Sweetheart Pastry

Sweetheart Pastry or “Wife Cake” is a traditional Cantonese dimsum from southeast China, with thin, flaky crust, enclosing a sweet, tender filling.

This dessert can be traced back to the late Yuan and early Ming Dynasty in the mid-14th century, when the Yuan ruler imposed heavy taxes on commoners and peasant revolts swept across China. Zhu Yuanzhang emerged as a leader of the rebels that were struggling to overthrow the Mongol-ruled Yuan Dynasty (1271–1368). At the beginning of the rebellion, the rebels lacked provisions and the starving soldiers had to fight fierce battles on empty stomachs. Zhu’s wife came up with an idea of mixing wheat and white gourds together with other available ingredients and grinding them into flour for pastries. Thanks to these conveniently served pastries, Zhu’s army finally ended the Yuan Dynasty, forcing the Mongols to retreat to the central Asian steppe. In 1368, Zhu Yuanzhang proclaimed himself as Emperor Hongwu and established the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644).

In memory of Zhu’s wife, later cooks improved the recipe with more delicious ingredients. Using white gourd, wheat powder, glutinous rice flour, malt sugar and sesame, the pastries are now known as “Wife Cakes” or “Sweetheart Pastries.”

To cook:

Peel white gourd, remove seeds, and steam. Grate the gourd and use gauze to squeeze the juice. Put in a hot pan with a little lard, stir fry with sugar. Pour in some cornstarch mixed with water to thicken the filling. Add shelled melon seeds and baked sesame seeds, stir and dish off to cool. If sugared strips of white gourd are used, the process can be much simpler: ground the sugared white gourd, stir the stuffing together with lard, fried glutinous rice flour, and then add shelled melon seeds and baked sesame seeds.

The skin of Sweetheart Pastry comprises two parts, the outer crust and the inner crust. To make the outer crust, we need 450 g cake flour, 100 g bread flour, 7 g baking powder, one egg and 10 g lard, with enough water to make an elastic dough. Cover with plastic wrap and place aside 20 minutes. The inner crust is made from 450 g cake flour, 350 g butter, and 550 g lard, without water. Divide the crust and short-crust dough and the filling separately into equally-sized balls on a floured cutting board.

Flatten out each crust dough ball by pressing it down with the palm. Place a short-crust ball at the center of a flattened crust dough ball. Wrap the crust around the short-crust. Gently move the rolling pin backwards and forwards to make an oblong and then roll it into a cube. Cover with plastic wrap and wait for 15 minutes. Press the cube dough and roll it into a round one. Wrap a filling ball in the flattened cube dough. Seal the edges and shape it into an oblate one. Make two cuts on the surface to keep the stuffing from bursting when baked. Brush with beaten egg and sprinkle with sesame seeds. Bake in the oven for about 10 minutes. Serve.