Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Sweet Potato Huat Kueh (Sweet Potato Fa Gao 番薯发糕) - Huat Ah!

I have been pretty busy lately with my studies, that explains why I have not been posting so diligently as before. I can only blog either mid-week or during the weekend. But this afternoon, I felt so over the moon after my first successful attempt at making my Sweet Potato Fa Gao (Sweet Potato Huat Kueh 番薯发糕) that I absolutely must blog about it.

Chinese New Year is not here yet, but I am already making Fa Gao? Well, yes, bcos I just bought a 3-tier steamer or kwali from Antwerp Chinatown on Monday, and the first thing that sprung to my mind was making Fa Gao (also known as Huat Kueh, Huat Kuih or Fatt Koh, loosely translated to Steamed Prosperity Cake). This chinese steamed cake is a must for Hokkiens especially during Chinese New Year. The word “发” in Chinese or "huat" in Hokkien means prosperity. If the Fa Gao or Huat Kueh or Prosperity Cake splits on top and breaks into a smile, it means prosperity and good luck will come your way, hence it is a tradition for many chinese families especially those in Singapore and Malaysia to make this cake as offerings to the gods or for their own consumption during Chinese New Year. I remember my mum used to buy Fa Gao/Huat Kueh from the market to serve as offerings to the kitchen god.

But alas, today wasn't really my day for making any cakes or breads. I made 2 boo-boos while steaming Fa Gao. While the instructions clearly stated that I should first mix the wet ingredients together with the sugar in a mixer before folding in the dry ingredients by hand, I seemed to be in a trance of my own and I just dumped everything in a bowl and mixed everything together. Before I realised what was happening, it was already too late. The mashed sweet potato, egg, coconut milk, water and brown sugar were already mingled with the flour and baking powder. I had to manually incorporate and fold in everything using a spatula, and take care that I don't overmix although it is a prerequisite that the wet ingredients have to be well-mixed before folding in the dry ingredients.

Then, I quickly greased the coffee cups and carefully poured the batter into each. Before I placed them into the steamer, I saw something from the corner of my eyes. A bowl of dough sitting on the heater by the kitchen window. Oh shit! $%#@*&! I forgot to incorporate the dough starter in my Fa Gao. Arrrrgggghhhhh!!! It was really plain stupidity! I had to quickly pour out the batter from the cups back into the mixing bowl, mix in the dough starter, and pour the batter back into the cups again. By then, my steamer was already "boom boom boom", steaming with anger (like me). 

Before I put the cups in the steamer, I quickly said my prayers. 阿弥陀佛。Amen. God bless my huat kuehs. Ok, there you go, "huat ah"! 发发发! Please don't disappoint me again. My brother's eyelids must have been twitching for the past one hour, bcos I kept mentioning his name. Huat ah! :P

After 25 minutes, I opened the steamer and all the sweet potato huat kuehs were "smiling" at me. Out of 5, only 1 didn't manage to split on top and smile, the rest were all smiling gleefully. At least that was what I thought. You can see for yourself here. :P

I am so happy! Ik ben zo blij! I succeeded at my first attempt even though I made 2 horrible mistakes which nearly turned this into a disaster. I really have to thank my cousin HC again for her fail-proof recipe, considering that I nearly messed up the whole thing and yet the sweet potato huat kuehs turned out surprisingly well. Maybe my prayers were heard by whoever was up there? :)

The one at the top left hand corner did not FA or HUAT.
Only this naughty fella didn't split and "smile" at me, the rest all did :)

Here is the recipe, courtesy of my cousin. I think she got it from one of Alex Goh's books.

Recipe for Sweet Potato Huat Kueh/Fa Gao/Fatt Koh (番薯发糕)

Dough Starter
50g sifted plain flour
50g water
1 tsp dry yeast

200g sifted plain flour
2 tsp double action baking powder
200g sweet potatoes, peeled, cut, steamed and mashed with fork
120ml coconut milk
40ml water
120g brown sugar (reduced from 140g) 
1 egg

1. Dough Starter : Mix all starter ingredients in a bowl and set aside to proof for 30 min.

2. Batter
a) Sift the dry ingredients (plain flour and double action baking powder) in a bowl. 
b) Put mashed sweet potatoes, coconut milk, water, brown sugar, and eggs in mixer and mix well. 
c) Remove from mixer, fold in the dry ingredients and dough starter using a spatula until well-blended. Do not over-mix else the huat kueh will become dense.

3. Line the aluminium cups with paper liners and pour batter into cups til 90% full and set aside for 15 min to proof. (I used porcelain teacups and I omitted the paper liners as they were not big enough. I greased my teacups and filled them till 80% full, around 4 tbsp batter per cup, and made 5 teacups of batter with this recipe. My teacup has a 8cm diameter on top, 4cm diameter at the bottom and a 7cm height. It is recommended to use a tall and wide teacup to increase the chances of splitting on top. If you really want the Fa Gao to split and smile without relying on luck, you can use a greased knife to make the sign of a cross on top of the batter. I didn't do that but you can try!)

4. Meanwhile, prepare a steamer and let the water come to boil over high heat. When the steamer is ready, put the cups into the steamer and steam over high heat for 15 min. (Note that the steamer must be really hot in order for the huat kueh to split and smile on top. If you use bigger cups like me, you have to steam longer, for eg. 25-30 min instead of 15 min. Do not peep before the time is up and do not put any cup right in the centre of the steamer where the steaming hole is the biggest. That is also the place where usually water will drip down when you open the steamer.)

This post has been submitted to YeastSpotting.


  1. Great! I am waiting 'til chinese new year to try this out :)
    Love them and they look so pretty!

  2. Thank you Hilmar. I just posted the recipe for you to try :)

  3. I am so happy to stumble onto your site through Wild Yeast. I lived near The Hague for 7 years and visited Singapore as well when my husband traveled for business, so you are a combination of 2 favorite places. I am now happy and baking at home in Ohio, but i do miss the travel. I look forward to your offerings.

  4. Hi Patricia, thank you so much for your compliments. Rest assured that I will be baking and cooking more to satisfy my own cravings for Singapore food. :)

  5. I've a similar recipe too but I don't have much luck in getting a HUAT fa gao. Have you seen my fa gaos? All bald headed :-(

  6. Hi Blessed Homemaker,
    I have seen ur fa gaos, the orange ones baked in rattan baskets rose pretty well :) Your fa gaos were pretty big, so maybe that was the reason it didnt rise?

  7. I've made these again in muffin sizes but again, no huat leh :-(


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