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Chinese Fresh Fruit Cake

We all want to feel like we belong. Nothing can be more true than my longing for others to include my nut-allergic little man at social gatherings involving food. In the food allergy world, we keep hearing, "exclude the food, not the child". While I wholeheartedly agree that we should exclude the food, the practicality of this in a society centered around food often makes this task impossible. Since food is part of the social norm and how we bond, I often wondered why don't we adapt the food or find an allergy friendly alternative so a food allergy child can be included?

For the past year or so, Chinese fresh fruit cake seems to be the cake of choice. No, this is not the fruit cake that gets passed around at Christmas like a hot potato. This cake is light and slightly sweet, decorated with slices of fresh fruit and frosted with fresh whipping cream sandwiched between two layers of light and fluffy sponge cake. This is the good stuff. And it generally costs a pretty penny, averaging $30-$40 for a 7" cake at a reputable Chinese bakery in Vancouver.

At these events, while everyone chows down on the cake, my little man always looks at me with a glimmer of hope. I would whisper to him that it may contain nuts (as certain bakeries decorate their fresh fruit cake with sliced almonds). At 2 years of age, he is learning to accept that he cannot eat certain foods. As usual, I always have a safe snack available and he is happy that I had thought to include him. I have noticed that as he grows older, he notices everyone happily sharing the same treat while he is given something different. I feel the exclusion too when my little man is excluded from these events. Sometimes, I would eat the same safe snack as my little man to show him a little solidarity.

Hence my need to learn to make this darned fresh fruit cake.

To be honest, I have always been intimidated by how labour intensive it is to make a Chinese fresh fruit cake. However, after I made it three times, I realized that making this cake is no different than any other cake I have made. In fact, I have found that this cake is quite easy, provided that you carefully read all the instructions and follow it.

My Adaptations
  • I found the original recipe to be quite sweet and halved the sugar in the whipping cream recipe.
  • Due to my personal preference, I would highly recommend using clear vanilla for a prettier cake. If you do not have clear vanilla, regular vanilla will work just fine. 
  • I also did not use almonds in my finished cake as my little man has a nut allergy. In lieu of almonds, you can use dried coconut flakes or shaved chocolate to decorate the sides. Please make sure to read the labels to avoid cross contamination. I opted to leave the sides undecorated to let the flavors of fresh fruit shine through. 
  • Lastly, I altered the whipping cream ingredients and directions to give it a smoother professional finish. I have to give full credit to my resourceful Mother-In-Law who helped me elevate the whipped cream to a professional bakery consistency.

Most of all, I want to thank Mika at 350 Degree Oven for posting and sharing this wonderful recipe. Armed with Mika's recipe, my little man was finally able to have a slice of Chinese fresh fruit cake, just like everyone else.

6 large eggs, separated
12 tablespoon white sugar, divided
1/2 tsp table salt
1 tsp clear vanilla extract (regular vanilla extract will work as well)
1/2 cup cold water
1/3 cup canola oil
1 cup cake flour (do not substitute in AP flour)
1 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp cream of tartar  

475 ml (~1 pint) heavy whipping cream
3 tbsp white sugar
3.5 g (1/2 package) gelatin
2-3 drops cold water
1/8 tsp hot water

Fresh fruit to decorate: strawberries, raspberries, blueberries, blackberries, kiwi, peach/necterine, cantaloupe or honeydew (you generally want to use fruits with a soft flesh). Please do not use canned, frozen or dried fruit in this cake.

1 cup chopped fresh fruit (I usually like to use the same fruit as I used to decorate the cake. This is the perfect place to use those end pieces not suitable for decoration).

1. Separate the egg yolk from the egg white; be careful not to contaminate the egg white with any egg yolk otherwise the egg whites will not whip properly. I like using my hands to separate the egg yolk from the egg white. I always use three bowls: one for the egg yolks, one for the egg whites and one bowl for the egg that I just cracked to check to make sure the egg white in the bowl is not contaminated. This way, if you have some egg yolk in the egg whites, you can easily discard the contaminated bowl without having to discard your whole batch.

2. To the bowl of egg yolks, add 6 tablespoons of sugar, 1/2 tsp of salt, 1 tsp of clear vanilla extract.

3. Using a hand blender, beat the egg yolks until the mixture is smooth.

4. Add 1/2 cup cold water and 1/3 cup canola oil to the egg yolk mixture. Beat until smooth.

5. In a bowl, sift the cake flour and baking powder.

6. Pour the sifted flour mixture into the egg yolk batter and beat until just combined; do not over mix. I personally prefer to beat the mixture until only a few traces of flour remain and folding the rest of the batter by hand with a spatula.

7. Detach your whisks and wash it thoroughly in warm soapy water. Dry the whisks thoroughly with a paper towel to remove all traces of oil and fat.

8. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

9. With your clean and dry whisks, beat the egg whites, 6 tablespoons sugar and 1/4 tsp cream of tartar until the egg whites are stiff. This can take a while, up to 3 to 5 minutes in some cases. Be patient.

10. Using a flat spatula, stir in 1/3 of the egg whites into the egg yolk batter.

11. Then, gently fold (using figure 8 motions) in another 1/3 of the egg whites.

12. Lastly, gently fold in the remaining egg whites with your spatula. Do not over mix. It is okay if your cake batter has streaks of egg white throughout. Over mixing will result in a denser cake which is the antithesis of what we want to achieve.

13. Do not grease or flour your cake pans. Divide the batter evenly between 2 cake pans. I used two 9" round cake pans but 8" cake pans work just as well (you will need to adjust the baking time).

14. Bake for 25 to 35 minutes, depending on your oven. In my oven, it took 30 minutes to bake two 9" cake pans. I have also tested switching the cake pans half way through and have found that leaving the cakes alone to bake uninterrupted worked the best. Bake until the sides of the cake look like they are pulling away from the cake pan.

15. Allow the cakes to cool upside down on a cooling rack. This step is important as otherwise the cake will deflate if allowed to cool upright.

16. Once the cake has cooled completely, run a knife along the edge of the cake pan to loosen it. At this point, you can either use it right away or store it in the fridge in a tight lidded container lined with parchment paper for up to a day. If you choose the latter option, make sure to take the cake out of the refrigerator at least 30 minutes before you frost the cake.

17. In a small bowl, mix gelatin with a few drops of cold water (no more than 3 drops). Stir in a 1/8 tsp of hot water to dilute it.

18. In a large bowl, pour in the whipping cream. Beat until the whipping cream forms soft peaks. Add in 3 tablespoons of sugar and beat until the whipping cream is just about to form stiff peaks. Pour in the gelatin mixture and beat until the gelatin is mixed in and the whipped cream forms stiff peaks. The gelatin helps to stabilize the whipped cream and give it a smoother finish.

19. In a small bowl, mix in 1 cup of whipped cream with 1 cup of fresh fruit.

20. Place the cake right side up on a cake board or a cutting board covered with aluminum foil. Using an offset spatula, spread a thin layer of whipped cream on the top. Then spread the fresh fruit and whipped cream mixture evenly over the cake.

21. Place the second cake upside down on top of the fresh fruit mixture. Frost the top and sides with whipped cream.

22. Place the whole cake in the fridge uncovered to allow the whipped cream to firm up for at least 15 to 30 minutes.

23. Meanwhile, slice and prepare the fresh fruit. Place the sliced fruit on a clean and dry paper towel to absorb any excess moisture. I should note that you should only use fresh fruit, not canned, not frozen, and certainly not dried fruit. The best thing to do is to use fruits in season as they are the most economical, and taste the best.

24. Take the cake out of the fridge and smooth the whipped cream with an offset spatula. Decorate with sliced fruit. At this point, you can either chill the cake for up to 4 hours (cover with a loose lid to prevent the cake absorbing other smells from your fridge) or serve the cake right away for immediate consumption. Now it's time for me to go work off all the calories from eating three cakes within one week!!

Source: Adapted from The 350 Degree Oven

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