Every culture has its sweet tooth, and China is
no exception. As part of the nation’s diverse dim sum culture,
traditional desserts and pastries are celebrated for their fine
presentation and subtle tastes. They may be served as staples,
refreshments or as part of special festival fare.
local and seasonal, and one recipe may have many variations in
different regions of the county. Pumpkin cake, depending where you are,
can be either pan-fried or steamed.
“There is the famous ‘Beijing
Eight’ dessert that features eight different kinds of pastry, while the
Cantonese style has the largest variety and also uses Western
ingredients,” said Jacqueline Qiu, executive chef at the Andaz Xintiandi
Shanghai. “The Suzhou style often uses different kinds of beans as
Born and raised in Shanghai, Qiu’s childhood favorite
was a popular sweet treat called tang gao, which translates as “sugar
cake.” It is made with simple ingredients — just flour, water, sugar and
Tang gao is the Chinese version of a donut, crunchy on the
outside, airy and chewy on the inside. The best ones are always served
Qiu said she loved tang gao as a young child, but now the treat isn’t so easy to find in the city.
day she walked past a shop selling tang gao but was disappointed to
find her old treat served cold, with the texture of a steamed bun.
talked to my pastry chef about adding tang gao to the menu,” she said.
“And I visited a friend of my father’s who owns an eatery to get the
Now the Hai Pai restaurant in Andaz serves a
heart-shaped tang gao with a side of vanilla almond ice cream, a
nostalgic treat to bring back memories.
“Our memory for taste is well preserved,” Qiu said.
Western desserts and pastries usually use butter and cream, Chinese
desserts traditionally use lard or vegetable oils. Both wheat flour and
rice flour are used. The most common methods for making Chinese pastries
are steaming, pan frying, baking and deep frying.
The puff pastry used in Chinese desserts is made slightly differently from Western versions.
a similar concept of having many layers, but in Chinese cuisine, the
dough is not chilled as hard as it is in Western-style pastry,” Qiu
The modern kitchen has also brought changes to the
traditional Chinese dim sum. There are new appliances available to make
the work easier.
“New ingredients are being used to create new dishes, and many inspirations come from changes in fillings,” Qiu said.
the traditional ci fan gao, or fried rice patty, new Shanghai versions
add ingredients like nori, Jinhua ham and chopped scallions to the
original plain rice.
Steamed buns can be
savory or sweet. From the red bean paste variety found in most bun shops
to homemade triangular buns with a sesame and brown sugar filling,
these snacks are ideal for on-the-go breakfasts.
Steamed buns have more moisture than baked ones.
a good dough is essential, the flour needs to be leavened just right so
the bun can rise to a fluffy texture while retaining its shape.
The fillings can be made with different ingredients, like red bean paste, sesame sugar, jujube paste and creamy coconut puree.
Creamy custard bun
This typical Cantonese bun has a filling that combines eggs and milk.
The filling is made by whisking sugar into butter, then gradually adding eggs, milk, wheat starch and milk powder.
The bun is streamed to a custard-like texture, then cooled in the refrigerator.
A good creamy custard bun has a bright yellow filling that’s slightly melted and runny when served hot.
A simple sweet treat with a filling made of brown sugar and sesame seeds, this is a childhood favorite for many Chinese people.
rolling the dough into appropriate round shapes and placing a daub of
filling in the middle of each, the edges are lifted at three points to
create a triangle.
When making traditional Chinese cakes that are layered and have a crunchy crust, two layers of dough are required.
flaky outside crust uses a dough that’s made from flour, water and
lard, all well kneaded. There’s also a crunchy layer made without the
Mung bean cake
Mung bean cake is enjoyed nationwide
as a dessert. Similar to the Suzhou-style mooncakes, these cakes have a
mildly sweet filling made with mung bean paste.
Soft, flaky and
appetizing, these cakes are crowd pleasers, especially in summer because
the beans are believed to help relieve heat.
in China are different from the Western sponge or chiffon. There are
many varieties. Some are made with glutinous rice flour and chilled;
others are steamed.
With a history of more than 400 years, this dessert is made with fresh osmanthus blooms.
Traditionally, the cake has a jelly-like look with a dulcet taste from the aroma of the flowers.
The traditional recipe uses glutinous rice flour, sugar and sweetened osmanthus flowers.
Since osmanthus usually blooms in autumn, this cake is often made to celebrate the harvest and the Mid-Autumn Festival.
Today, osmanthus cakes from different regions also have their own unique shapes and tastes.
Water chestnut cake
sweet Cantonese favorite made from shredded water chestnuts, this cake
is known for its translucent jelly appearance and chewy texture. It is a
common dish in dim sum fare and is frequently found in Cantonese
When served, it is usually cut into small
squares and pan-fried. Some restaurants also serve a variation of water
chestnut cake made with bamboo juice.
White sugar cake
steamed dish is a time-honored Chinese pastry that can be traced back
to the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644), when a cook named Liang accidentally
created this cake by mistaking the procedures used to make song gao, a
fluffy steamed sponge.
White sugar cake also has a spongy appearance, a chewy texture and a sweet-and-sour flavor.
it looks easy to make, the process is rather complicated because
authentic versions of this cake are made with sweet fermented rice
instead of yeast to leaven.
While it is called a “cake,” this dish isn’t served as a circular round cake.
people follow the tradition and cut it into square-shaped pieces, or
mini triangles. The taste is sweet, with a slight sour tang arising from
the fermentation of the batter.
Like many other Chinese cakes, it is steamed, which results in a moist, soft and fluffy texture.
It is always served hot because the cake hardens quickly as it cools.
is a traditional dessert in Beijing, Sichuan and Cantonese cuisines. It
is especially famous for its jelly-like texture, pure white appearance
and the delicate aroma of almonds.
In the traditional recipe, the primary ingredient is apricot kernels, soaked and then ground with water, agar and sugar.
kernel milk is extracted, sweetened and heated with a gelling agent
like agar. When chilled, the milk mixture solidifies to the consistency
of a soft gelatin dessert.
Lei sha yuan
Shanghai dessert is boiled glutinous rice balls coated with dried red
bean powder, which not only adds a sweet flavor but also keeps the
glutinous rice from being too sticky in the mouth.
Dan hong gao
Chinese pancake treat that originated in Chengdu, Sichuan Province
during the Qing Dynasty (1644–1911), dan hong gao is made with eggs,
flour and brown sugar. It is served with a wide variety of fillings,
which can be sweet or savory.
Pine nut cake
Pine nut cake
is a traditional dessert accompanying tea in Jiangsu and Zhejiang
provinces. The small nutty cubes instantly melt in the mouth.
ingredients are simple: glutinous rice flour, pine nuts, sugar, water
and sesame oil. The raw flour is slowly cooked in a non-sticky pan on a
low heat until the aroma comes out. Then it is mixed with finely ground
pine nuts and sugar dissolved in water. The mixture is then added to the
dried ingredients and pressed hard into a large pan.