Wife cakes

Wife cakes

The Real Food of China
Leanne Kitchen

The traditional method of making the Chinese flaky pastry for these — which separates as it cooks into the most delicate layers imaginable — is a true art. So we’ve suggested rough puff, which is by no means a shabby substitute. How these got their name isn’t clear, although theories abound. One has it that a man fell into debt, hocked his wife to the landlord to make some cash, then promptly invented these cakes and sold them by the roadside in a bid to secure enough money to buy her back. Whatever their story, they are made from relatively humble ingredients: winter melon, sugar, flour and, traditionally, lard, which you can use instead of butter.



Quantity Ingredient
250g plain flour
160g unsalted butter, slightly chilled and chopped
1 egg yolk, mixed with 2 teaspoons water, for glazing


Quantity Ingredient
200g candied winter melon, very finely chopped
50g Toasted sesame seeds, plus extra for sprinkling
30g desiccated coconut
40g cooked glutinous rice flour
2 tablespoons caster sugar
2 teaspoons sesame oil


  1. To make the pastry, put the flour in a bowl, add the butter and use your fingers to gently mix — do not rub the butter into the flour; it should be lumpy. Add 100 ml ice-cold water, then, using a flat-bladed knife, mix to form a coarse, soft dough, adding about 1 tablespoon cold water, if necessary. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface, knead very lightly until just smooth, then use your hands to shape it into a 15 x 10 cm rectangle. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 20 minutes.
  2. Put the pastry on a lightly floured surface with a short end nearest to you, then use a rolling pin to roll the pastry away from you, without turning it, into a 30 x 12 cm rectangle. Keep the edges as straight as you can. Fold the bottom third of the pastry over, then fold the top third over that to form a square block. Turn the pastry block 90 degrees, then repeat the rolling and folding process. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 30 minutes. Put the pastry on a lightly floured surface and repeat the rolling and folding process again. Cover and refrigerate for another 30 minutes.
  3. Meanwhile, to make the filling, put all the ingredients and 1 tablespoon cold water in a bowl and mix to combine well. Divide the filling into 14 even portions and roll each into a ball. Using your hands, flatten each ball so it is about 5 cm across.
  4. Put the dough on a lightly floured surface and roll it into a 40 x 32 cm rectangle. Using a 10 cm biscuit cutter, cut out 12 circles from the dough, reserving the scraps. Working with one round at a time, use a small rolling pin or your fingers to roll or press the edges to thin them and make the round about 2 cm larger. Place a flattened ball of filling in the middle of the dough, then bring the edges up and over the filling to enclose it, pleating the edge together to neatly seal. Place each finished pastry, seam side down, on a baking tray lined with baking paper. Repeat with the remaining dough circles and filling. Reroll the scraps and cut out another two circles, roll the edges to thin them, then fill with the remaining filling portions. Refrigerate the pastries for 30 minutes.
  5. Preheat the oven to 180°C. Brush each pastry with a little of the egg yolk mixture. Using a small knife, make three small parallel cuts in the top of each pastry, then sprinkle with sesame seeds. Bake for 25 minutes, or until the pastry is light golden and cooked through. Transfer to a wire rack to cool. The cakes can be stored for up to 1 week in an airtight container.
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