When I first saw the label, “Wife Cake” on a pastry at Maxim’s Bakery, I knew there must be a good story behind them.
Maxim’s Bakery is a Chinese bakery with 7 locations in Greater Vancouver. I spoke with the owner of the bakery, and he explained that their recipe traveled from Hong Kong to Vancouver with the original owner in 1979.
Where does Wife Cake Come From?
There are a number of origin stories that exist for Wife Cake. A friend shared this version, which she remembers hearing from her grandmother as she made Wife Cake for the family.
There was a married couple who lived in Imperial China. They were poor, and illness fell upon the land. Unfortunately the husband’s father became ill. To buy her father-in-law medicine, the wife sold herself to slavery. When the husband learned about this, he began making cakes and sold them to customers in the streets. The cakes became so popular that he was able to save money. Over time, he was able to collect enough money to purchase his wife’s freedom.
In another version of this story, the husband and wife were re-united at a tea house. The husband searched for his wife for many years. After a long day of searching, he went to a tea house and ordered refreshments. His cakes had become very popular by this time, and when he was served cake, noticed that it was his wife cake. The couple was re-united that same day.
How Does Wife Cake Taste?
No matter the origin, the cake is light and filled with a satisfying sweetness. The pastry is made with lard. This provides a very flaky, delicate texture, reminiscent of many Asian pastries.
Wife Cake is served as a single round portion. When you bite into the pastry, you can taste the wintermelon filling, which has a subtle sweetness. The cake itself is crumbly with a slightly chewy filling. They’re lovely treats with a fascinating story worth sharing.
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