Sweetheart cake

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Sweetheart cake
Alternative namesWife cake, Laopo bing
CourseSnack, dessert
Place of originGuangdong, China
Region or stateCantonese-speaking areas
Main ingredientsWinter melon, almond paste, sesame, five spice powder
Sweetheart cake
Traditional Chinese老婆餅
Simplified Chinese老婆饼
Literal meaningwife ("sweetheart") cake
Wife cake

A sweetheart cake or wife cake or marriage pie is a traditional Cantonese pastry with a thin crust of flaky pastry, and made with a filling of winter melon, almond paste, and sesame, and spiced with five spice powder.[1] "Wife cake" is the translation of lou po beng from Cantonese, and although the meaning is "wife", the literal translation is "old lady cake", paralleling the colloquial usage of "old lady" for "wife" in American English.

The cake is still popular in Hong Kong and Mainland China. Many people in Hong Kong, as well as professional chefs, also bake modern variants.


The traditional variant is from the Guangdong-Hong Kong region, where the filling consists of candied wintermelon.[2] The candied wintermelon mash is then combined with white sesame seeds and glutinous rice flour.[3] Coconut in the form of mash or desiccated shreds and almond paste, as well as vanilla, are also added sometimes.[4] The authentic flavour and flaky texture of the pastry is produced by using pork lard shortening[5] then by glazing with egg wash.[6] Due to its rising popularity in Western countries brought about by immigration, butter is sometimes substituted in place of lard, though this will alter the taste.[7] The level of sweetness is mild, compared to Western sweet pastries.

Southeast Asian variations can include spices such as Chinese five spice (五香粉). Although this spice is of Chinese origin, it is never used in authentic sweetheart cakes. Sweetheart cake may be confused with the husband cake, which uses star anise in its filling.[8]

Legends of origin[edit]

There are many legends that attempt to explain the origins of the sweetheart cake. One tells the tale of a couple that lived a very poor life, in imperial China. They loved each other and lived in a small village. Suddenly, a mysterious disease spread and the husband's father became very sick. The couple spent all of their money in order to treat the man's father. The wife sold herself as a slave in exchange for money to buy medicine for her father-in-law. Once the husband learned about what his wife did, he made a cake filled with sweetened wintermelon and almond. He dedicated this pastry to his wife whom he could never forget, and sold it on the street. His cake became so popular that he was able to earn enough money to buy his wife back.[9]

There is another version where the man went searching for his wife after he earned enough money to buy her back. In his search, he had a cup of tea at a local teahouse, when he suddenly recognised the pastry they were serving with the tea. The man and his wife were reunited at the teahouse.

Another story tells of a dim sum chef's wife creating a pastry with wintermelon paste influenced by a recipe from her mother's family. The new pastry was found to taste better than the dim sums that were being sold in teahouses, and the chef proudly told everyone it was made by his wife, hence it was named "Wife Cake".[10]

Another version of the story is that a man had a wife with an extremely sedentary lifestyle who refused to leave her house to satisfy her hunger. One day, the man needed to leave for a few days on a business trip but needed a solution to continue providing food to his wife. So the man decided to create a wintermelon paste pastry with a large hole in the middle to hang it around her neck so that she would not go hungry. Unfortunately he returned from his trip and discovered that his wife died from hunger as the wife only ate the front half of the cake and did not turn her head around to realize there was more food.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Chinese-sweetheart-cake Archived 2012-07-03 at Archive.today
  2. ^ Phil (2009). "How to make Candied Winter Melon aka Tung Kua(冬瓜糖)". Retrieved 18 December 2011.
  3. ^ "Chinese Wife Cake Recipe". 2006.
  4. ^ "Wife Biscuit/Sweetheart Cake". 2010. Retrieved 18 December 2011.
  5. ^ "40 Hong Kong foods we can't live without". CNN International. 2010. Archived from the original on 5 November 2012. Retrieved 18 December 2011.
  6. ^ "Wife Biscuit/Sweetheart Cake". 2010. Retrieved 18 December 2011.
  7. ^ "Cantonese Pastries: Husband and Wife Cake". Lifeofguangzhou.com. 2008. Retrieved 18 December 2011.
  8. ^ "Cantonese Pastries: Husband and Wife Cake". LIfeofguangzhou.com. 2008. Retrieved 18 December 2011.
  9. ^ "Cantonese Pastries: Husband and Wife Cake". Lifeofguangzhou.com. 2008. Retrieved 18 December 2011.
  10. ^ Jacky Yu. "Food Story". Retrieved 18 December 2011.