The World of Chinese - - Editor's Letter - BY SUN JIAHUI (孙佳慧)

Be­fore you ask, no, it doesn’t have wife in it. The wife pie (老婆饼) is a tra­di­tional Can­tonese pas­try with a thin, flakey crust and a sweet fill­ing of your choice, com­monly win­ter melon, pur­ple sweet potato, or red bean paste.

As to its pe­cu­liar name, well, we have to travel back in time, and, as with so many an­cient sto­ries, we don’t know how far back. The story goes, there was once a young mar­ried cou­ple in a small vil­lage who were very poor but also very much in love. Sadly, the hus­band’s fa­ther fell ill and they couldn’t af­ford his medicine. The hus­band sold flakey desserts on the street to help save his fa­ther, but his wife went one step fur­ther: She sold her­self into slav­ery to pay for her fa­ther-in-law’s med­i­ca­tion. Luck­ily, the hus­band’s flakey dessert—which he named out of re­spect for his wife’s ges­ture—took off, and he was able to buy her back, hence the name “wife pie.”

An­other ver­sion in­volves the wife of Zhu Yuanzhang (朱元璋), the first em­peror of the Ming Dy­nasty (1368 – 1644). Be­fore Zhu be­came the em­peror, he was the leader of an up­ris­ing against the Mon­gol rulers. The army was of­ten short of food, so Zhu’s wife, sur­named Ma, came up with the idea for a pas­try that could be eas­ily stored and car­ried. She gath­ered up all the in­gre­di­ents she could find— win­ter melon, wheat, and sugar—and the flakey pie was born. It’s not as ro­man­tic as the first story, but it cer­tainly ex­plains why the dessert is so pop­u­lar around the coun­try, as it was car­ried far and wide by the sol­diers.

The most im­por­tant thing you’re go­ing to want to re­mem­ber in cook­ing “wife pie” is the pork lard. Be­fore you wrap the fill­ing into the wrap­per, pork lard is added to the two dif­fer­ent types of dough (“wa­ter dough” and “oil dough”). An “egg wash,” or beaten egg mixed with wa­ter or milk, is what gives the pie its golden sheen. As for fill­ing, go with what feels right; but sweet red bean paste is a fa­vorite, soft and pip­ing hot out of the oven.



100g flour

15g sugar

10g pork lard

45g wa­ter

10 ml egg wash

(1 egg di­luted with

2 to 3 tbsp wa­ter)


80g flour

50g pork lard


70g red bean

70g sugar


1. Soak the red beans in cold wa­ter overnight, then boil un­til cooked. Blend to make a fine, dry paste. Stir fry with a lit­tle veg­etable oil if the paste is too moist. Mix in sugar, and set aside. Ideally, the paste should be dry enough to roll into lit­tle balls.

2. Mix the in­gre­di­ents for wa­ter dough and set the dough aside for half an hour. Then, make the dough into 16 even, round, thin pat­ties.

3. Mix the in­gre­di­ents for oil dough and place the dough in re­frig­er­a­tor for 20 to 30 min­utes. Di­vide the dough into 16 small balls.

4. Wrap the oil dough in the wa­ter dough. Roll flat and fold in half three or four times. Let it rest for 15 min­utes.

5. Make the dough into a round, thin wrap­per. Place the fill­ing onto the cen­ter of the wrap­per, fold up the wrap­per, and flat­ten slightly.

6. Put the 16 pies onto a bak­ing tray and brush the egg wash on the sur­face of each. Sprin­kle sesame seeds and make three shal­low cuts on the sur­face.

7. Heat oven to 200 de­grees Cel­sius. Bake for about 15 min­utes. En­joy!

A flakey dessert with a ro­man­tic past

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