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With everyone baking banana bread and cheesecake while they’re stuck at home these days, why not switch it up and recreate some local Hong Kong pastries and baked goods instead? They’re simpler to make than you’d imagine. While the ingredients may be niche for Western bakers, they’re easy to find around Hong Kong. Bring the taste of authentic and nostalgic local treats to your home with these sweet and savoury recipes!
The humble Hong Kong-style egg tart first became popular in Hong Kong in the 1940s and 1950s, allegedly drawing inspiration from the English custard tart and the Portuguese pastel de nata from neighbouring Macau. This perfect afternoon snack won the hearts of not only locals and tourists but also celebrities like famed chef Anthony Bourdain.
You can make this eggy delight with either a cookie crust or pastry crust (or simply buy pre-made pastry dough to make your life easier). The main difference between our beloved egg tart and the similarly delicious Portuguese pastel de nata is the custard filling. Ours are glossy and creamy, while its Macanese sibling has a richly caramelised top. Put the kettle on and enjoy your warm egg tarts with a cuppa to make those lazy afternoons just perfect.
You will always find the much-loved coconut tart besides the famous egg tart, a similar baked concoction that’s packed full of flavour. This recipe isn’t for anyone who dislikes coconuts or doesn’t have a sweet tooth, though. The golden cookie crust is filled with a coconut egg custard made with icing sugar and is typically topped with a glistening Maraschino cherry. It’s another wonderful breakfast or afternoon tea delight that’s perfect with a Hong Kong-style milk tea—if you can handle a trip to the dentist’s after.
This is a traditional Cantonese pastry typically sent by the groom to a bride’s family after the engagement in order to “win them over.” It was lovingly named after the wife of a poor hawker in Guangdong who created the pastry and brought fortune to the family.
There are eight types of traditional bridal pastries, but the wife cake is by far the most symbolic. It’s a soft, round, and flakey cake filled with a mildly sweet, candied winter melon centre, and is certainly labour-intensive to make even by the professionals. The wife cake has not one but two doughs, one made with water and oil, and the other a simple oil dough. It used to be cut with lard, but the bakers managed to achieve the crumb without the use of the heavy ingredient, and so most commercial wife cake producers go without.
If you want the most authentic wife cake to taste before attempting it at home, head to Hang Heung in Yuen Long, which has been specialising in wife cakes since the 1980s.
The Chinese shortbread, or white sugar cake, isn’t really a shortbread, though the texture is reminiscent of the teatime biscuit Brits know and love. Appearance-wise, it resembles a Western snowball cookie, served during Christmastime.
Although its exact origins are unclear—with most stories pointing to Foshan in Guangdong province—the Chinese shortbread is a big part of many locals’ childhood and is hard to find in most bakeries now. It’s a fluffy, cakey, and milky pastry that leaves you with a white coating over your lips, and is fairly simple to make. Unlike most cookies, the Chinese shortbread is meant to have a slightly cracked top.
Macau is practically in the neighbourhood, and to be fair, the one-hour ferry ride is less than most commutes in the city. The Macanese almond cookie is a famous snack and a popular souvenir that tourists traversing Macau’s cobblestone alleys love to bring home.
Traditionally made with mung beans and almonds, this almond cookie is a mildly sweet and crumbly delight that’s fairly simple to make, and can often be gobbled up in just one bite. If you’re giving this recipe a go at home, make sure to get the iconic wooden mould (which can be found in shops along Shanghai Street in Jordan and Yau Ma Tei) for an air of authenticity. Your friends and family might not know the difference!
The red bean glutinous rice pudding—also known as put chai ko—is a traditional local street snack that’s brought joy to many a young Hongkonger. It’s a small, bowl-shaped pudding made with glutinous rice flour, red or brown sugar, and whole red beans, and is soft when served warm, and chewy when cold. You don’t even need an oven to make put chai ko at home, as it’s steamed instead of baked and doesn’t require much time or effort. Serve your put chai ko on two thin bamboo sticks for extra authenticity.
Back in the day, it was rare to find a Hong Kong bakery that didn’t have bamboo baskets full of these succulent and chewy sticky rice pancakes, warm and fresh out of the huge pans that could fry dozens at once. We hope you’ll forgive that this isn’t a baking recipe, but hey, it’ll be easier for you to try even more recipes at home since all you need is a frying pan.
The dough for the sticky rice pancakes is simple, made with glutinous rice flour, sugar, and water, and you can buy ready-made red bean filling from Japanese supermarkets if you don’t feel like making your own. Not a fan of red bean? Other traditional fillings include black sesame paste and coconut flake and peanut paste.
The Swiss roll may have come from Austria (not Switzerland, surprisingly, in spite of the name), but it’s a Hong Kong staple beloved by all. You’ll see students and workers grabbing one of these little fluffy rolled cakes on their way to school and work, most commonly the plain vanilla or chocolate rolls from Garden bakery.
It may look deceptively easy to make, with its basic sponge cake spread with whipped cream and rolled tight, but the rolling will be the most frustrating part, as the cake can’t be too hot or too cold when rolling or cracks will form. If it does crack, your delicious and smooth Swiss roll will have to be covered with more cream to cover the split cake.
Disclaimer: Pineapple buns don’t actually contain pineapples, and the name instead refers to the sugar cookie crackling on top of the bun that resembles the prickly outer skin of the fruit. It’s most commonly served in a cha chaan teng (茶餐廳; “tea restaurant”) with a slab of ice cold butter in between the hot bun, and an iced milk tea.
If you’ve got some confidence in your baking skills, pineapple buns won’t be hard to make at home, but they are time-consuming, as you’re preparing two doughs. Take heart in the fact that you’ll be baking bites of Hong Kong history at home, as in 2014, the pineapple bun became a part of Hong Kong’s intangible cultural heritage.
Finally, we have the sausage bun, Hong Kong’s answer to Gregg’s, though our version is made with a whole sausage (the cheaper and saltier the better) and a sweet and airy bread dough instead of a flakey pastry crust. The bread is made using the tangzhong (湯種) method (also called a water roux) where you cook bread flour with water into a paste to be added into the dough for the lightest bread possible.
This sweet and savoury sausage roll is almost every Hong Kong child’s favourite, so if you’ve got little ones at home (or if you’re young at heart), bake a batch of these for breakfast.