It's crunch time for lovers of traditional snacks
Gaoqiao crunchy cake tastes soft and crunchy, hence the name. A bite reveals clear layers of puff pastry each as thin as a piece of paper, hence its alternative name “multi-layer pie.”
Gaoqiao cakes are wax yellow small cakes made from flour, lard, sugar, red beans and osmanthus flowers. They originated more than 100 years ago.
Around 1900 there was a rich family surnamed Zhao in Shanghai’s Gaoqiao Town. Zhao Yiqi, head of the household, was high on opium. His wife, good at making cakes, would serve him delicately-baked cakes as snacks after his opium taking.
Later the Zhao family fell into poverty. To make ends meet, Zhao’s wife made cakes at home for Zhao to sell around teahouses or opium dens. Locals named them Gaoqiao crunchy cakes because of their texture.
In 1925, a woman named Huang Jindi baked similar cakes based on the Zhao family’s recipe using carefully selected ingredients. At her family-run workshop, she sold her cakes to shop owners in the town.
The cakes gained wide popularity in Shanghai’s food market.
In 1952, economic reforms that promoted public-private partnerships saw Huang team up with the Gaoqiao Foodstuff Factory, the company then becoming the only manufacturer of authentic Gaoqiao crunchy cakes.
Over the ensuing years, the factory changed management many times but the recipe and method have never changed.
“To make Gaoqiao crunchy cakes, we follow general steps like preparing ingredients, combining flour with fat, mixing fat with dough, rolling, wrapping, baking and cooling,” said factory director Qin Yongnian.
The most challenging steps are mixing fat with the dough and wrapping the filling, Qin said. “The workmanship depends on practice. Words fail to explain the skill, only enlightenment does.”
Take “mixing fat with dough” as an example. The step requires a chef to wrap fat with dough, then pull the dough and roll it twice. Different chefs create different layers. “Young chefs can roughly create eight layers, whereas experienced chefs can create 14 to 15 layers, each layer thinner than a piece of paper,” said Qin.
Wrapping the filling is even more challenging. Differing from a steamed dumpling whose binding is on the top, a crunchy cake’s binding should be hardly noticeable at the bottom.
In 2007 Gaoqiao crunchy cake was listed among the first batch of the intangible cultural heritage of Shanghai by the city government.