I have been wanting to write this carrot cake recipe ever since Chef William Soh wowed everyone with his carrot cake during our Ultimate Hawker Fest last year. As with many of my other recipes which I have blogged about, there is always the question of “Why Bother?” since you can just go to the hawker centre and have a nice plate of carrot cake for $2?
Well, there are several reasons I am writing about carrot cake. Firstly, I want to encourage young hawkers to come up with a better carrot cake than what we are having right now. I hear of the legendary Lau Goh, who started the white carrot cake revolution in years gone by and I ask myself, “Why not?”. I see the last remaining hawker at Bukit Merah View Carrot Cake still milling rice to make their own carrot cake and I ask myself “Why not?”. And every time I eat carrot cake, I always mull over the fact that I can’t even taste the carrot (radish actually) and I ask “Why not?”
My dream is to see someone starting a little shop that has a space in front where rice is milled to make carrot cake that is chock full of white radishes. Then another part of the restaurant where it is expertly fried over a smoking cast iron pan to perfection. Think of the Soba restaurants in Japan and ask yourself, “Why not?”
I don’t know if I will ever see that happening, but until that day dawns, here is my small contribution to get the stone mill rolling. Hopefully, a smart entrepreneur might just pick up on the idea and give the world a carrot cake to behold. A carrot cake that is sublime as the best Soba noodles in Japan. “Why not?”
Before we get started, let me just add this disclaimer. What I have done here is certainly NOT the ultimate carrot cake. I would give myself only a 4.25 at best, but it is certainly better than a lot of carrot cake that I have eaten elsewhere. One thing though, this is a carrot cake which you will be able to taste the radish. So I am hoping that this recipe will get you started on making your own carrot cake which is a hawker dish that one can easily make at home.
Ingredients: (Courtesy of Chef William Soh)
Rice Flour 250g
Tapioca flour 10g
Wheat flour 10g
MSG 10g (optional)
Water 1.25L (900ml for radish, 350ml for flour)
Chye Poh (菜脯) – 1 packet
Garlic – 2 cloves
Pork Lard 250g (optional)
Notes on ingredients:
1. Radish: Since I was making my own carrot cake, I went for the best and got myself a Japanese Daikon. It is of course more expensive than the local ones which you can buy from the local markets. But at $5.60 per daikon which weighs around 1 kg, you can make quite a lot of carrot cake, so it is still quite affordable. If you are buying the ones at the market, go for the ones from Cameron highlands instead of the ones from China. According to the Carrot Cake Uncle at Fu Ming, they are better for making carrot cake.
2. Chye Poh:(Preserved turnips) There are two types of Chye Poh in the market, a sweet or a salty version. Most carrot cake places use the salty version. However, I actually like a bit of sweetness in my carrot cake so I mix both. The taste is really up to your preference.
3. Rice flour: If I had it my way, I would grind my own rice flour with a stone mill using Thai Jasmine rice. But I don’t have a stone mill (yet), so the best alternative is to buy the ready milled rice flour from the shops. Make sure it is the wet milled type and not the dry milled type which is used to make batter for deep frying.
1. Cut the radish into strips which are about twice the size of matchsticks. Cutting the radish is better than shredding it because when you shred it, the juices tend to leech out of the radish. Cutting it also means it is a little thicker and so it gives it a better bite.
2. Mix the rice flour, tapioca flour, wheat flour with 350ml water into a thick slurry.
3. Heat up the water in a separate pot and add salt, sugar and msg (optional). In the photo, you will notice that I added some dried cuttlefish to the water. I did this in place of msg to give the stock a bit of umami flavour. You can use other alternatives to msg such as konbu, ikan bilis, dried scallops etc. You can of course use a bit of chicken stock powder but just take note that it is as good as adding msg. So if you are doing it as a shortcut to making your own chicken stock then it is ok, but if you are trying to avoid msg, then it is not ok.
4. Once your stock is ready, add the radishes into the boiling water and cook until the radish turns translucent. (5-10mins)
5. Next add the flour mixture to the radish and stir until it has thickened evenly.
6. Oil the pans and then add the thicken mixture.
7. Steam for 2 hours and leave overnight in the fridge to set.
Now we can prepare the condiments
Pork Lard (optional)
1. Render the pork lard by cutting the fat into cubes and letting it render over a slow fire (takes around 30 mins). You can add some pandan leaves for flavouring.
1. Finely chop two cloves of garlic and add them to the Chye Poh. Add some pork lard or vegetable oil and cook until the chye poh turns brown. You may add some sugar if you prefer your chye poh to be sweeter.
Instructions on frying
If I had my way, I would have a nice flat cast iron pan to fry the carrot cake over a charcoal fire. But since this recipe is for home use, I have taken Chef William’s advise to use a non stick pan. It actually works pretty well and is more practical for most people.
1. Cut the carrot cake into 2 cm cubes.
2. Add oil to the pan and when it is hot, add the cubes of carrot cake. Press the carrot cake down gently onto the pan so that it breaks. This creates an irregular surface which enables the chye poh and fish sauce to stick to. This is much better then chopping the carrot cake with a knife into smaller cubes as you get only smooth surface on your carrot cake that way. That is why its better to start with larger cubes and break it into irregular shaped smaller chunks. The aim is to have some large pieces where you can taste the rice and radish and some smaller pieces that get charred and coated with chye poh and fish sauce.
3. Add fish sauce and continue to fry
4. Add Chye Poh mixture and continue to fry till it develops and nice crust.
5. Add eggs and fry till brown. Serve with chopped spring onions and a dash of white pepper
No egg version
1. With the black version, add the dark sauce towards the end of the frying process. Fry till you develop some crust on the carrot cake and then reduce the heat and add the sweet black sauce. Toss until evenly coasted. Then turn off the fire and add some more sweet sauce, stir fry till even and then serve. (Note: Sweet black sauce turns bitter if subjected to too much heat)
Hope you all enjoy the recipe and do let us know how your carrot cake went!
Many thanks to Chef William Soh for sharing his family recipe! Chef William grew up helping his father at their carrot cake stall. He recalls spending his time as a kid, fanning the flames of the wood fire which is used to steam their carrot cake!