Gluten-free pumpkin cakes are arranged on a dish. The cakes are an Asian dessert and coated in sesame seeds.
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In a culinary world brimming with diverse flavours and textures, our palates often encounter dishes that ignite passionate debates. For Joanna Hu, co-author of ‘Chinese-Ish,’ Asian desserts have been a topic of contention. “I am perhaps the more vocal hater of Asian desserts,” she admits candidly. “The flavours are often too sweet, not sweet enough, or just plain unappetising (Like, why is red bean so prevalent?). Then there’s the textural aspect: At the end of the meal at yum cha, there just seems to be an endless stream of wobbly puddings, custards, and jellies. Luckily, the deep-fryer arrives to save the day.”

Jo discovered an exception in the form of pumpkin cakes. Delightful treats that managed to sway her opinion “Pumpkin cakes are that perfect mix of crunchy outer shell and sweet, slightly doughy center,” she explains. “Pumpkin cakes are that perfect mix of crunchy outer shell and sweet, slightly doughy centre. The glutinous rice flour adds a yielding bite and elasticity, and the sesame-seed coating makes things even more moreish.”

We’re thrilled to share Jo’s fantastic pumpkin cake recipe from her cookbook ‘Chinese-Ish’ below. These delicious, naturally gluten-free cakes showcase the delightful possibilities of Asian desserts. Enjoy!

Gluten-Free Pumpkin Cakes

Recipe by Rosheen Kaul and Joanna Hu | Photography by Armelle Habib
Prep Time 15 minutes
Cook Time 14 minutes
Course Dessert, Snack
Cuisine Asian
Servings 15 -20 small cakes


  • 300 g pumpkin flesh about 1 small pumpkin, peeled, deseeded and cut into thin, even slices
  • 2 tablespoons gluten-free icing sugar
  • cups 200g glutinous rice flour, see note
  • Vegetable oil for deep-frying
  • ½ cup 75g sesame seeds


  • Place the pumpkin in a microwave-safe container and cook on high for 8 minutes, until very soft. Alternatively, you could steam the pumpkin for 25–30 minutes, until very soft. Drain any excess water from the flesh, place in a blender and blend into a puree. Add the icing sugar, adjust for your desired level of sweetness and blend once more.
  • Transfer the pumpkin puree to a bowl and add the glutinous rice flour in increments, working the mixture into a dry dough with your hands. You may need to add more flour depending on the water content of your pumpkin. The dough shouldn’t stick to your hands.
  • In a wok or heavy-based pan, heat the oil to 160°C, using a food thermometer to check the temperature.
  • To make the cakes, roll the pumpkin dough into balls about the size of a ping pong ball, then flatten each into a 1.5cm disc. Lightly dampen the surface of each cake with a little water and coat with sesame seeds. Working in batches, gently slide the cakes into the hot oil and fry until golden-brown, about 5–6 minutes.
  • After all the cakes have been fried once, fry them a second time for about 20 seconds to form a lasting crispy shell. Set aside to cool briefly before serving.


Despite its name, glutinous rice, also known as sticky rice or sweet rice, is gluten-free. The term “glutinous,” in this case, means “sticky.”
Cover of the cookbook 'Chinese-Ish.' The cover is half red and half blue and features Chinese home cooking, not quite authentic but 100% delicious.
Images and text from Chinese-ish by Rosheen Kaul and Joanna Hu, photography by Armelle Habib. Murdoch Books RRP $39.99.
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