“You get a birthday! And you get a birthday! You’re all getting birthdays!”
(I’ve clearly been watching way too much Oprah.)
“But, err, it’s not my birthday” I can hear all but one-in-every-365 of you saying. “I mean, I’ll take the presents and all, but…”
I should explain.
Way back when (or so the story goes) my Chinese ancestors had no way at all to determine when a child was born. Sure, they could say they were born in the cold month halfway through harvest, but what when the harvest ran late? And what if you had so many kids that you just couldn’t remember when they were born, much less have the money to celebrate them all?
So, being the clever, all inclusive people that the Chinese are, they came up with a solution.
And that solution is to celebrate everybody’s birthday on the seventh day of Chinese New Year. (My bad. I can’t count).
Which, you guessed it, happens to be today. So happy birthday you!
And, just so you know I love you, I made you this special Chinese New Year inspired cake! I mean, seriously, what better way to celebrate a birthday than with cake?
Ok, it’s not actually a traditional Chinese New Year cake, which makes me a little bit sad.
You see, just about every single year, my family will sit around our kitchen bench pouring batter into moulds to make love letters, boiling up vats of jam for pineapple tarts (and eating more than goes into the tarts) and covering the kitchen in a fine layer of tapioca starch to make what we affectionately call “the bang-bangs”.
We’d have burnt fingers, jam-coated teeth and powdery grey hair. At the end of the night, the jars would come out and the biscuits would go in, carefully separated by layers of waxed paper. Around and around the lid with stickytape to prevent premature softening, and then onto the coffee table where we would stare at them, glowing with satisfaction. (And then break into them and devour half a batch in a sitting).
This year, however, was a flurry of new-job-overseas-travel-crazy-weather-not-realising-it-was-oh-my-goodness-it’s-tomorrow!
So I threw this together instead with a few of my favourite Chinese New Year flavours.
Pineapple: the pronunciation in Chinese (huáng lí) sounds similar to the words for “the wealth has arrived”. It’s used as an ornament and also eaten at Chinese New Year to symbolise wealth and abundance.
Dates: a traditional garnish for and ingredient in the sticky cakes known as nian gao (年糕). These cakes are offered to the kitchen god during the New Years’ celebrations with hopes of sweet reports and good luck during the coming year.
Ginger: …ok so I threw ginger in because I like it. And because just about everything cooked during Chinese New Year has some thrown in. It’s used in huge amounts for post-natal foods due to its “strength giving” qualities, so maybe you & I can just pretend we’re going to be strong and healthy in the new year from it. Ok? Ok.
pineapple surprise cake
makes one 20cm diameter cake or four mini springform tins worth of cake
(The “surprise” comes from the warmth of the ginger and the subtly sweet pop you get from the dates as you eat the cake. Or from the pineapple ring embedded in the top when the cake is inverted. You choose.)
you will need:
3/4C brown sugar
1/2 tsp ground ginger
4 slices pineapple rings (Use the super thin ones)
1/2C chopped dried dates
1/4tsp bicarbonate soda
1C self raising flour
1/2C plain flour
2tsp ground ginger
1/4tsp mixed spice
1/4C brown sugar
how to do it:
1. Line the base of your pans with baking paper. Non-negotiable. Trust me. Put the pans on a baking sheet if you’re using springform pans, so you won’t have to clean a sticky oven later. Turn the oven up to 160C.
2. Toss the topping ingredients (except the pineapple) into a saucepan and cook, stirring, until all the sugar is dissolved and it is bubbling and liquid. Pour quickly into the prepared tins and top with pineapple.
3. Put all the cake ingredients into a bowl and mix like crazy until it is combined and forms a lush, smooth mixture (except the dates of course, they won’t be smooth).
4. Pour the cake batter on top of the sugar & pineapple (which should be in the bottom of the tins).
5. Bake for 30 minutes in a 160C oven (about 20 minutes for the smaller tins). Remove from the oven and cool for five minutes in the tin.
6. Carefully invert the tin onto a plate and peel off the waxed paper for a pineapple surprise bottom (now top) and a date-filled, gingery prosperous dessert! Happy New Year!