Bakery Style Birthday Cake (Korean Ssaeng Cream Cake) – serves 6-8
Cake recipe converted and adapted from Soompi forums
For the Cake:
[Since I get a lot of questions regarding these converted and difficult to measure amounts, I’ll say up front that I eyeballed these amounts to the best of my ability. I only provide the decimal measures so that you know what the proper amounts should be and can adjust and estimate accordingly. Please don’t worry about getting it EXACTLY right, I promise it doesn’t matter to that degree!!]
0.7 cups of all-purpose flour
0.8 cups of granulated sugar (split into 2 even portions)
6 large eggs, separated into yolks and whites
1.4 tbsp butter, melted
1.4 tbsp milk
1/2 tsp vanilla
2 baking pans (8 or 9″ in diameter)
1. Preheat oven to 340 degrees F. Grease the two baking pans on the bottoms and sides. Cut out wax paper or parchment paper to the size of the bottoms and lay on top of the grease. Apply more grease to the tops of the paper. Sprinkle some flour in the pan and shake to coat thinly and evenly on the greased areas.
2. Warm eggs to room temperature, and separate into 6 yolks and 6 egg whites. Be sure to separate carefully because any bit of yolk that gets into the egg whites will make whipping the whites much more difficult.
3. Mix first sugar portion (0.4 cups) with the egg yolks and beat until slightly thick and pale yellow.
4. Stir in vanilla to the yolk mixture.
5. In a separate bowl, beat egg whites until they are 60% foamy (a little more than halfway to forming stiff peaks). Add the remaining portion of sugar (0.4 cups) in three separate additions while continuing to whip egg whites. Continue until stiff peaks form when the beaters are pulled away from the foam (this is meringue).
6. Combine 1/2 of the meringue with the egg yolk mixture, fold in carefully to minimize volume loss. Gradually add flour and mix.
7. Add melted butter and milk to the batter.
8. Fold in the remaining half of the meringue carefully. Now it’s ready to bake!
9. Divide batter into the two greased pans. Bake for about 20-25 minutes at 340 degrees F until tops are a light brown. (Bake shorter in a dark, matte, or non-stick pan, and bake longer in a glass, aluminum, or other shiny pan). It’s important that you bake the two cake layers immediately after the batter is finished, as the meringue will tend to re-liquefy as it sits around, and you’ll get a weird thick layer at the bottom of your cake if you bake it like that.
10. Remove cakes from oven and leave in pan to cool to room temperature.
For the Custard Filling:
1/4 cup of granulated sugar
1/4 cup of all purpose flour
1/8 tsp salt
1 cup of milk
1 large egg
1 tsp vanilla
1. Mix the sugar, flour, and salt in a medium saucepan. Stir in 3/4 cup of milk and mix until smooth.
2. Bring mixture to a boil at medium heat, whisking constantly. Be careful not to scrape off any clumps that form on the sides and bottoms as it will leave clumps in your custard. If it is cooked onto the sides, you probably don’t want it anyway.
3. Cook another 2 minutes and remove from heat. At this point the mixture should have thickened up dramatically.
4. Mix together egg with remaining 1/4 cup of milk, then combine with the mixture in the saucepan, whisking vigorously to combine. Return to heat and cook until it just starts to boil. There will be a lot of lumps as you first incorporate the egg mixture, but just keep whisking as you heat it up and most of the lumps should disappear.
5. Remove from heat and stir in vanilla. Transfer to a bowl and cover with plastic wrap directly touching the surface of the custard to prevent any skin from forming on the custard. If you still have any remaining clumps in the custard now would be a good time to put some more elbow grease into the whisking and if you really can’t get rid of them just scoop them out :)
6. Chill at least 2 hours in the fridge or overnight if desired.
For the Whipped Cream Frosting (Stabilized Whipped Cream Topping):
2 tbsp cold water
1 tsp unflavored gelatin
2 cups (1 pint) of chilled heavy cream
1 tsp vanilla
2.5 tbsp of confectioner’s sugar
1. Soak gelatin powder in the cold water for 5 minutes to let it absorb the water.
2. Dissolve gelatin by placing it in a bowl over a small pot of simmering water and stirring until clear. Let cool but do not let it get cold.
3. Meanwhile, use an electric standing or hand-held mixer to beat heavy cream in a large well-chilled bowl. (I like to throw my beaters and bowl into the freezer for a few minutes before beating the cream to make sure everything is super cold. I also prepare a bath of ice and cold water to put my chilled bowl into while I’m beating the cream so that everything stays nice and cold. These steps are crucial to making good whipped cream.
– Beat cream on low speed until small bubbles form (about 30 seconds)
– Increase speed to medium and beat until beaters leave a trail in the cream (about 30 seconds)
– Increase speed to high, moving beaters around bowl. Beat until just before it becomes soft and billowy.
– Slowly add sugar and vanilla at the sides of the bowl while continuing to whip until it is barely stiff.
– Add the melted but cooled gelatin all at once while beating, until cream becomes thicker and drier.
4. Use immediately for frosting or refrigerate for later use.
Assembling the Cake:
1. Carefully remove cakes from pans, cutting around edges if necessary.
2. Using a long serrated knife, cut away the skin of the cakes (the brown parts on the surface). Be sure to make the surfaces as flat as possible.
3. Prepare fresh fruits to be placed between the cake layers. I used kiwi, strawberries, grapes, and honeydew melon. Use whatever you have on hand, just cut it up into small bite-sized pieces and make enough to cover the entire surface between the two cake layers. You can also prep fruit to put on top of the cake as decoration at the same time.
4. Make a simple syrup of 2 parts water to 1 part granulated sugar by stirring together in a saucepan and slowly warming it up just until all the sugar dissolves. Squeeze in the juice from half a lemon.
5. Brush each cake with a thin layer of simple syrup on all surfaces. This helps keep the cake moist and is very necessary when making a sponge cake which can be too dry without syrup. Don’t worry though, it doesn’t make the cake taste too sweet or anything.
6. Set up your cake plate or cake round with strips of wax paper to prevent frosting from getting on the plate. Lay the first cake layer down onto the plate.
7. Spread a generous layer of custard onto the top of the cake layer, but do not spread it all the way out to the edges. I left a 1 cm strip along the edges without custard, because when you add the second layer it will press the custard and fillings towards the outer edge.
8. Add prepared fruit pieces on top of the custard, covering the entire custard area. It will be a beautiful sight! Add remaining custard on top of the fruit, again not going all the way out to the edges.
9. Place second cake layer on top of fruit filling. Gently press layers together and wipe away any excess custard that escapes from the sides.
10. Frost the cake using the stabilized whipped cream topping and a wide blade or a frosting spatula. It’s a bit of an art form to frost a cake, so I suggest you do a little bit of research if you care about what the cake looks like. Otherwise you can go the rustic route and make it look very homemade. I’m just going to suggest some general tips:
– Start by spreading a thin layer on top and on the sides of the cake. This is called the crumb coat.
– Next, generously add a second layer of cream to the top of the cake and spread to the edges.
– Add cream to the sides of the cake, and smooth it with your blade as you turn around the cake.
– Smooth out the top of the cake by running your blade flat and making sweeps across the cake as you turn it.
11. Now you can be creative about how you want to decorate your cake. I have a little cake decorator gadget (basically a piping bag in a plastic gadget) so I used that to pipe out shells along the top and bottom edge of the cake rim. I then make florets and stars on the top and garnished with my prepared fruit.
12. For the finishing touch, you can make a nearly clear glaze that can be brushed on top of your fruit to give them a glass-like finish similar to the fruit on top of fruit tarts. To do so, simply heat 1/4 cup of preserves (any flavor, I used strawberry but apricot is pretty popular) with an equal amount of water. Stir until boiling. You may add more water or reduce by boiling off the water to alter the consistency of your glaze. Press the boiled preserved through a fine sieve to separate out the fruit and seeds, leaving you with a pretty, translucent glaze. While it is still warm, gently brush it over your fruit and let it dry to achieve that beautiful shiny finish. I only brushed a little bit of glaze on my fruit because I couldn’t find a small enough brush and I didn’t want to ruin my frosting by accident. Still, I could see a huge difference between my glazed and unglazed fruit.
13. Finally, put your cake into the fridge and chill for a few hours to let the frosting set. It is best served in the same day it was made.