This year, Chinese New Year (Lunar New Year) is on Feb 3rd. So this past weekend my family had a huge party. There was lots of mahjong and TONS of delicious food. The night before the party my dad and I got into some arts and crafts.
I wanted to make a cake stencil for my Chinese Cake that I was planning on making.
My dad is pretty great at calligraphy. Everyone always compliments him on the beauty of his characters with shock. “Your dad WROTE this?!?” For people who don’t read Chinese, this might be difficult to understand and to see, but it all goes back to the fact that written Chinese is a pictoral language, each character is a picture, representing a word. So really, when you’re writing Chinese, you’re actually drawing different pictures over and over and over.
I asked my dad to draw the standard Chinese New Year wish: Gung Hei Fat Choy. Which translates to, Congratulations and may you be prosperous. These auspicious sayings are the norm around Chinese New Year. This is what kids say to adults to pay them respects. So why not put it on a cake? Exactly. Say the words and eat them too.
I was thinking after my dad wrote on the cardstock, I could cut them out. The picture collage above is a little inaccurate because I ended up being unable to cut directly into the cardstock. I also didn’t take any pictures while I was cutting out the stencil but you can see the final stencil above. My dad wasn’t liking how the calligraphy was coming out with the brush on the cardstock so he switched over to the more traditional rice paper and was able to get ones that passed his standards. When those were finished, I cut out the rice paper characters, taped them to the cardstock and then cut them both out with an X-acto. You can see the finished stencil above, with some chocolate dust on it from where I tested it out. And you can see the slice of bread that I used to test the stencil/chocolate powder combination.
I got this idea from Pepperknits. She posted some great cake stencils (for free!). I used one for a cake I made for our department’s holiday party. I used the snowflake one. It came out really pretty. This inspired me to get the idea in my head to make a Chinese character stencil. It was a little work intensive, but those who know me personally know that the more patience and work that it takes the do something, the more I love it. Unfortunately, I couldn’t save the stencil even though I the characters out of cardstock. It got a little ruined by chocolate powder and whipped cream, so it didn’t quite make it, but here’s the cake:
I wanted to make a Chinese Cake. What is a Chinese Cake, you ask? Is it a yellow cake? Is it a cake that gets a perfect score on the math section of the SATs? Is it a cake that drives badly? No, it is a cake that is light and not too sweet. Just a little sweet. It is the kind of cake that you get if you walk into a Chinese bakery in Queens, Manhattan, Toronto or Hong Kong. Light fluffy cake with chestnut filling.
The cake itself is a sponge cake. I would share the recipe for it, but I thought the sponge cake came out TERRIBLE so I am going to look for a new recipe that tastes better before sharing it. I mean, it tasted fine, but it was a little dry and a little too hard to be a good sponge cake. I should have known since the blog that I got the recipe from talked about how she forgot to add flour to the cake. How…do you forget flour? Despite the mediocre cake, the fruit/chestnut filling and whipped cream frosting came out great. I chopped tiny cubes of strawberries, kiwis and mango, layered that against the bottom cake, then put a layer of chestnut paste, then another layer of fruit (all with whipped cream) then the second cake. All covered with whipped cream. Then I used two kiwis and some strawberries to decorate the sides. And finally, I did the stencil. I think my mom was the most excited about that. I think she was actually holding her breath. The most annoying part was the tiny pieces in the Chinese characters, but I used a tweezer for those, as Minty suggested on her blog.
I used the characters that I cut out to glue them onto a piece of paper. Then my dad asked if I had gold glitter to put on them. OF COURSE I DO.
My dad and I also had fun making other stencils. Here is the Chinese character for good fortune:
Those were done directly onto plates with paprika in two different styles. I think the one on the left is absolutely gorgeous. when people saw that they couldn’t believe my dad actually drew that.
And of course, here’s our dinner:
Happy Lunar New Year everyone! I hope the Year of the Rabbit treats you well.
***It should be noted that the FAT in the “Gung hei fat choy” up there is actually the really old traditional way of writing it (aka, Taiwan, Hong Kong, etc). You can also write it as only the character on the right, without the left hand radical.