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Recreating a Lost Memory – Hong Kong Egg Cakes from New York’s Chinatown

Wed, Nov 30, 2011

Posted in:  chinese recipes,musings,recipes,snacks

Hong Kong Egg Cakes (Gai Daan Jai)

I’ve been reminiscing about a part of my childhood in New York’s Chinatown where I attended Chinese school every weekend. After class, mom or dad would walk me over to Mosco Street where in a tiny red corner stall, labored Cecilia Tam (aka the Egg Cake Lady) to buy a bag or two of her legendary egg puffs (aka eggettes) or “gai daan jai” in Catonese.

Her stall became so popular over the years that more often than not there were more tourists waiting in line, clutching their cameras and tour books, than regulars. On weekends, the line would snake around the corner and the wait could be 10-20 minutes or longer.

If only iPhones and YouTube existed back then because all I have left of my memories are scattered images of Cecilia’s little stall that barely fit one person but somehow she managed to fit in a helper on busy weekends.

I recall the large jugs of pale golden batter that she kept at her feet. I remember her brushing oil on each mold before each pour of batter. I can see her flipping the molds but I can’t remember how many times or for how long. I remember her easing the cakes out of the mold with a fork onto a scratched up stainless steel pan and how she would jab at the eggettes with tongs to separate them and place the required amount into wax-paper bags. She had everything down to timing and order.

Weekends she was always slammed. Weekdays the wait would be nil or only 1-2 people. But on those slow days, she would have a few waxy bags of eggettes already filled. They are best eaten hot off the stove so I always asked, and patiently waited, for fresh ones and she always obliged.

With her increase in popularity, and inflation, the price of her egg cakes kept going up throughout the years. So we enjoyed them in less quantities, but we still enjoyed them as often.

At first they were $1 for 20 egg puffs, then $1 for 18, then $1 for 15. Even when imitators popped up around Chinatown selling them at $1 for 20 when Cecilia had further reduced her offerings to $1 for 12, the imposters were not worth the extra portions.

Once, pressed for time, we bought some egg cakes off a street vendor on Canal Street. They were so bland, so disappointing, I vowed I would never buy them from anyone again but from Cecilia, the one and only Egg Cake Lady.

Hong Kong Egg Cakes (Gai Daan Jai)

Closing my eyes as I type this, I could almost imagine and taste those little airy puffs of heaven in my mouth. These were one of the very few sweets I enjoyed as a kid and I had a special way of eating them. I would first bite off the crunchy perimeter of each puff and then pop the soft rounds into my mouth. They were perfect in every way – not too sweet, so light, so fluffy, and so worth every penny. Cecilia could have asked for my first-born back then and I would have obliged.

She closed up shop probably a decade ago but I have never stopped thinking about her egg cakes. Especially when I walk down Mott where it meets Mosco Street. They bring back so many memories of my childhood in New York City.

For the last few years, I have considered sourcing one of those egg cake molds to attempt a recipe at home. Then, as if my prayers were answered, Williams-Sonoma (my second favorite kitchenware store only after Crate and Barrel) came out with their own version – the Nordic Ware Egg Waffle Pan – and I couldn’t wait to get my hands on one.

Hong Kong Egg Cakes (Gai Daan Jai)

So when I was back home in the States this past summer, I headed over to a Williams-Sonoma and picked up one of their Egg Waffle Pans. And just this week, I finally got around to experimenting with the batter.

I’ve seen some recipes online that call for custard powder but honestly, I was too lazy to walk or drive to Waitrose, so I decided to make real custard with milk and eggs.

During my first attempt at the batter, I don’t why, but I used heavy cream instead of milk and the batter came out too thick. And even though I tempered the eggs, they still became clumpy and I had to throw out the whole gooey mess.

For my second attempt, I used full fat milk and the resultant batter was much better. I included baking soda hoping that it would make the cakes fluffy. I don’t know if it did.

Maybe I’ll add more baking soda next time to see what happens. Or maybe I should be using baking powder? I never know which one I’m supposed to use.

I really enjoyed the flavor of this second batch – eggy and just the perfect touch of sweetness for me – but the spongy texture wasn’t quite right – not fluffy enough like Cecilia’s and not crispy enough around the edges.

(Dec 12, 2001 – Edited to Note: I have been experimenting the last two weeks and have come up with a recipe that resemble’s Cecilia’s in taste AND texture. Will be posting it shortly.)

WS and egg cakes

I am sending this post over to Sally at My Custard Pie to join in on her Custard themed “Monthly Mingle.” Thanks Sally for hosting this month and for spurring me on to finally make this eggette snack from my childhood days.

meeta's monthly mingle badgle - custard

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[Edited Jan 22, 2012: I've since posted a simpler and more authentic tasting recipe on these Hong Kong egg cakes here.]

5.0 from 2 reviews
Hong Kong Egg Cakes (Gai Daan Jai)
 
Prep time
Cook time
Total time
 
A popular street food in Hong Kong - this is my version using fresh milk and egg yolks.
Author:
Recipe type: Snack
Serves: 4
Ingredients
  • 2 cups milk (I used full fat)
  • ½ cup sugar
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 4 egg yolks
  • 1 cup (120 g) flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • vegetable oil, for brushing
Instructions
  1. In a saucepan, pour in the milk and heat over low heat for about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Do not let the milk come to a boil.
  2. Whisk the egg yolks with the sugar and salt and add in a bit of the warmed milk mixture. This will help temper the yolks and prevent it from poaching.
  3. Pour the egg yolk-sugar mixture into the pan containing the milk. You now have custard!
  4. Gently stir the custard with a wooden spoon or spatula over low heat for about 10 minutes until it coats the back of your spoon or spatula.
  5. Combine the flour and the baking soda. Remove the custard pan from heat and whisk in the flour mixture.
  6. Set a wire rack on a baking sheet.
  7. Pre-heat each half of the waffle pans on separate burners over medium-high heat until hot. I heated mine for about 5 minutes.
  8. Lightly brush or spritz each pan with vegetable oil.
  9. Pour ¾ cup of the batter into the middle of the egg waffle pan (if you pour too much, it will either leak out the side or prevent the waffle pan from closing tightly).
  10. Immediately place the other side of the pan on top, flip the pan over and cook for 2 to 2.5 minutes.
  11. Flip again and cook for a further 2 to 2.5 minutes. Exact timing will depend on your stove and heat output.
  12. Open the pan and invert the eggettes onto the wire rack and let cool for a minute or so. I used a plastic spoon to help loosen the egg cakes from the mold.
  13. Repeat with the remaining batter. Enjoy!
Notes
-Batter makes 3 batches. -I've found and adapted a more authentic version of these eggettes recipe here.

 

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{ 34 comments… read them below or add one }

Devina Divecha (FooD November 30, 2011 at 9:26 pm

Memories like this are always good :)

They look really nice…did Wee Scotch like them? How did yours match up? :)
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ginger December 1, 2011 at 3:33 pm

Wee Scotch loved them but he hasn't had the "real deal" so MaMa's is still the best ;)

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Dubai Bites December 1, 2011 at 12:56 am

I think I had something similar on the streets of Tokyo! They were shaped like little teddy bears.
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ginger December 1, 2011 at 3:32 pm

that sounds cute!

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Felicia December 1, 2011 at 3:25 am

Wow, these look tasty! I'm Cantonese (okay, third-generation Cantonese-American), but

I've never seen these. However, I do want some now!

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ginger December 1, 2011 at 3:32 pm

I think Williams-Sonoma is doing free shipping through Christmas ;)

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Minna December 1, 2011 at 4:06 am

It looks very nice and crispy, first time I see or hear about eagg cakes. Now thinking, how to make some without that egg waffle pan, I just have normal plat pan. I think part of the perfect result is the balls shapes and crisp edges.

Any suggestions?

Minna
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ginger December 1, 2011 at 3:31 pm

Do you have a regular waffle pan? Maybe you could try with that? But the fun part about these egg cakes are the shape!

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Michelle December 1, 2011 at 5:47 am

Mmm… egg… waffles!! Love your story about being a kid in Chinatown — those egg waffles sound like they were truly amazing. I began seeing them in the Bay Area when boba tea shops were popping up everywhere but the quality varies so much. Totally gotta try this if I can get a pan for Christmas ;)
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ginger December 1, 2011 at 3:30 pm

Oh, you have to get the pan! I love mine – it's just a pain to clean with all the holes though.

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Sally - My Custard P December 1, 2011 at 11:15 am

I'm so glad you joined the custard mingle and with such a lovely account and unique recipe. It really was such a pleasure to read this from beginning to end. Fantastic picture of the egg cakes too.
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ginger December 1, 2011 at 3:29 pm

I actually can't believe that the photos came out so well – they were just a practice shoot for the next batch but then I totally screwed up that batch and ran out of batter so the practice shots ended up being "it".

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Jo December 1, 2011 at 11:59 am

These look great. Would love for you to share this with us over at foodepix.com.

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I Live in a Frying P December 1, 2011 at 3:52 pm

I can't believe I lived in NYC and never tried these! Woe is me :( BUT, I loved those other finger-like pastry things, also filled with custard, also popped out of moulds, in chinatown…don't know what they were called.

I wish these moulds were available here, I'd love to try making this!
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Helen December 2, 2011 at 12:28 am

I always have appetite for Chinese food. I am not surprise that these cakes are so memorable to you. I like the ingredients and I think they are going to be really tasty and satisfying. Thank you for sharing. I am looking forward to relate to your memories.

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May Lin December 2, 2011 at 9:37 am

OMG- I know exactly what you're talking about!!! I was forced to go to Chinese school at the Catholic church on Mott…after school, my brother and I would try to get a bag of these treats. I was reminiscing about these treats just recently! I also miss this little bakery called May-May…they had the best buns! I hope to try your recipe soon…thanks!

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La Mère Culin December 6, 2011 at 1:24 am

These look delicious! I want to try them! :D
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Katie @ saltpigcante December 7, 2011 at 5:25 am

I grew up in Hong Kong and remember begging my parents to get me these everytime we saw street vendors selling them. It wasn't hard to persuade them as the yummy smell did all the persuading for me!
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Tim ferguson December 12, 2011 at 11:17 am

Thanks so much for sharing. I too have been tormented by the longing for egg cakes and it is somewhat comforting that I am not the only person afflicted! :) I cannot wait to try this recipe!

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julie January 22, 2012 at 6:36 am

The words of your wonderful article could have come right from my head. I drove in from North Jersey for Cynthia's egg cakes. I would buy twenty bags and freeze them. Then the microwave would bring them back to life, like they were just made. I too was is shock when I saw the pans from William Sonoma. I ordered them quickly. I went to at leat 15 Chinese bakeries trying to get a recipe. I tried many recipes on line – no luck. I was given a behind the scenes lesson at a chinese bakery at making sponge cake, because the flavor of the cake is similar. I can't wait to try your recipe. I wish Cynthia Tam would read all of the blogs about her, and give us the recipe! I would gladly pay for it.

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ginger January 24, 2012 at 2:29 am

Hi Julie!

Thanks so much for sharing your story :)

I'm about to post a much simpler recipe that tastes just like Cecilia's – hopefully will get it done by Chinese New Year!

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Darryl Zoller January 23, 2012 at 2:27 am

I have a food blog on Weight Watchers community pages. It has almost 1,500 Followers. This morning my wife made your Gai Daan Jai and we really enjoyed it. For a picture of our waffles and my write-up, visit PIX FIX on the blogs of the USA's weightwatchers.com

I am a Weight Watchers Leader, work part time at it.

We very much enjoyed your recipe over others we found on the internet. It is delicious and easy to make with commonly found ingredients.

Thank you so much for sharing it. I did share a link to your website's post about the waffles, since the recipe belongs, rightfully, to you.

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ginger January 24, 2012 at 2:27 am

Hi Darryl,

Thank you so much for leaving me feedback on my recipe and I am so happy to hear that you liked it! Hope it didn't put you into points overload.

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AW February 14, 2012 at 10:32 am

I just saw the Nordic Ware Egg Waffle Pan on Williams-Sonoma. Went looking for a recipe. Thank you for sharing your recipe. Eggettes are so yummy. I don't get out to Chinatown often, and when I do… things change all the time. Will try your recipe :)

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Nate Towne July 27, 2012 at 7:21 pm

I love my egg waffle pan but the recipes are so taxing – and by taxing I mean using just the egg yolk. I always feel guilty about having all those egg whites left over, I never seem to use them. Perhaps I’ll have to make a mini-omelette with my waffles next time…

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ginger July 27, 2012 at 8:13 pm

Hi Nate,

Thank you for leaving a comment.

I have a better recipe for the egg waffles that use the entire egg – so no leftover egg whites: http://gingerandscotch.com/2012/01/chinese-new-year-perfect-gai-daan-gai-eggettes.html

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Tippy November 24, 2012 at 9:06 pm

I loved these cakes growing up. It’s like you hit me with a nostalgia button in the childhood. Thanks <3

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ami December 29, 2012 at 6:53 am

thank you for this post! i remember that stand on the corner of Mott & Mosco so well. it was a childhood favorite of mine. i just found a place in Boston that makes egg puffs, but they are not as light and fluffy as I remember them to be.

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roger January 2, 2013 at 4:02 am

I can’t believe I found this, my wife and I were just talking about Hong Kong eggs. I too recall Cecilia and remember chatting her up as I waited on line usually on Saturday’s after a Cantonese style dinner. All I recall is how she worked to put her kids thru college and she was at her kiosk rain, snow or just plain freezing winter days. Hope to find the mold and try making them for my girls!

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Erin May 13, 2013 at 6:36 am

I grew up in Connecticut but her stand and the egg cakes that came from it form a central part of my childhood memories about trips to Chinatown. Literally every time we went to Chinatown I would ask if we could make a stop by her stand so that I could get some of her egg cakes if she was still open. They were honestly the best and it’s so sad that the ones that remain in Chinatown are all lacking.

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Alex December 18, 2013 at 12:26 am

I too grew up in Chinatown and waited on line for those little crispy cakes of awesomeness.

Just checking if you have any gripes about the WS pan, and if you have perfected your recipe.

Thanks

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jenny December 21, 2013 at 5:18 pm

OMG, yes I remember the little stand. Oooh how I miss that lady. I think there was a bbq meat or something of that sort awhile back (like 10 yrs ago.) But that little stand is still there but no one occupies it. Darn shame. Yeah I hear you on the inflation, I think it’s 10 pieces for $1 in chinatown, NY. I just paid the $50 to get the pan, so I am really excited to try the recipe. I bought an ablesiver pan, the circles were too big, the cripsy ness just wasn’t there. It will be hard to replicate Cecila’s recipe, I wonder what happened to her, she had kids, they know the recipe. hmmmm…..

Anyway, thanks for writing about the little stand, brings back many childhood memories.

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Kim January 20, 2014 at 6:38 pm

I grew up in Queens and this post brought back a
flood of me memories! I don’t know if I can find the link but many years ago NYT did an article about her. She (understandably) was super secretive about her recipe and that is why you never saw her mixing anything in her stall. She even made her husband drop her off a couple blocks away do no one could follow her home. She probably is a millionaire! I know that I would beg my parents for some every single time we were in Chinatown

Here is link:http://www.nytimes.com/1994/12/11/nyregion/new-yorkers-co-the-egg-cake-lady-of-mosco-street.html

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michele January 31, 2014 at 12:44 am

I have a similar taste memory, but of Chinese red bean cakes. These looked like egg McMuffins on the outside, but inside the 2-3 layers of damp pastry was a hockey puck of mashed, sweet bean. My friend’s mom would bring them from NYC’s Chinatown back to Cincinnati for us — and I have never found them again. In Hong Kong I would buy little bean cakes, ping pong ball-sized pastries or cookies with bean paste inside — delicious, but never achieving the heights the cakes of my memory. I realize from recipes that the bean paste is mostly sugar, so I don’t really want to make them — but I do want to find them again some day…!

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