Hong Kong Cakes

If Marcel Proust had lived in China instead of France, these little cakes would have taken the place of his cherished Madeleines. Called “Hong Kong cakes” in English, these cakes are made from a simple, slightly sweet batter based on eggs and flour. It’s not at all what you’d expect to find from a vendor on a street corner in Chinatown. But that’s where these diminutive treats are sold, twenty to a bag for a dollar. One cart dispenses them during the afternoons on the corner of Pell and Bowery, but even better cakes (flavored with a hint of orange juice) come from the man installed on the southeast corner of Grand and Bowery (convenient to the B/D subway stop).

The center of the cakes has a springy texture like a pancake, while the edges are crisp like a waffle. Their unique shape—resembling a small plump mussel—derives from the special griddle in which they’re made. It’s a two-part contraption like a waffle iron, but fitted with about twenty round indentations. After the cakes are cooked on one side, the whole iron is flipped over, and the cakes take on their strange bivalve form. They’re perfect for dipping, so the only thing missing is a cup of tea, which is easily had from the nearby Chinese bakeries. (Wing Sing Bakery at 16 Bowery has what’s called Hong Kong Coffee, which is actually a mix of coffee and strong tea with a little sweetened condensed milk.)

But do not neglect the Hong Kong cakes too long. Like Madeleines, they fade as they cool. This should not be a problem though, since the cakes are so light and delicious that before you know it all you’ll have is just the memory.