This month is the 7th month of the Lunar Calendar. Today being the 15th day of the month, marks the 'Hungry Ghost Festival' (中元节/鬼节) for the Chinese. During this month, we are to watch our tongues so as not to upset the spirits. Children are to stay indoors after sunset, etc. There are many horror stories related to the festival, mostly about spirits taking revenge, which I prefer not to touch on that. Since young, I was introduced to this tradition of offering food, incense, joss papers to the ghosts/spirits (not limiting to our ancestors), to appease them. I was told by my parents that this the month whereby the 'Gates of Hell' opens and the 'occupants' of the netherworld is allowed to visit living relatives and of course; feast.
While we have people around us going hungry, it is believed that it is the same in the netherworld. Some of these ghosts/spirits were being sent to Realm of Hungry Ghost (饿鬼道) , whereby they have huge bellies but with small mouths and narrow throats. Thus, they can never satisfy their hunger. However, this is the only time they are allowed to eat. And there are some poor souls, whose relatives do not believe in life after death, are able to receive 'hand-outs' from those who offered. So look at it this way, superstitious or not, it's charity in another form. Even though some might not believe in this practice, but being Chinese, I think we need to know. My mom called this practice '孝叔伯' (in Teochew), loosely translated as showing filial piety to the deceased. Mostly, people referred wandering spirits '好兄弟' instead of '鬼' . Strange, sometimes my mom calls me that when she was upset with me. Hmm...
Okay, enough of the introduction. This year, I volunteered to steam Huat Kueh for my mom. I don't know when it started but I remembered her buying Huat Kueh as an offering and for Chinese New Year. It is important for Huat Kuehs to 'smile' (split) when you are making it. It is considered auspicious by the Chinese. I remember my mom's frustrations when hers didn't. I tried this recipe from Fenying's blog and it worked! I think the Huat Kueh has the potential to rise/split better but was hindered by the steamer's lid. I modified it slightly as I do not want to have any leftover coconut cream.
Huat Kueh (yielded 1 SKP-16 container + 1 small muffin tin)
200g Gula Melaka
3 Tbsp Water
200g (1 pack) Coconut Cream (I used Kara's)
A pinch of Salt
250g Self Raising Flour
1) Chop Gula Melaka into small pieces. Heat up a saucepan, add water and Gula Melaka. Remove from heat when sugar has all melted. Sieve, add coconut cream, salt and set aside to cool.
2) In a mixing bowl, add flour and mixture. Use a hand whisk to mix till well combined. Mixture should be gooey. Do not overmix. Pour batter into container till 90% full. Steam for 45 to 50 minutes on high heat.
*Note : I used a towel to cover the lid to prevent waterdroplets dripping onto the Huat Kueh.
**Note : I learnt that if you sprinkle sugar like a cross on the batter, it will help the Kueh to split better.
For further reading and understanding about the Hungry Ghost Festival, here's a few links.