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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Get ready for Chinese New Year with gau at home

 •  How to Gau

By Wanda A. Adams
Advertiser Food Editor

Hawaii news photo - The Honolulu Advertiser

The thinner the gau batter, the longer it will take to steam.

DEBORAH BOOKER | The Honolulu Advertiser

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If you'd like to experience an "international gau fest" of your own, here's everything a group of us learned as we baked several different versions of gau.

Ingredients: Use rice flour that's labeled "sweet," "glutinous" or "mochi" or "mochiko." Traditional cooks prefer the penuche-type flavor of Chinese slab sugar, layered brown and white sugar with honey, sometimes labeled sugar candy (but NOT to be confused with Chinese rock candy). This sugar must be crushed or dissolved before use. Conventional brown sugar can be used in most recipes. Peanut oil is preferred, although salad oil is acceptable. Dried red dates, sometimes called jujubes, are sold in Chinatown; they resemble prunes in flavor and provide a splash of color as garnish on the top of most gau cakes. Be sure to remove the pit. If, however, the recipe suggests adding dates to the gau mixture, the jujubes can be first boiled to soften them. The other traditional garnish is a light sprinkling of sesame seeds, toasted to bring out the aroma.

Preparing the pan: Pans must be lined with some nonstick surface to assure that the gau cake can be removed. You also may need a "collar" to build up the height of the steaming container if it's too shallow; gau puffs and increases in size as it cooks.

For steaming, it's traditional to line the pan and build up the collar with dried bamboo leaves (available in Chinatown; must be soaked in water for a couple of days) or wilted ti leaves (pick the ti leaves several days in advance and let them wilt in the shade, or microwave them for 40 seconds on high). Line the baking dish or pan with cleaned, dried, trimmed, deboned leaves in a spiral fashion. Sew around the collar with cotton thread, secure with toothpicks or tie with kitchen string.

For baking, oil or spray the baking dish; a lining of Release brand nonstick aluminum foil assures easy release.

For microwaving, use well-oiled plastic wrap or kitchen parchment.

Gau techniques: Gau is traditionally steamed (covered, over simmering water) but may be baked or microwaved.

To bake, grease baking dish before pouring batter in. To steam-bake, place baking dish of gau in larger pan of hot water; cover with foil.

To microwave, use high setting and microwave in 2-minute increments until cooked through and firm.

Steaming equipment: The nicest equipment is a purpose-built Chinese steamer a large pot with a rack built in and room for stacking and steaming multiple dishes, pans that fit inside and a lid. But you can improvise with a wok or frying pan or Dutch oven, a round cake pan, Chinese bamboo steaming baskets or other heat proof dishes, some empty cans to serve as a rack and heavy-duty foil for a lid.

Always place a cotton kitchen towel under the lid of the steamer to prevent condensation from raining down on the gau.

About the batter: Depending on your preference and your family's tradition, gau batter can be as thick as stiff cake batter or as thin and runny as crepe batter. Just remember that the thinner the batter, the longer the steaming time a very thin mixture can take 8 hours of steaming.

Doneness: Gau is done when a chopstick or bamboo skewer plunged into the center of the pudding emerges clean, no sticking or "crumbs."

Cutting gau: A serrated plastic knife is best.

Keeping gau: Gau is good at room temperature for a day or two but quickly molds and spoils. It can be stored in the refrigerator but will harden and must then be sliced and fried, steamed or microwaved to soften.

This is the grandmother of gaus a plain and simple mixture recognizable to any cook of Cantonese heritage. Gladys Lee demonstrated how to make this, which is based on a recipe from "Chinese Festivals The Hawaiian Way," by Toy Len Chang. The gau was silky smooth, mildly butterscotchy in flavor with a hint of "laulau" from the ti leaves.


  • 1 pound Chinese slab sugar or brown sugar

  • 2 1/2 cups hot water

  • 1 pound mochiko (sweet or glutinous rice flour)

  • 1/4 cup salad oil

  • 1 Chinese red date (jujube)

  • 1 tablespoon toasted sesame seeds

    Place sugar in saucepan, add water and bring to a boil, simmering until sugar is dissolved. Cool syrup completely or chill overnight.

    In a large bowl, mix mochiko and about three-quarters of the water; knead in bowl until very smooth. Add remaining syrup and oil, stirring to incorporate.

    Pour batter into prepared round pan 7 1/2 inches across and 3 inches deep. Steam, covered, for four hours. Garnish with sesame seeds and a red date.

    Makes 1 (7 1/2-inch round) gau, about 10 servings.

  • Per serving (based on 10): 450 calories, 12 g fat, 1 g saturated fat, 20 mg sodium, 83 g carbohydrate, 1 g fiber, 46 g sugar, 4 g protein

    It may also be cooked in the microwave oven; use an oiled round Pyrex dish. Cover with plastic and cook on high for about 15 minutes, stopping to check doneness first at 8 minutes and then every minute or two thereafter. Rotate twice during cooking if your microwave doesn't have a moving lazy susan.

    Marylene Chun got this recipe from a friend, and it was a favorite of tasters at The Advertiser with a sweeter flavor and thicker texture than conventional gau.


  • 2 to 3 pounds fresh yams*

  • 3 (1-pound boxes) mochiko (sweet or glutinous rice flour)

  • 3 (1-pound packages) wong tong (Chinese slab sugar, labeled brown sugar candy)

  • 4-6 cups water (or use coconut milk for all or part of liquid)

    Boil unpeeled yams in water or puncture skin and cook in microwave until very soft. Peel, cool, chill in refrigerator.

    Melt brown sugar in 3 cups water over medium heat, until dissolved, about 15 minutes. Cool. (You can do this the night before and chill in refrigerator, if desired.)

    Mash yams, removing any large fibers or eyes. In a large bowl, mix together sugar water, mochiko and yams, first with a wire whisk and then by hand. Knead with hands until stiff and very thick. Add another 1 to 2 cups water to reach the consistency of thick cake batter.

    Pour into prepared round pans or bamboo steaming baskets. Place on rack in steamer, cover (with foil or steamer lid, first placing a towel between the lid and the gau). Steam over simmering water, replenishing water as needed, for about 4 hours. Cool completely before cutting.

    Makes four 8-inch cakes, about 32 servings.

  • Per serving (based on water): 350 calories, 0.5 g fat, 30 mg sodium, 82 g carbohydrate, 2 g fiber, 44 g sugar, 4 g protein

  • Per serving (based on coconut milk): 430 calories, 10 g fat, 8 g saturated fat, 35 mg sodium, 83 g carbohydrate, 2g fiber, 44 g sugar, 5 g protein

    * Yams used are the ones with maroon skins, orange flesh.

    This is Marylene Chun's mother's recipe, making use of two nontraditional ingredients that probably were added by Island-based cooks coconut milk and azuki bean paste.


  • 5 cups mochiko (sweet or glutinous rice flour)*

  • 3 cups lightly packed brown sugar

  • 1 1/2 cans coconut milk (21 ounces total)

  • 1 teaspoon baking soda

  • 2 1/2 cups water

  • 1 (18-ounce) can tsubushian (smooth azuki bean paste)**

    Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

    Grease a 9-by-13 inch pan. Set aside. Mix all ingredients together, cover with foil and bake in a 350 degree oven for 1 1/2 hours. Leave in the pan overnight for easier cutting.

    Makes about 20 servings.

  • Per serving: 380 calories, 7 g fat, 6 g saturated fat, 115 mg sodium, 76 g carbohydrate, 2 g fiber, 32 g sugar, 5 g protein

    * Marylene Chun strongly prefers Koda Farms brand for this; you will use 1 1/2 boxes.

    ** You can also use 17.6-ounce plastic containers available at Marukai.

    Cathy Silva tested this recipe, based on one from Hanahau'oli School's 85th Anniversary Cookbook and another her daughter got in a class at the school. Follow the directions exactly, even though 24 minutes sounds like not enough time. She much preferred a version she made with dried bing cherries. This makes an untraditional fudgelike gau that cuts readily into squares.


  • 1 pound mochiko (sweet or glutinous rice flour)

  • 1 1/4 cups sugar

  • 1 tablespoon baking powder

  • 1/2 cup raisins (or dried cherries 'ono!, or mixed dried fruit)

  • 1/2 cup chopped nuts

  • 3 eggs

  • 3/4 cup vegetable oil

  • 1 1/2 cups water

    In a large bowl, mix mochiko, sugar, baking powder, raisins and nuts. In a separate bowl, mix eggs, vegetable oil and water. Pour the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients and mix well.

    Spray a 9-by-13-inch baking pan with cooking spray. Pour batter into pan and bake at 350 degrees for 30 to 35 minutes.

    Makes about 20 servings.

  • Per serving: 250 calories, 12 g fat, 1 g saturated fat, 30 mg cholesterol, 70 mg sodium, 33 g carbohydrate, 15 g sugar, 3 g protein

    Reach Wanda A. Adams at wadams@honoluluadvertiser.com.