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Snack attack: lo poh beng

Susan Jung

 

Trophy cakes When I was a child, growing up in southern California, one of my favourite treats was lo poh beng (wife cakes). Made from flaky pastry wrapped around a filling of chopped candied winter melon, sugar and glutinous rice flour, these sweet cakes were a delicious snack to have with hot tea. Some versions add dried coconut and/or sesame seeds. Many traditional bakeries (including the famous Hang Heung, in Yuen Long) sell them, but they vary in quality - often, too much starch is added because doing so is cheaper than using a lot of candied winter melon, but that dilutes the taste and makes the filling gluey.

The pastry of lo poh beng is just as important as the filling. Lard is traditional and produces the flakiest, lightest pastry, but most bakeries now substitute it with shortening.

There are many stories about how they came to be called wife cakes, ranging from a wife making better cakes than her chef husband, to one about an impoverished husband creating a cake and selling them to buy back his wife, who had sold herself to pay off the family's debts.

 

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