I don’t usually bake Chinese New Year (CNY) cakes in the past. I don’t have to. Since young, during CNY, my grandma and dad were the bakers. Grandma would make her signature 鸡蛋糕 which is a steamed egg cake. She would use 7-up as the secret ingredient that according to her, the fizz from the soda could make the cake rise very high and split open like a flower. She would then adorn it with a red dot in the middle using artificial red colouring. And my dad would bake his signature Hainanese butter cake using Golden Churn salted butter, which was supposedly best for baking traditional butter cakes. So all I had to do during CNY was to eat.
Both of them are long gone now. We don’t have 鸡蛋糕 anymore and I can’t replicate it. The recipe was stored in grandma’s memory. But I still bake dad’s butter cake which he had taught me when I was 13. This spice prune cake is a variation of the butter cake. The idea came from Prune Kueh Lapis Spekkoek, which is a popular Indonesian layered cake during CNY. Key ingredients for the layered cake are spekkoek powder and liquor, usually either rum or brandy, that laced the cake. The prune is an added topping which usually cost a little more than the original Kueh Lapis Spekkoek. Since kueh lapis is extremely rich and heavy, I would normally eat a very thin and tiny slice or avoid it altogether due to cholesterol issue.
This spice butter cake that I am sharing is fairly easy and it takes on the flavour of the kueh lapis in a less heavy form. If you can’t find any spekkoek powder in your location, you can just use mixed spice or even just cinnamon. I used dark rum for this cake, feel free to use other liquors. I think brandy will be great too. I glazed the cake using the remaining rum from the macerated prunes. You can ignore the glaze but you’ll be missing out. I baked them in mini loaf pans, you can always bake them in regular loaf pan or even square or round pan. Just adjust the baking time according to the pan size.
Serve the cake in slices on a nice wooden serving board with good Chinese tea. Your guests should be very much delighted.
SPICED PRUNE CAKE
Makes three mini 5×3″ loaf pans or one regular 9×5″ loaf pan.
12 seedless dried prunes, slice into half
1/3 cup dark rum or brandy
250g unsalted butter
180g caster sugar
4 large eggs
250g all-purpose flour
3 tsp baking powder
3 tsp spekkoek powder or mixed spice powder
120ml whole milk
1 tbsp rum from the macerated prunes
3/4 tsp fine sea salt
1 tsp vanilla bean paste or pure extract
• Soak prunes in liquor for 30 minutes.
• Preheat oven to 170C.
• Butter and line the bottom of the baking pans with parchment paper.
• Add butter and sugar in the mixing bowl.
• Sift flour, baking powder and salt in another bowl.
• Break eggs into a jar or cup (preferably with a pout) and lightly beat them with a fork.
• Measure the milk in a cup.
The Mixing Part.
Beat the butter and sugar on medium high speed using a paddle attachment for about 4 minutes or until pale and fluffy.
Turn mixer to low speed. Slowly drizzle the eggs into the mixer until homogeneous. At this point, your batter might curdle, or not. It really depends on your room temperature. If it curdles, just add in a tablespoon of flour as you go.
Once all eggs went in, mix in the vanilla paste or extract, whichever you are using. Then mix in the flour mixture all at once and paddle on low speed for 15 seconds. Stop mixing and scrape the sides of the bowl with a spatula, ensuring that you scrape off all the flour that stuck on the sides into the batter.
Now add in the milk. Turn on mixer again on low speed and mix for another 30 seconds. Remove the bowl from the mixer. Add in a tablespoon of the liquor from the macerating prunes and use a spatula to fold the batter for a few strokes until just mixed.
Pour one-third of the batter into prepared pans, topped with prunes. Repeat for two more layers, the batter should come up to about 3/4 full. The amount of prunes each layer will depends on your pan size. I placed two halves of the prunes on each layer for mini loaf pan.
For mini loaf pans: 30-35 minutes
For regular sized pans: 45-50 minutes
While your cake is baking, start making the glaze.
1/3 cup brown sugar
3 tbsp butter
3 tbsp heavy cream
Remaining rum from the macerated prunes
Place brown sugar, butter and cream in a saucepan and bring to a boil for 3-4 minutes or until thicken. Remove from heat and add in the rum or brandy and stir well. Take care as the mixture may sizzle. Leave aside.
When the cake is done, remove from oven and let it cool in pan for 10 minutes before removing it to a wire rack placed over a baking tray. Using a brush, apply half the glaze all over the cake. Leave the cake to cook completely. Finally, drizzle the remaining glaze and allow it to drip down the sides. Ready to serve.