Growing up, my mom and I would visit the same small Chinese mall every Friday night. The mall was a bit rundown and the there were more closed stores than ones open for business but that did not stop us from developing this weekly ritual because it had the best food court. Every stall specialized in a different type of Chinese cuisine (minus the one random bento box stall at one corner of the food court) and everything tasted more homemade than similar to fast food. My mom’s go-to was a stall that specialized in soy-marinated dishes but that was not what she ordered. She knew on the right hand side of the display case of marinated meats, they would have freshly pan-fried whole fish and because she was a regular, they would always give her two of them for the price of one. My order changed weekly but you could always count on my order being some sort of noodle dish. What made our Friday night food court tradition a real tradition was that we would always end our food court date by ordering a box of six mini crystal sago cakes filled with custard or red bean from a Taiwanese dessert stall. The translucent “cakes” were more of a mochi consistency than what you would normally associate with cake. You can see each individual sago pearl that makes up the cake and it’s chewy and sticky nature is what made me love them.
We ordered them so much that my mom and I decided to make some at home to satisfy the craving during the weeks we could not make it to the dessert stall. Crystal sago cakes are extremely simple, and I am not making that statement as someone who makes desserts all the time. I am making that statement as the 12 year old self that I was when I started making them. You only need few ingredients: sago pearls, sugar, oil, and a filling of choice. Sometimes I would omit the filling entirely and add a touch more sugar to the sago.
Today I’m sharing the recipe for a standard crystal sago cake but also a recipe for a sweet-and-salty salted egg yolk filling. Salted egg yolk custard is my absolutely favourite filling for any Chinese dessert. Cue the salted egg yolk steamed buns at dim sum, these salted egg yolk mochi balls, and these salted egg yolk cream puffs. I recommend that you freeze the filling so that it can be easily scooped into the sago pearl batter. This will create a centre of liquid salted egg yolk custard instead of having it seep everywhere throughout the cake, though the latter is just as tasty (I tried both ways). I also like to keep any extra filling to serve on the side because it is oh so good.
Crystal Sago Cake
- 1/2 cup uncooked sago pearls
- 2 teaspoons vegetable oil
- 4 tablespoons granulated sugar
Salted Egg Yolk Filling
- 4 cooked salted duck egg yolks
- 5 tablespoons icing sugar, (more or less depending on preference)
- 2 teaspoons heavy cream
- Measure half a cup of dried sago pearls and soak them in boiling water for one hour, stirring the pearls occasionally so that they do not clump together.
- While the pearls are soaking, make the salted egg yolk filling. If using whole salted duck eggs, separate the yolk from the egg white and place the yolks into a small bowl. Add powdered sugar and cream into the bowl and mix well so that the mixture is smooth. If any clumps remain, put the mixture into a blender and blend until smooth. Place mixture in the freezer so that it firms up and is easy to scoop into the sago cakes.
- After an hour, pearls should be somewhat translucent but still have a white centre. Pour the pearls through a fine-mesh strainer to drain the your water.
- Pour the pearls into a bowl and mix with half tablespoon of oil and four tablespoons of sugar.
- Using a spoon, spoon pearls into the cavity of a muffin cup/tin so that the cavity is 1/3 full. Spoon into 1-2 teaspoons of the salted egg yolk mixture. The filling is easier to work with the firmer it is. Cover the filling with more pearls until the cavity is 2/3 full. The sago cakes will not expand too much when steaming even if you over fill it.
- Over medium heat, steam the sago cakes for 15 minutes until the pearls are see through and no white centres in the pearls remain.
- Let sago cakes cook 15 minutes before removing from muffin tin. Serve warm or at room temperature. Feel free to serve any additional salted egg yolk filling on the side!