These Wife Cakes (also known as Sweetheart Cakes) are a Chinese bakery classic. They consist of a flaky pastry filled with a delicious and chewy, sweet wintermelon and coconut filling. Enjoy them with tea for the perfect afternoon snack.
This recipe first appeared on Sift & Simmer in Feb 2019. Updated March 2022.
With Valentine's Day around the corner, I thought I would bring you a sweet recipe (pun intended).
Also, I can't believe I've been blogging for 2 years now! So happy blogiversary to my blog!
I didn't make an extravagant cake like last year, but I think these Wife Cakes will be just as great.
What are Wife Cakes?
Wife Cakes are also known as "Sweetheart Cakes," literally translated in Cantonese as "lo por beng."
Another misnomer, they are not a cake, but they're actually a flaky cookie/pastry filled with a sweet and chewy wintermelon and coconut filling.
The flaky pastry consists of an oil dough and water dough, similar to Homemade Chinese BBQ Pork Pastry (Char Siu Sou).
Why this recipe works
These Wife Cakes are deliciously flaky and the filling is not too sweet.
Using a water and oil dough ensures light and delicious pastry.
The method of coiling the dough twice and pinching it produces those flaky layers.
Adding sesame seeds and chopped candied wintermelon along with the glutinous rice flour to the filling produces a nutty, "QQ" chewy texture.
Best of all, it doesn't require copious amounts of fat to create this classic Chinese pastry!
The story of how they were created
There are a couple of different versions of how this cake came to be.
But the story goes like this: there was a couple in China who were very much in love, but lived in a very poor village.
The girl's husband's father (father-in-law) was suddenly very sick, so they used all of their money to buy medicine to help the father, but he was still sick.
So the girl sold herself as a slave in order to get money to help buy medicine for her father-in-law.
When her husband heard what she had done, he created a cake with sweetened wintermelon and almond and sold it on the street.
Eventually he made enough money that he was able to buy his wife back.
Ingredients you'll need
For the filling:
- candied wintermleon: the star of the dish, wintermelon -- also known as wax gourd, usually chopped into small pieces and preserved with sugar. It's also used in mooncakes. It's sold in Asian grocery stores or TCM (Traditional Chinese medicine) herbal shops.
- white sesame seeds: toasted and ground
- shredded coconut flakes: unsweetened; if your coconut flakes are coarse, you can grind them a few times in a coffee grinder or mortar and pestle
- cooked glutinous rice flour (koh fun): gives the filling its characteristically chewy texture; is a slightly tan/beige coloured glutinous rice flour that has been toasted/cooked and is used in mochi and mooncakes; it can be difficult to find in Asian supermarkets; see my note below on how to make it at home
- coconut oil: at room temperature; you can use unsalted butter if you wish
For the 2 doughs (water and oil dough):
- cake flour: is low-protein flour and does not have as much gluten as all-purpose or bread flour
- lard: which is pork fat that has been rendered; it is creamy white in colour and produces very flaky layers in dough; you can substitute with coconut oil or unsalted butter
What does wintermelon taste like?
The candied wintermelon has a neutral, slightly melony sweet flavour.
How to make glutinous rice flour (koh fun) at home
Note: The chewy texture of the filling comes from koh fun, which is cooked glutinous rice flour, and can be very difficult to find, even in Asian grocery stores. If you can't find it, you can make it at home.
Just use regular glutinous rice flour, toast it over a dry hot pan over medium-low heat for 10-12 minutes, stirring consistently (so it doesn't burn), and it should turn slightly tan in colour.
Store the cooked glutinous rice flour (koh fun) in a clean, dry air-tight container at room temperature for up to 6 months.
How to make them
Make the filling
Make the wintermelon filling by combining the ingredients together in a bowl (Step 1 and 2 below).
Divide the filling into 8 portions (Step 3 below).
Make the water dough
Make the oil dough
Assembling the pastry
How to serve and store
You can serve the Wife Cakes slightly cooled after baking or at room temperature.
Store them in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 3 days.
Alternatively, you can freeze them in an airtight container and reheat in the oven at 350F/177C for 10-15 minutes until crisp.
Expert tips & troubleshooting
Can I double the recipe?
Yes, you can double the recipe.
Where can I get koh fun (cooked glutinous rice flour)?
You can find koh fun in specialty Asian grocery stores or online. It can be difficult to find, which is why I've given a homemade version.
Where can I find candied wintermelon?
You can find candied wintermelon in Chinese herbal/medicine stores.
Can I use my own candied wintermelon?
Yes, you can.
My wife cakes didn't puff up.
It's possible that your oven temperature may not be hot enough. Try increasing the temperature a little.
It's also important not to open the door once the Wife Cakes are in the oven. That can lead to deflation.
Can I use regular glutinous rice flour in place of the koh fun?
Yes, just be sure to toast it prior to using.
Other recipes you may like
You may also like these other recipes:
Let me know if you try it -- I'd love to see your creations. Tag me on Instagram @siftandsimmer or leave a comment/rating below.
Wife Cakes (老婆餅)
For accuracy and precision in baking recipes, use weight (metric) measurements when available.
- 120 g candied wintermelon diced up finely
- 1 tablespoon roasted white sesame seeds grounded up or blitz into a powder
- 1 tablespoon unsweetened shredded coconut
- 40 g cooked glutinous rice flour (koh fun)
- 5 ml coconut oil or unsalted butter
- 50 g water
- 100 g cake flour or low-protein flour
- 40 g lard or unsalted butter
- 50 ml water
- 80 g cake flour
- 60 g lard or room temperature coconut oil
- 1 beaten egg yolk
- 1 teaspoon water
- white or black sesame seeds for sprinkling optional
For visual step-by-step instructions, refer to the photos in the post.
Make the filling:
- Combine finely chopped candied wintermelon, sesame seeds, shredded coconut, cooked glutinous rice flour (koh fun), coconut oil and water together in a bowl. Mix together.
- Divide the filling into 8 balls, about 28g each.
Make the Water Dough:
- Mix together cake flour, lard and water in a small bowl.
- Divide into 8 portions about 23g each. Cover and let it rest for 30 minutes at room temperature.
Make the Oil Dough:
- In a separate bowl, mix together cake flour and lard.
- Divide into 8 portions about 16g each. Cover and let rest for 30 minutes at room temperature.
- Preheat oven to 400°F/204°C. Line a large baking tray with parchment paper.
- Roll out the Water Dough into a round disc. Place 1 ball of Oil Dough in the centre of the water dough and gather the seams to enclose.
- Flatten dough into an oval/oblong shape with a rolling pin.
- Coil up the dough (jelly roll style). Repeat with the remaining dough, cover and let it rest for 20-30 minutes.
- After resting, rotate the coiled dough 90 degrees, flatten with a rolling pin and coil it up again (jelly roll style) to build up the flaky layers and let it rest for another 20 minutes.
- Push down the centre of the dough (seam-side up) with one thumb and pinch the two ends up together with the other thumb and forefinger.
- Flatten the dough with your palm.
- Roll out the dough with a rolling pin.
- Place the wintermelon filling in the centre of the dough and gather up the seams to enclose.
- Gently flatten the dough into a large disc using a rolling pin. Be careful not to puncture the dough.
- Make 2 parallel slits on the top of the disc.
- Combine the egg yolk and water to make an egg wash. Lightly brush the tops with egg yolk wash and sprinkle some sesame seeds (optional). Repeat with the remainder.
- Bake at 400°F/204°C for 20-25 minutes until golden brown and flaky.
- Remove from oven and cool on a rack.
The nutritional information provided should be considered as approximate and is not guaranteed. Please use your best judgment to ensure food is safely prepared and/or a good fit for your diet.