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Prospertity Cakes

Pau Pau's Steamed Cupcakes (Fa Gao)

Kristina Cho, recipe developer, food stylist, photographer and cookbook author, shares her step-by-step recipe for prosperity cakes, the auspicious festive confection for Chinese New Year.

Mooncakes and Milk Bread Cookbook


Taken from Mooncakes and Milk Bread by Kristina Cho. Copyright 2021 by Kristina Cho. Photographs copyright Kristina Cho. Used by permission of Harper Horizon, an imprint of HarperCollins Focus LLC.

31 January, 2022
Average: 4.6 (27 votes)

serves for



Pancake mix
150g (1 1/4 cups) pancake mix, such as Bisquick
All purpose flour
150g (1 1/4 cups)
Dark brown sugar
130g (2/3 cup) firmly packed dark brown sugar
Still water
300g (1 1/3 cups) water

"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."

Step 01

Prepare your steamer setup and bring water to a rapid boil. Line ten individual 3-inch cupcake moulds with paper liners and arrange in two bamboo steamers.


Step 02

In a medium mixing bowl, whisk to combine the pancake mix, flour, brown sugar, and water until smooth. The batter should be thick but runny.

Step 03

Divide the batter evenly between the moulds, filling each about three-quarters full. Stack the bamboo steamers and cover with a lid. Steam for 15 minutes. Lift the lid, remove the steamers, and allow the cupcakes to cool for 5 minutes. Serve warm or at room temperature.


Cupcakes can be stored in an airtight container (a resealable bag works great) at room temperature for up to 4 days. 

Required Tools:

individual 3-inch cupcake/ tart moulds
Bamboo Steamer (with matching pot for boiling water)
Large mixing bowl
Paper cupcake liners


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