Chinese New Year is the most important of the traditional Chinese holidays. In China, it is known as “Spring Festival,” the literal translation of the Chinese name 春節 (Pinyin: Chūn Jié), since the spring season in Chinese calendar starts with lichun, the first solar term in a Chinese calendar year. It marks the end of the winter season, analogous to the Western carnival. The festival begins on the first day of the first month (Chinese: 正月; pinyin: Zhēng Yuè) in the traditional Chinese calendar and ends with Lantern Festival which is on the 15th day. Chinese New Year’s Eve, a day where Chinese families gather for their annual reunion dinner, is known as Chú Xī (除夕) or “Eve of the Passing Year.” Because the Chinese calendar is lunisolar, the Chinese New Year is often referred to as the “Lunar New Year“.
Chinese New Year is the longest and most important festivity in the Chinese calendar. The origin of Chinese New Year is itself centuries old and gains significance because of several myths and traditions. Chinese New Year is celebrated in countries and territories with significant Chinese populations, such as Mainland China, Hong Kong,Indonesia, Macau, Malaysia, Philippines,Singapore,Taiwan, Thailand, and also in Chinatowns elsewhere. Chinese New Year is considered a major holiday for the Chinese and has had influence on the lunar new year celebrations of its geographic neighbors, as well as cultures with whom the Chinese have had extensive interaction. These include Koreans (Seollal), and Bhutanese (Losar), Mongols (Tsagaan Sar), Vietnamese(Tết), and the Japanese before 1873 (Oshogatsu).
This year is the year of the Dragon under the Chinese calendar (thanks again to Wikipedia):
The Dragon (simplified Chinese: 龙; traditional Chinese: 龍), is one of the 12-year cycle of animals which appear in the Chinese zodiac related to the Chinese calendar, and the only animal that is legendary. The Year of the Dragon is associated with the earthly branch symbol辰.
More specifically, 2012 marks the year of the Water Dragon (thank you, Wikipedia!):
Water is the most yin in character of the Five elements. Its motion is downward and inward and its energy is stillness and conserving. It is associated with the Winter, the North, the planet Mercury, the color black, cold weather, night, and theBlack Tortoise (Xuan Wu) in Four Symbols.
It is also associated with the moon, which was believed to cause the dew to fall at night.
In Chinese Taoist thought, water is representative of intelligence and wisdom, flexibility, softness and pliancy; however, an over-abundance of the element is said to cause difficulty in choosing something and sticking to it. In the same way,Water can be fluid and weak, but can also wield great power when it floods and overwhelms the land. Water governs the Kidney and Urinary bladder and is associated with the ears and bones. The negative emotion associated with water is fear/anxiety, while the positive emotion is calmness.
Black, Grey and Blue colours also represent Water.
Often, whenever Chinese New Year rolls around, I give my hand at trying some kind of new (for me to make, anyway) Chinese recipe — last year, for example, I made baked crab rangoon that turned out pretty tasty, as well as Asian-style pork ribs, and crab cakes, among other things. Another year, I gave my hand to making egg rolls — which I baked instead of fried — and they turned out mighty tasty, I must say.
This year, though, hubby and I have decided we’re going to take a jaunt to Sulphur Springs, do a bit of outlet shopping and antique store browsing, and then load up on goodies from our favorite “local” (it’s 30 or so miles from us) Chinese restaurant to bring home and feast upon.
I still wanted to try something new and different, though, in honor of the holiday, so yesterday (Sunday, the Chinese New Year’s Eve this year), I tried my hand at an experimental “cake” — a Honeyed Apricot Orange Almond Cake, to be more precise.
Is this an “authentic” Chinese/Asian cake? Oh, I think not. But then again, not everything needs to be “authentic” to be yummy and festive, does it?
The inspiration for this recipe is from a Chinese Favorites cooking magazine for Honeyed Apricot Cake. I thought I could take the cake and make it more or less sugar-free (at the very least with very little sugar).
The recipe in the magazine calls for, among other things, a honey cornbread mix, dried apricots, and tinned apricot halves, drained.
So I thought, “Why not make a version of Yankee Cornbread, instead, using artificial sweetener instead of sugar, and tinned no-sugar-added mandarin oranges instead of tinned apricot halves?” You see, I can get no-sugar-added mandarin oranges, but not so with apricot halves. And as the Chinese view oranges as a sign of prosperity and luck, I figured that would be as in keeping with the spirit of things as the apricots would be.
Now, you may be thinking what hubby was thinking when I told him I was going to give this a try — Cornbread? As a cake?
But Yankee cornbread is so sweet, it’s really like a dessert, anyway. 😉
And besides, where’s your sense of adventure?
Does this taste like a traditional “cake”? Well, no, of course not. But it grows on you — hubby actually had two pieces! — and we think it will be a welcome complement to the flavors in a more traditional Chinese meal.
This is a kind of “upside down” cake, and hubby thought — and I agree! — that it would also be tasty made with a more traditional white or yellow cake (batter for a single layer) as a substitute for the cornmeal batter — just add in the chopped apricots, almond crumbs, and almond extract to the white or yellow (no-sugar-added, for us!) cake batter.
Regardless, I wish you a Happy New Year — Gong Xi Fa Cai (Mandarin) and Gong Hey Fat Choy (Cantonese) — and a yummy New Year!
And remember — never pass up a reason to celebrate! (Go on, take 62 seconds out of your day and enjoy the video — you know you want to!)
Honeyed Apricot Orange Almond Cake (One cake, serves 10 to 12)
- 1 1/2 cups milk (I used 1%)
- 1/4 cup butter or margarine, melted
- 1 large egg (I used a jumbo egg)
- 1 1/4 cups cornmeal (I prefer yellow cornmeal)
- 1 cup all-purpose flour
- 1/2 cup bulk artificial sweetener that measures-for-measure like sugar (I used an artificial sweetener new to me — Ideal — but Splenda granular or another like sweetener would work)
- Squeeze of honey
- 1 tablespoon baking powder
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1 cup blanched almonds, divided
- 1 teaspoon almond extract
- 6 to 8 apricots dried apricots, chopped
- 2 tablespoons butter or margarine, melted
- 1/4 cup honey (I used mostly no-sugar-added honey with a squeeze of regular honey)
- 1 can (14 -15 ounces) no-sugar-added mandarin oranges, drained
- Preheat oven to 350F.
- Line the bottom of a baking sheet with aluminum foil. (THIS IS IMPORTANT! Some of the honey and butter will ooze out of the pan, and this saves you from having a great big mess to clean up!) Grease/oil the bottom and sides of a 9″ spring-form pan and place pan on the lined baking sheet.
- In a food processor or blender, pulse 1/2 cup of the almonds on and off for about 30 seconds, until fine crumbs form. Do not over-process, or you will have almond butter instead of almond crumbs.
- Sliver/slice the other half of the almonds and reserve.
- In a medium to large-sized bowl, whisk or stir together the egg, milk, 1/2 cup artificial sweetener, 1/4 cup of melted margarine or butter, squeeze of honey, baking powder, salt, and almond extract.
- Stir in cornmeal, flour, and chopped apricots.
- In the microwave or in a small saucepan, melt together 2 tablespoons butter or margarine and the 1/4 cup sugar-free (with a squeeze of regular) honey. Pour into the bottom of the spring-form pan, tilting pan to ensure the bottom is covered.
- Sprinkle the bottom of the pan with the slivered almonds, then the drained mandarin oranges.
- Pour the apricot-cornbread mixture on top.
- Bake for 40 minutes, or until a pick inserted in the center comes out clean.
- Cool completely on a wire rack.
- Just before serving, invert cake pan onto a plate or serving platter and release pan from cake. Cover and refrigerate leftovers.