Dessert is rather an anomaly in a traditional Chinese meal – sometimes there is a sweet soup made of beans and/or barley, but most often fresh fruit is served. Nowadays you can find all sorts of fancy western-style cakes and pastries in China, but true Chinese desserts are few and far between. Some restaurants in America offer a selection of desserts, many of which were invented to please the American taste for something sweet to end a meal. But “Eight Jewels Rice” (babaofan in Mandarin) is truly Chinese – a sort of sweet and sticky rice pudding made with (presumably) eight types of dried or preserved fruits and nuts. You can buy canned red bean paste at Asian groceries, but it’s just as easy (and probably healthier) to make your own. Glutinous rice is a very short-grained rice which is now more frequently available in brown and mixed versions as well as the more common white. The garnish ingredients are sometimes arranged in a decorative pattern in the bowl, but you can also mix them into the cooked rice.
- 1.5 c glutinous rice
- 1.5 c water
- 1 T oil for greasing the bowl
- 1 c cooked dark red kidney beans, cooking liquid reserved
- 1 T honey, more to taste
- 1 T oil (optional)
- 1 c total dried fruits (larger ones may be cut into strips or chopped coarsely: raisins, dates, apricots, cherries, cranberries, mangoes, …)and nuts (unbroken halves make the best presentation: peanuts, cashews, almonds, …)
- 1/2 c sugar (white is best)
- 1/2 c water
- Rinse and drain the rice, then cook according to Basic Steamed Rice recipe. Keep warm.
- Use a food processor to puree the beans with the honey and oil, adding the cooking liquid 1 T at a time until it reaches a thick paste consistency.
- Grease a heatproof bowl (approximately 6-8″ across).
- Mix the garnish ingredients into the rice or arrange them in a design over the bottom of the bowl (and up the sides if you’d like).
- Gently press 3/4 of the rice mixture into the bowl, taking care not to disturb the pattern if you went that route. It should be about 1/2″ thick all around.
- Add the red bean mixture to the middle, then use the rest of the rice to seal in the filling.
- Wet your hands with cold water and smooth the surface, pressing down very gently to remove any air pockets.
- Place the bowl in a steamer and steam for 45 m.
- Meanwhile, combine the sauce ingredients in a saucepan and bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer just until all the sugar is dissolved approximately 1 m.
- Remove the bowl from the steamer and run a knife around the edges of the “pudding,” being careful not to disturb the design if you made one.
- Invert onto a plate, pour the sauce over, and serve with a spoon or you can try cutting into wedges and serving as you would a cake.
The “pudding” can be assembled and steamed up to 3 days ahead and refrigerated, tightly covered in the bowl, once it cools to room temperature. Or you can freeze it, tightly covered, in the bowl for up to 3 months. Thaw in the refrigerator 24-48 h before using. Reheat it by steaming for 30 m.