Hoa Thủy Tiên literally translates to "Water Angel/Fairy Flower". It's, or shall I say "her" botanical name is narcissus tazetta and they're a variety of narcissus (daffodil, paper whites, etc...). The bulbs are forced in water to set off graceful flowers for Tết - Chinese/Vietnamese/Lunar New Year. Thus, the name "Water Angel/Fairy".

Angel or Fairy? In Vietnamese, Tiên is a mythical being from the heavens who is beautiful and graceful while possessing supernatural powers. Although Tiên can be either male or female....it usually implies female. For example, Chị Hằng Nga of the mid-autumn festival. Angel for fairy? I'll let you decide.

There are 2 ways to force these bulbs into blooming. One is to simply stick the bulbs in a container filled with water, change the water every few days and in about 6 weeks you'll see angels. The second method is more traditional and complicated. The bulbs are "carved" to expose the flower buds and then placed in water. As the leaves and stems grow, they too are carved to manipulate them into their graceful shapes. With this method, the bulbs should bloom in 20 days (+/-). As with all plants temperature plays an important role, if the temp is too warm, then they'll bloom earlier and vice versa. You can somewhat control how fast they bloom by controlling the temperature of the water. It is desirable to have the flowers bloom exactly at midnight on the eve of the New Year….so plan accordingly.

*Click on the pictures for larger images*

 
Step 1:  The bulbs will look like this when you buy them from the store.  Look for ones that are plump, white with plenty of bulbs attached (each bulb is a flower stalk); each attached bulb should be at least thumb size (smaller ones won't bloom).

  
Step 2:  Using a sharp paring knife, begin carving away the outer layers of the bulb (the bulb is made up of many layers like an onion).   Use extreme caution as you get to the center of the bulb.


  
Step 3:  Only cut away half/one side of the bulb like in the picture above.  Stop once you get to the young shoots in the center (if you look closely you'll notice the flower buds are already set).  It's ok if you damage the leaves but if any of the flower buds are hurt they will not bloom. 


  
Step 4: Soak the bulb cut side down in cold water.  Soak for 2 days, changing the water and carefully washing the bulbs everyday. 


  
Step 5: After 2 day, flip the bulb over and soak it for another 2 days, changing the water everyday. 



Step 6: Next step is to place the bulb into a vase/container, use rocks, marbles, etc...to anchor the plant if you need too.


Step 7: Cover the cut surface of the bulb with a wet paper towel or cotton, fill the container with fresh water.  Make sure the towel or cotton touches the water underneath (or else it will dry out, defeating the purpose of using it to keep the top of the bulb moist).   Change the water every few days....sit back, relax and watch your angel bloom.  

**As the plant grows you can trim/carve the leaves and flower stems to turn them into unique patterns.  For the leaves, just trim away a small sliver of the leaf.    The leaf will bend/curl towards the side that's been trimmed.  Same goes for the stems of the flowers.  DO NOT touch the flower heads/buds.  Any damage to them will cause the bulbs to abort the flowers.**

I'll post an update when mine's bloom...but until then...you can google "hoa thuy tien" for a few images, if you're curious.
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Vietnamese 101....

Bánh = pastry
Gai = thorn
Đuông = a type of worm, found in the heart of coconut and palm trees

Thus gives us the name for these cookies.

They are somewhat related to "Dragon Cookies" which are found in other Southeast Asian countries such as Malaysia during Chinese New Year. The Vietnamese version is a bit more complicated in ingredients.  In this speciality, traditional Southeast Asian ingredients such as tapioca starch and coconut milk are paired with French influences of butter and condensed milk.....goes to show the east meets west concept is not just a fad it's..., well....it's history and tradition.  The texture and method for making the cookies very much resemble Les sablés pouchés (piped shortbread cookies).  The worm shape is strictly Vietnamese.

Ingredients:
-100g all purpose flour
-100g tapioca starh
-80g sugar
-25g coconut milk
-1 1/2 tbs condensed milk
-20g butter, melted
-2 egg yolks
-1/2 tsp baking soda
-1/2 tsp lemon extract 


What to Do:
Sift together flours and baking soda.  Whisk together sugar, coconut milk, condensed milk , butter, egg yolks and extract.  Add the flour mixture to the mix of wet ingredients.  Mix to form a slightly sticky dough.

To Make Bánh Gai:
Fit a star tip into a piping bag and fill with cookie dough.  Pipe the dough onto a baking sheet.  Traditionally, these cookies are made with the aid of a specially created mold.  The mold works like a cookie gun. However, if you live outside of Vietnam or Asia...chances are pretty slim that you'll be able to get your hands on one... The pastry bag works just as great.

To Make Bánh Đuông:
Add 1 tbs tapioca starch to the above dough (the dough should be firmer).  Pinch off small pieces of dough and roll them between the palms of your hand to turn them into worms.  Use a clean comb to give the worms the signature indentation. 

Bake the cookies at 350'F until golden (about 12-15 mins).
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