Baak Tong Gou, a Top 9 Allergen Free Chinese Dessert

close up of baak tong gou (white sugar cake) to show the honeycomb interior
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Baak Tong Gou, in Cantonese, or Bai Tong Gao, in Mandarin, is a beloved dessert that is popular at Chinese bakeries or dim sum restaurants. This steamed and lightly sweetened rice cake with a honeycomb-like interior is naturally nut-free, as well as free of the top 9 allergens.

I referred to Woks of Life’s White Sugar Sponge Cake recipe and adapted it by reducing the sugar for family members who need to watch their sugar intake. You can use the full amount of 1/2 cup of sugar if you prefer. I also swapped the amount of hot vs. room temperature liquids so that resulting batter is not too hot for the yeast.

Disclaimer: Please check that all ingredients are suitable for your allergies and be sure to ask your medical care team regarding any allergy related questions (I do not share medical advice). As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.

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Look at that amazing honeycomb structure of the rice cake!!

What is Baak Tong Gou?

Baak tong gou, which sounds like “Bach-tong-go” and literally means white sugar cake, is a Cantonese style steamed rice cake dessert. Our family used to order them at dim sum restaurants and Chinese bakeries. However, I see it less frequently so it’s a special treat to make and enjoy freshly made at home.

If you see a white diamond or rectangular shaped cake that has a sponge-like or honeycomb appearance sitting, it’s most likely baak tong gou. This steamed dessert tastes lightly sweetened and has a slightly sour taste due to the fermentation and is usually served at room temperature.

We can make this dessert from four ingredients, rice, water, sugar, and yeast! The ingredients are so simple and the recipe is free of top allergens. However bakeries usually display baak tong gou side by side with other desserts which increases the chance of cross-contact of allergens. This is a great dessert to make at home and share since it’s free of top allergens.

Preparation Tips

It takes about 15 minutes to prep this dessert, then you wait 3 hours for it to ferment, and then 20 minutes for it to steam. Even the total time is less than 4 hours, it’s a quick and easy recipe with very little hands-on time.

Easy Hack to Activate the Yeast

Because it’s November, everything is cold, my bowls, my counter, the water, everything. I decided to see if I could combine a small amount of water, yeast, and sugar in a bowl and warm it up over a mug of hot water. The bottom of the bowl does not touch the hot water but is warmed just by the steam. I was happy to see that the activated yeast looked perfectly foamy, so my hack worked! I love this method so much, I will use it for other recipes that call for activating yeast.

Make a Rice Batter with the Right Kind of Flour

Next you will need to make a rice batter with some room temperature water in a medium sized bowl. Be sure that the size and shape of the bowl will fit in your microwave with a cup of hot water.

It’s important to use the correct kind of rice flour 米粉. Usually it is sold in a plastic bag with red lettering at Chinese supermarkets. Use the kind of rice flour that is used to make turnip cake or cheung fun. I buy the Flying Horse brand, which is 99 Ranch’s store brand, that is made in a rice only factory. The other top brand is Erawan (affiliate) that looks almost identical (possibly the brand name version?).

Do not use “sweet rice flour” or “glutinous rice flour” 糯米粉. That type of rice flour is used for making Better for you Butter Mochi or Chinese New Year Cake. Usually, they’re displayed right next to the rice flour but in a plastic bag with green lettering (affilate).

Make some sugar water

Then you will make some hot sugar water. Combine some water and sugar in a small sauce pan over medium heat until the sugar dissolves. You don’t need to bring the liquid to boil, othewise too much liquid will evaporate. If the sugar water is too hot, you will have to wait until the combined batter cools down a bit or risk killing the yeast.

Combine the yeast, rice batter, and sugar water

Add the hot sugar water to the rice batter and stir to combine. Check that the batter is just warm to the touch, approximately 95-100°F, with a kitchen thermometer. Otherwise, use a teaspoon and drop a little bit on the inside of your wrist (like checking a baby’s bottle). If the temperature seems fine, add the foamy yeast and stir to combine.

Cover the bowl with a plate or plastic wrap. I add some more water to the cup that kept the yeast warm and microwave it for a minute. Then add the bowl of rice batter into the microwave and close the door. Allow the rice batter to ferment for 3 hours. Near the end of the fermentation time, set up a steamer that can hold a 8-9 inch pie plate. I have some steaming tips for you if you have questions.

Top left: I’m activating the yeast in a small bowl over a mug of steamy hot water. Top right: after I make the batter, I place it into my microwave with a cup of hot water so that it can ferment. If you don’t have a microwave, find an alternate place that is warm and not drafty. Bottom left: the bubbly rice batter after fermenting for 3 hours. Bottom right: cut the steamed baak tong guo into diagonal pieces (I forgot to plan on cutting into 8 pieces!).

Allergy Aware Baak Tong Gou

This recipe is free of peanuts, tree nuts, eggs, milk, soy, fish, shellfish, wheat, and sesame as written. I love being able to share a top 8 + sesame free dessert! Happy dance and yummy treats for everybody!!

The Flying Horse brand is manufactured in a rice only facility. I checked for online places to order Asian groceries in case you don’t live near an Asian supermarket when I wrote my cookbook (affiliate) and listed some resources in the back, including 99 Ranch and SayWee.

I found a few other baak tong gou recipes but felt that Woks of Life’s recipe was the best among the ones I read. If you don’t know them, they’re a Chinese-American family that blogs together and I’m looking forward to their highly anticipated cookbook (affiliate). They share authentic Chinese recipes which might need some adaptation and substitutions for food allergies.

close up of baak tong gou (white sugar cake) to show the honeycomb interior
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Baak Tong Gou, a Top 9 Allergen Free Chinese Dessert

Baak Tong Gou, in Cantonese, or Bai Tong Gao, in Mandarin, is a beloved dessert that is popular at Chinese bakeries or dim sum restaurants. This steamed and lightly sweetened rice cake with a honeycomb-like interior is naturally nut-free, as well as free of the top 9 allergens. This recipe is adapted from Woks of Life's White Sugar Cake recipe (https://thewoksoflife.com/bai-tang-gao-white-sugar-sponge-cake/).

Course Dessert, dimsum, Snack
Cuisine Chinese
Keyword baak tong guo
Prep Time 3 hours 15 minutes
Cook Time 20 minutes
Total Time 3 hours 35 minutes
Servings 8
Calories 120 kcal
Author Sharon Wong

Ingredients

  • 1 1/4 cup water divided, plus more for a warm water bath and steaming
  • 3/4 teaspoon yeast 3 g
  • 1/4 cup and 1 teaspoon sugar divided
  • 1 1/4 cup rice flour
  • 1 teaspoon oil neutral tasting, optional

Instructions

  1. Find a small bowl that can nest inside a cup filled partway with hot water. In the small bowl, combine 3 tablespoons water, 1 teaspoon sugar, and yeast and set aside on top of the cup. The yeast will be ready when foamy (approximately 5-10 minutes).
  2. In a medium bowl, combine 3/4 cup water and the rice flour until the rice batter is smooth, set aside.

  3. In a small saucepan, combine remaining ~1/3 cup water and remaining 1/4 cup sugar and cook on medium heat until the sugar melts, the water does not need to boil (3-4 minutes). Add the simple syrup to the rice batter and stir to combine. Check that the batter is just warm but not hot (due to boiling the syrup) and add the yeast and stir to combine. Cover the bowl of rice batter with plastic wrap.

  4. Add more water to the cup of water from step 1 and microwave for 1 minute. Place the rice batter into the microwave next to the cup of hot water, close the door, and allow the rice batter to ferment for 3 hours.

  5. About 10 minutes before the rice batter is done fermenting, set up a steamer in a large frying pan with a lid that can hold a pie plate or cake pan. Fill with about 1 inch of water and add a steamer rack, bring to boil.

  6. While you are waiting for the water to boil, gently stir the rice batter and transfer the rice batter to your pie plate and add the rice batter in the pie plate to steam on medium heat for 20 minutes.
  7. When the cake is ready, turn the stove off, wait a minute or two, and carefully lift the lid. Brush with oil (optional step to keep the cakes moist). Cut the rice cake into approximately 8 pieces and they can be served warm or at room temperature.

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About Sharon Wong 246 Articles
Welcome to Nut Free Wok, a blog about Allergy Aware Asian Fare. I hope that you will find my food allergy mom experiences helpful and enjoyable to read as I write about recipes, cooking techniques, Asian ingredients, and food allergy related awareness and advocacy issues. My professional experiences include education, teaching, and a little bit of science and computers. Thank you for visiting! ~Sharon Wong, M.Ed.

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