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Why is China so obsessed with sponge cake, to the exclusion of all other kinds of cake?


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Utterly agree with this sentiment. Cakes in China seem to be widespread and often purchased for a multitude of celebratory events, yet they are always sponge and always have far too much whipped cream. Their is never any depth , or flavour, or texture. They look marvellous often, but taste awful. In terms of expectations and reality, you couldn't be further away. Cakes may be the most disappointing food item in China. 

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My wife makes a banana bread type cake she got the recipe of Douyin for, I think it's slowly changing. Can certainly get decent enough attempts in some of the cafes in Beijing now, or could last time I was in town many moons ago. There's also a traditional bakers on Gulou that does a sort of roll cake that is apparently some local speciality that's really nice (smeared with a sort of damson jam IIRC) and not sponge-like at all, forget where it's supposed to be from. So they even had other options years ago!

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While I agree those cakes always disappoint, this seems to be a matter of taste. Chinese people, at least a big subset of them, genuinely like them. A Chinese woman opened an actual Chinese bakery in Delft (this one), making exactly those cakes, even though Dutch cakes and cookies and whatnot, that to me are much tastier, are available everywhere here. I've had comments that Dutch cake is too sweet, perhaps that's a factor?

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27 minutes ago, Lu said:

While I agree those cakes always disappoint, this seems to be a matter of taste. Chinese people, at least a big subset of them, genuinely like them. A Chinese woman opened an actual Chinese bakery in Delft (this one), making exactly those cakes, even though Dutch cakes and cookies and whatnot, that to me are much tastier, are available everywhere here. I've had comments that Dutch cake is too sweet, perhaps that's a factor?

 

Oh yes I totally agree with this as well. I think the domestic audience definately like them, and thats totally cool as well. There are loads of cake shops that serve this style (sponge with thin whipped cream) so clearly are super popular. I am from a country where cakes are huge deal in our society, and are big range are on offer. My Chinese friends almost always say our cakes are too sweet however. So it absolutely is just what you are used to, and no right or wrong. That being said, sat in my own cultural space, and with a humongous sweet tooth, Chinese sponge cream cakes, are about the only "pudding/confectionary' product in my life, that I've been able to repeatedly turn down. In my unique, and bias opinion, they are utterly awful !

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1 hour ago, Lu said:

Chinese people, at least a big subset of them, genuinely like them.

See, I would agree with this - except they loved my birthday cake with chocolate icing.  Nobody said it was too sweet, they said it was delicious. Which it was, being homemade by a good baker. There are so many different kinds of cake other than sponge cake.  Even the less sweet kinds.  

 

Is it copying culture?  Sponge cake is popular because everyone copies and nobody dares to do anything differently?  

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Was there a problem with getting hold of baking powder? This kind of cake, which is called a sponge cake or foam cake in the USA, needs no raising agents except whipped egg whites. So you just need eggs, sugar and flour. I am quite fond of them. Something more like pound cake, which in the UK I would call Victoria sponge, has equal quantities of butter, eggs, sugar and flour. It will then be too heavy to be raised by egg white alone, in fact you don't usually whip the egg whites, but you add baking powder.

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1 hour ago, Balthazar said:

you can make them without an oven (steam in a large pan)

Ah.  That explains a lot.

 

47 minutes ago, Zeppa said:

needs no raising agents except whipped egg whites.

I suspect both of these are the correct answer. 😕

 

Future trend that's going to take off in the next 5-10 years: "Look at these breathtaking new cakes! So different and so delicious! Not like your parents' boring old birthday cake with fruit on it, these cakes are amazing!" The trend will spawn several celebrity bakers and a host of wanghongs.  

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This reminds me of my years spent in China. I don't know how many times I've eaten Chinese birthday cake, and I agree with all the sentiments above. However, on one particular occasion (in about 10 years) in Shanghai, someone came up with a cake that looked like all the others, but was actually really tasty like any of the best cakes from Europe. Not sure exactly where it came from, but as far as I know, it was purchased (as opposed to home baked).

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In October of 2019 I had a Big Birthday in Kunming. Two sets of friends gave me a cake as part of the two celebrations. I know nothing about the type of cake used but I was impressed with the surface decoration and icing. Both were elaborate fruit jobs. Festive and delicious. Different from birthday cakes I've ever gotten as a child or as an adult in Texas. 

 

The one one the left was from my girlfriend. I appreciated that all the fruit was fresh and real. The bakery supplied some candles, which we used later. The one on the right was from my friends at the gym. The guys were horsing around with the numbers: I wasn't really turning 18. But again, all the fruit was fresh and real. To my way of thinking these are Chinese birthday cakes at their best, colorful and loaded with fresh fruit. 

 

395385301_cake1.thumb.jpg.da88aa7726e89134d839dfb86fe4301d.jpg     234763380_IMG_20191026_130459cake2.thumb.jpg.22a1aed0d6a50e867cd1ebe9620f0414.jpg

 

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I swear I took a photo while I was still in China, but I can't find it on my phone. Can anybody help me identify this type of cake commonly seen in Harbin (and I believe in Beijing too):

 

It's a very basic sponge cake, no cream or other thrills. They are round, about the size of the palm of my hand, and they are usually sold by the 斤 (I was quite surprised the first time I tried to buy one, raised a finger to indicate that I wanted a single cake, only to get a bag-full back - 1斤). They are very cheap (works out at around 2元 per cake), and are sold at supermarkets and at this small in-the-wall style bakeries in Harbin (some shops sell just this cake alone).

 

Does anybody know the name? If not, I'll ask a Harbin friend.

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15 hours ago, 889 said:

Found all over China in supermarket and hole-in-the-wall bakeries. They come in various types -- really dry, sweet, with raisins or jam filling, etc. Generically just 小鸡蛋糕, but sometimes more specific names, like 梅花鸡蛋糕.

 

Thanks, after doing some baiduing, the name of the ones I used to eat are called 无水脆皮小蛋糕.:

 

2099770051_.thumb.jpg.33478694b975721240f2474b172c2188.jpg

 

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Being very basic sponge cakes, I don't think they would be very popular with other people in this thread 😄. I personally like them a lot, they are great fresh from the oven on a cold winter's morning. Most people seem to buy a whole kilo's worth, but I don't know how anyone could eat that much cake. They are best eaten fresh, as they lose a lot of crispiness after a couple of hours (although putting them under a grill for a minute helps with that).

 

Whenever I wanted something more fancy, I would try a shop called 食之秘/Secret Recipe:

 

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I don't know if people here would consider the cakes to e simple sponges, but I liked them a lot. The are much pricier though, at around 30 for a large slice. They had a 2 for 1 promotion just after the lockdown ended, so that's when I ate the most.

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4 hours ago, StChris said:

Thanks, after doing some baiduing, the name of the ones I used to eat are called 无水脆皮小蛋糕.:

 

One of these small storefront shops opened across the street from my Kunming apartment a couple years ago. It seemed like they always had customers, at least that was my impression when I walked by. To the best of my recollection, they sold nothing else, no other baked goods, only this one type of cake.

 

One of their visual drawing cards was a stack of fresh eggs and several jugs of high-quality oil right out front where people could easily see them. I always took it as a declaration that "Nothing shady is going on in a back room here." 

 

Like the ones you remember from Harbin, these were also sold by weight. Inexpensive and tasty when fresh. They were made in cupcake molds. I could see them taking the pans out of the oven when I paused to "window shop." 

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20 hours ago, abcdefg said:

One of these small storefront shops opened across the street from my Kunming apartment a couple years ago. It seemed like they always had customers, at least that was my impression when I walked by. To the best of my recollection, they sold nothing else, no other baked goods, only this one type of cake.

 

Exactly like the ones in Harbin (except that one did also sell an 玉米 version, which I didn't like as much). Speaking of Harbin, there was another cake shop I liked to go once a week, it sold these Hong Kong style sponge cakes and some Malay/Indian style milk tea:

 

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About 10元 per half a rectangle, iirc. Delicious.

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