Up until a few decades ago, Chinese people didn’t bake. The British had some influence on Hong Kong desserts during their reign, but up in the mainland, people didn’t eat sweets. If you could afford dessert, it would consist of something like steamed mochi or red bean soup, which, to those of us raised on Good Humor and Little Debbie, aren’t worth the coal it takes to cook them. By the way, this is also the number one reason they remained svelte–expending lots of energy dodging gross desserts.
When China finally opened up to foreign economy and trade in the 80s, they discovered French and Cantonese style desserts and evolved them according to their own tastes, which is how you end up with the modern-day fruit cakes that are fluffy, mildly sweet and covered in whipped cream. The kind of cake that if sat on, would emit the sound of a whoopee cushion and flatten into nothing Because it is 90% air, all style and little substance. Which is exactly what my mother loves about them.
Despite being a health freak, her former sweet tooth comes back to bite every few weeks. Always looking for healthy desserts, she asks me to bring home an Asian bakery cake whenever there’s a special occasion.
“Tell them to make it with less sugar, less fat, no artificial ingredients, no colors.” She reminds me every time. And again when I bring it home for her. “Did they make it with less sugar, less fat, no artificial ingredients, no colors?”
“It could still be a little less sweet. Tell them that next time,” she says as she returns for a second slice.