"I called these Pau Pau’s Cupcakes growing up. She only makes them for Chinese New Year, but I look forward to the tall, blossoming cake all year long. Fa gao is also sometimes called 'prosperity cake' because the bigger and taller the cake tops bloom, the more prosperous your new year promises to be. Unlike what most people would consider a cupcake, fa gao isn’t frosted or decorated in any way. It is an unassuming cake, with a bloomed top that gives it a little flair.
As a kid, I had a particular way of eating Pau Pau’s cupcakes. First, I’d pluck off each petal and eat them one by one, and then I’d smash the base of the cupcake into a dense little pancake to munch on. (Please tell me someone else ate them this way?) Perhaps I subconsciously picked up on the pancake-like flavor as a kid—flavor that comes, literally, from pancake mix. Yep, there’s Bisquick in Pau Pau’s recipe! Back in Hong Kong, Pau Pau used a self-rising flour that’s made specifically for fa gao. When the family immigrated to the United States, she had to work with the ingredients she could readily access at the local markets in downtown Cleveland. It turns out that self-rising flour and Bisquick have virtually the same ingredients: all-purpose flour, baking powder, and salt. Only the addition of hydrogenated vegetable shortening in Bisquick sets them apart.
It cracks me up that Bisquick has been Pau Pau’s secret ingredient all these years. Say what you will about boxed mixes, but after fifty years of using Bisquick, it has become essential to the soft texture of her fa gao."