Tomato and egg cake 番茄鸡蛋糕


½ jin chicken eggs

11 liang tomatoes

5 liang cooked (note: steamed and allowed to cool) flour

½ jin sugar


1) Separate the eggs, place the whites in a noodle bowl and beat with chopsticks until they form white peaks (until a chopstick placed in the eggs remains upright). Pour the egg yolks into a small hole in the egg whites, then add the sugar in the same way. Mix until small bubbles start to form. Steam the tomatoes for five minutes and squeeze the flesh into a bowl (discard the seeds and peel). Sift the flour and stir with tomatoes into the egg mixture.

2) Arrange four long pieces of wood into a grid on top of a steamer, with a piece of thin cloth between them. Place the egg mixture inside and steam over high fire for 25 minutes.

3) After the egg cake is steamed, use two people to lift the four corners of the wood rack, carefully moving it from the steamer to a wooden board. Then place a second board on top and turn everything over so the cake and steaming cloth come out together. Cut into four pieces and then into 36 pieces.

Jiating caipu (1956)

This one comes from 1956, a last gasp of “home” cooking before communal dining really kicked in. The cookbook itself is anything but fancy, all very ordinary dishes that any reasonably well-off family could afford.

But tomato and egg cake? I have to say, this one sounds like wartime substitution. Don’t have strawberries? Just substitute sugar and tomatoes!

China certainly had sugar. Besides ramping up domestic production, they also could also get sugar from places like the Soviet Union or Cuba. And of course, once you plant tomatoes, you eventually end up with more tomatoes than you want. So, tomato and egg cake it is.

My pared-down version of the recipe came to:

2 eggs
220gm tomatoes
100 gm flour
200gm sugar

The instructions were pretty straightforward. Even the egg whites seemed willing to cooperate. I used a strainer for sifting the cooked flour (which will become lumpy) and for coaxing the liquid out of the tomatoes. For the steamer, I just used an ordinary box steamer lined with (clean) cloth. Not complicated, but something to plan ahead.

And how did it turn out?  Surprisingly cakey, I’m pleased to say. The step of mixing the yolks and sugar into the beaten egg whites drove home that what we’re making here is a mousse–albeit a pretty heavy one. Add the rest of the ingredients, and you end up with a pretty ordinary cake batter consistency. Had I thought through the instructions better, I would have premixed some of the ingredients: the sugar and egg yolks, and the tomatoes with the flour. That would have made it easier to simply fold these into the egg whites, rather than needing to mix them. Want to save the trouble of separating and beating the eggs? I would guess that a half teaspoon of baking powder would give roughly the same rise.

I could do with less sugar, maybe as little as half the amount called for, though I don’t know how that would affect the texture.

All in all, a surprisingly nice, and very easy little cake from a decade too easily dismissed as a “lawless hellscape” of food.

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