So I do confess that despite my grumbling about all the tedious visiting we have to do for Chinese New Year, I have a sneaking liking for the festival’s non-stop feasting because that takes away half the conversation I need to make. The other up side is that it gives me a fantastic excuse to cook and bake. Reunion dinner is usually held at my parents’ place and my mom has been kind enough to let me add my experiments into the food line-up.
It’s really funny how family gatherings have evolved over the years. Back in the day when my grandparents were still around, I remember braised pig trotters being part of the menu for reunion dinner at their place in Johor Bahru. This memory was carved in my memory, mainly because I had such a huge aversion to the fatty pieces of pork floating in greasy gravy. As a young child, the event we kids all looked forward to was the ice-cream truck tinkling its way around the neighborhood. This was no ordinary ice cream truck as the driver would also sell other snacks and toys from the back of his truck. When night fell, we would get progressively more excited as we were allowed to light the fireworks and sparklers we had bought from the “ice cream uncle”.
Fast forward 3 decades later our kids have now taken over the fun scene at our reunion dinners. But they do so, armed not with sparklers but with their mobile devices. Their games are more complex than ours but probably not as effective as ours in working up an appetite for sumptuous meal laid up for us. Chinese New Year Reunion Dinner is probably one of the most important occasions in the Chinese calendar, probably equivalent to the American Thanksgiving meal. To give an idea of the scale that this is celebrated, this year, in China, 330 million train tickets and 55 million plane tickets have been sold to get mainland Chinese back to their homes in the provinces. As an overseas Chinese whose grandparents left China many decades ago, I am spared from that kind of traveling but am no less bound by culture and obligation to turn up at all our family gatherings. According to tradition, Chinese must return to their ancestral homes before 12 midnight on the eve of the lunar new year. This year was the absolute first time I have not been on call for the past 10 years and I confess I was sorely tempted to break with tradition and fly somewhere for a short break. But I think it would have caused a mini scandal among my extended family members and in the end we settled on staying in Singapore and plodding through the festivities.
The silver lining of staying in Singapore for the CNY holidays is that I get to cook. I usually host Christmas dinner at my place, but CNY celebrations are purely the domain of the elders. Both my mother and one of my aunts usually anchor the cooking for reunion dinner, but I get to slide a couple of dishes in sideways. This year, as a nod to one of the icons of CNY, I decided to make poke cake from Mandarin oranges, as a nod to one of the staples of the season.
Mandarin oranges are exchanged when visiting homes during the season. I had never fully comprehended the sheer number of varieties of mandarin oranges there were until this year. My cousin F was kind enough to offer to help me to by a large box of mandarin oranges from the fruit wholesalers. But when she was trying to pin me down on which kind of oranges I wanted to buy, I was completely lost as I was unfamiliar with the varietals available. Anyway a quick and dirty search on Google turned up a Straits Times article on mandarin orange varieties and I finally settled on the Lukan oranges which are sweet and easy to peel. But then having bought a box of 36 I realized then that I would have to make a bunch of desserts as the kids don’t usually eat them.
Recently I had discovered poke cake as well, and Carolyn Ketchum’s coconut cream poke cake (All Day I Dream About Food) is probably one of the best low carb cake recipes that I have ever come across. She also had a recipe on slow cooker lemon poke cake and in the end I used a mish-mash of her 2 recipes to make my Mandarin orange poke cake. Needless to say, the result was sheer awesomeness. The orange jello soaked through the almond meal cake and made it really orangey and moist. I will swear allegiance forever to this woman because last week I had tried another low carb food blogger’s orange cake which was a dense and dry failure.
So here is the Mandarin orange cake recipe – it does take more steps than the usual cake but the end result is truly worth it.
Mandarin Orange Poke Cake
- 3 cups almond flour
- ¾ cup sugar substitute (I use Splenda)
- ¼ cup unflavored whey/soy protein powder
- 2 tsp baking powder
- ¼ tsp salt
- 4 large eggs, room temperature
- ½ cup milk
- ½ cup butter, melted
- Zest of one orange
- 2 tbsp orange juice
- 1 tsp orange extract
- 1/4 tsp liquid stevia extract
Sugar-Free Orange Jello:
- 1 1/4 cup fresh orange juice
- 1 tbsp gelatin
- 3 tbsp sugar substitute
- 1 1/2 cups of whipping cream
- 1/3 cup confectioner’s sugar substitute
- ½ tsp vanilla extract
- ¼ tsp orange extract
- Preheat the oven to 180 deg C.
- Line a 9 inch springform pan with parchment paper (both base and sides)
- In a large bowl, whisk together the almond flour, sweetener, protein powder, baking powder, and salt. Beat in eggs, milk, butter, orange zest, orange juice, orange extract and stevia extract until well combined.
- Spread batter in prepared baking pan and bake 30 to 35 minutes, or until set and a tester inserted in the center comes out clean.
- Remove from oven and let cool 15 minutes, then poke with a skewer at ½ inch intervals all over the cake. Use a thick enough skewer (like a satay stick) and twist the skewer while poking the cake to make good-sized holes.
- Combine ¼ cup orange juice and gelatin in a bowl and let it sit for about 5 minutes till thickened. Bring 1 cup of orange juice to the boil and add the sweetener and stir until the sweetener is fully dissolved. Add this hot mixture to the gelatin mix and stir till the gelatin is dissolved. Let the mixture cool until it starts to thicken.
- Pour all over the top of the cake, letting the jello sink into the holes of the cake. Cover the cake pan with cling wrap. Refrigerate for 2-3 hours or overnight.
- Using a thin spatula, separate the cake from the sides of the pan and remove the ring from the springform pan. Slide the spatula under the cake then carefully lift the cake out gently and place on a serving platter
- Beat whipping cream with sweetener and vanilla and orange extract until stiff peaks form. Spread all over top and sides of cake.
- Decorate with thin slices of mandarin orange peel and/or toasted coconut. Keep refrigerated until ready to serve.