Many chinese cakes are steamed rather than baked. Another characteristic of many chinese cakes is that the cupcake and muffins will have a split open top. You will often see this in cakes served at dim sum or in chinese bakeries. I love the split open top look. It makes the cake look so soft and fluffy as if it is bursting open. The bursting open also shows the tender crumb of the inside of the cake which isn’t apparent in a cake that hasn’t opened.
Recently I stumbled on a series of pumpkin desserts made by “Table for 2 … or more.” I will definitely be revisiting these desserts come next October. However, I couldn’t resist trying a few of them out now.

One entry was for some beautiful pumpkin muffins and I thought that I could try making them but with purple sweet potatoes as I have been on a mission to make as many different kinds of desserts as possible with purple sweet potatoes now that I have finally discovered how to get them to retain their purple color rather than turning gray or green. You can read about my discovery here.

I love the color purple and being able to create purple desserts without food coloring has been so exciting. I modded the recipe slightly since I was using purple sweet potatoes. The cakes came out beautifully. They split open quite nicely and were a pretty pinkish purple.

The texture of the cake is definitely more muffin than cupcake. It is a little bit dense as the result of using a small amount rice flour. I think I may attempt this again without any rice flour. I recently looked back at the original recipe which Table for 2 or more adapted from and it does not use rice flour so I think I might be able to get a fluffier texture without the rice flour.

Purple Sweet Potato Muffins
(adapted from Table for 2…or more)
125gm steamed purple sweet potato
1 egg
120gm sugar
120gm milk
30gm vegetable oil
180gm cake flour
20gm rice flour
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1. Put steamed purple sweet potato flesh, egg, sugar, milk and oil in blender or food processor and process so that the mixture becomes a smooth paste.
2. Sift cake flour, rice flour and baking powder into a mixing bowl.
3. Pour in the wet ingredients and stir until combined.
4. Prepare large pot of boiling water and place steamer on top. You can also use a rice cooker steamer.
5. Spoon batter into cupcake liners. Place the cupcake liners in a firm mold such as ramekins so that the cupcakes hold their form while cooking. Fill cupcake liners about 3/4 full and steam on high heat for 15 minutes.

Opera Cafe & Patisserie is a small french cafe in Mira Mesa that caters mainly to the workers of the local surrounding big businesses. It is only open until 2:30 Mon-Fri and open on Sat until 2. Because of its short hours, I don’t get to visit it often. You can read about my first visit here.

This weekend I was able to make a quick trip. My favorite thing to get here are the desserts, especially the macarons. Priced at $11.95 for a box of 12, Opera Patisserie sells the cheapest macarons I’ve come across. They may not be the best macarons I’ve had, but they are pretty good and satisfy my macaron craving quite nicely.

BF and I decided to have a quick brunch there while picking up my desserts.

I chose a seafood quiche. It was accompanied with a salad.

BF ordered the eggs benedict, which was served with a small bowl of fruit and potatoes.

This is the second time we’ve dined on the breakfast/lunch menu at Opera Patisserie and we haven’t been impressed with the main entrees on either occasion. I think next time we will just stick to desserts, and there truffle fries.

We ordered the truffle fries last time and loved it so we had to order them again. For only around $4, you get a large serving of perfectly crispy thin cut fries, topped with Parmesan cheese and white truffle oil. Truffle oil is like crack for the BF. Usually he shows great restraint and waits for me to photo the food before digging in. But on both occasions where we’ve tried the fries, he digs in immediately and finishes off about a dozen before my camera is ready. His reasoning is that thee are so many that it won’t be noticeable in the photo.

We also ordered a croissant because I’ve had a serious croissant craving lately.

For dessert we got the hazelnut pyramid. A chocolate mousse set atop a crunchy hazelnut bottom. This was quite enjoyable.

Of course we also took back a box of the macarons. I didn’t waste much time photoing these, as I was too impatient and wanted to eat them. Here are some better photos from a previous trip. One thing I have noticed is that these macarons don’t keep well. In general, macarons shells will begin to get hard and brittle within a few days and it’s usually best to freeze uneaten ones. But these macarons get hard faster than ones I’ve made or bought elsewhere. Basically you really need to eat these the day of. Which is not a problem for me of course.

Opera Cafe & Patisserie
9254 Scranton Rd
San Diego, CA 92121
(858) 458-9050
Opera Patisserie on Urbanspoon

Fa Gao, often referred to as Prosperity Cake, Lucky Cake or Fortune Cake, is often made and eaten during Chinese New Year to bring prosperity in the new year.

The cake is steamed and when properly made, the top should split open into a “smile,” though it’s not a real smile since it is supposed to split into four sections. Gao means cake in chinese. Fa means leavened, so the name describes the cake. However, fa also means prosperity, hence the name prosperity cake and the reason why it is eaten during Chinese New Year to bring luck.

Despite the fact that fa gao looks spongy and soft, it’s actually quite dense and has an almost gummy-like texture. The cake is made mainly of rice flour which accounts for the texture. I’ve seen two different ways of making fa gao. The more traditional method takes a lot more prep work and uses yeast and as a result, I’ve never attempted to make them.

This year, I found another recipe that does not require all the prep work. Since this recipe was so easy, I thought I’d try it out. After all, I could use a little luck.

The ones I’ve seen before have always been brown, but when I was searching through recipes, I saw people make them in several different colors. I really liked the pink ones, so I added a few drops of food coloring to make some pink ones. I picked up these petal-like cupcake holders a while back and have been trying to find an occasion to use them. With the split up tops, the cakes look like roses and I think the petal cupcake holders work perfectly with that image, especially when you view them from the side.

I also made a couple of purple ones, but I didn’t like the end color. They were really pale. I used blue and red food coloring to try to achieve the purple and I obviously didn’t have the ratios down right.

My first batch didn’t split up and rise as much as I would have liked. On my second batch, they came out perfectly. My third batch, the pot I was steaming with ran out of water while I had BF watching the pot and the pot burned along with the cakes…I hope that’s not a bad omen.

While these cakes come out quite pretty I didn’t particularly like the taste. After eating one I remember now why I don’t normally get these cakes. I don’t really like the dense texture created by the rice flour. I don’t think it is a result of the recipe, it is just the nature of these cakes.

Steamed Prosperity Cakes (recipe found on Kokken69 with my  notes)


180g Sugar
180ml water
200g cake flour
50g rice flour
2 tsp baking powder
red food colouring


1. Boil sugar in water on the stove in a small pot, stirring until dissolved. Set aside to cool.
2. Sift cake flour, rice flour and baking powder together in a large glass bowl. Add in the sugar syrup and stir with whisk until combined and no lumps remain.
3. Add three drops of red food coloring and stir until thoroughly mixed. The batter will be thick. You should work with it right away as it becomes even thicker and stickier the longer it sits out.
4. Put batter into paper cups until almost full. Place cups in sturdy molds so that they hold shape when steamed. I put mine in ramekins. Steam over high heat for 20mins. Do not remove lid before they are finished.