Monday, January 28, 2008

Ween's CNY cupcakes in the news!

Ween's creative and scrumptious Chinese New Year cupcakes were mentioned in the papers. Below is the full article and I have highlighted the section about her and Manila Place.

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Goodies aplenty
Sunday Metro - The Star Newspaper (1/27/2008)

The rush to meet orders for Chinese New Year cookies and cakes has already started, with all kinds of tantalising aromas wafting in the air.

LOOKING at the plethora of cakes, cookies and confectionery available in supermarkets, bakeries and restaurants as, once again, Chinese New Year looms in the horizon, it’s difficult to believe that just a couple of decades ago there used to be only a few varieties available.

Then, the two main ones were crispy brown kuih kapit otherwise known as love letters, and whitish, powdery kuih bangkit. Although the former, its thin, crispy wafer-like biscuit folded into a delicate fanshape is still synonymous with the festivity, sadly, the latter seems to be slowly disappearing, to be replaced by a host of other equally delectable sweet pastries.

Even as housewives start to prepare the home for the two most important days in the Chinese calendar, spring cleaning and buying the latest knick-knack which signifies “prosperity” this year (gold mice apparently), together with requisite new clothes and ang pow packets, the more industrious will be ordering their eggs, flour, sugar and santan in readiness for the big bake. It’s a back-breaking task, hand-burning task, not something to be taken lightly, as the entire family, particularly the womenfolk, is roped in to help.

In demand: Amy Cheah preparing her popular Green Pea Cookies.

The batter having been prepared in readiness, the production line begins, in front of a long grill filled with smouldering charcoal, above which lengths of metal love letter mould handles stick out. The thin batter is poured into the inside of the mould then returned to the heat, and each is rapidly inspected to check if it’s done before it’s whipped out, still soft, and folded into rapidly cooling quarters, before the now brittle biscuits are loaded into clean containers.

And that’s just to make kuih kapit! Fortunately, for those of us like yours truly who have neither the time nor inclination to do so, there are many others who are gearing up to supply every type of goodie you can imagine. All over the state, small cottage industries which only start production at this time of year, restaurants and enterprising individuals try to make a bit of spare cash, like Ah Seng whose kuih kapit is different: it has meat floss wrapped in it, giving it a more interesting flavour and texture.

Her little place in town is a hive of activity especially around this time, as she and her husband, aided by friends and family, rush to fulfil orders which started coming in as early as October last year.

“It’s hard work,” she says in modest understatement. “And takes four hours of slogging over the heat to use up that amount of batter,” she adds, indicating a 2-3 litre pot full of the santan mix. They’ve been doing this for nearly six years.

Although Amy Cheah sells her melt-inyour- mouth cookies (she defines this as butter dough with a smaller proportion of flour and more main ingredients like almond, sugee, etc) from the New Cathay Coffee Shop all year round, the number of orders she receives swells considerably around this time, especially for her Green Pea Cookies, which are very popular with her clients.

“Although I still get orders for the more traditional types, this is my bestseller,” she explains. She also makes Almond, Sugee, and Pineapple Tarts.

Ah Kim starts making over 20 different types of cookies and kuih from the beginning of December, which she sells to her clients from Hawker Stall No.20 in the Balik Pulau New Market, which she moved to only recently. “My daughter has taken over the baking,” she says, “and now I help her!” It’s good to know that her most popular item is kuih bangkit, which she’s been selling for over two decades.

At Manila Place in Gurney Plaza, proprietor Ween Nee makes cupcakes with a difference.

“I’ve chosen nine designs which all signify Chinese New Year,” she explains. Available only by special order, there are goldfish for harmony, pineapples for prosperity, and even a gold tortoise for longevity, or you can choose a customised design of your own.

For years, Ah Huah in Mount Erskine was selling, amongst other goodies, potato crisps, which are another popular item at this time of year. “We decided to make it ourselves instead,” he says, “and the first few batches were a disaster!” Experience has triumphed, and now he sells a couple of hundred tins of own homemade sweet or salted crisps.

I take this opportunity to wish readers a Happy Chinese New Year and eat to your heart’s delight during this boisterous and fun festival!

Helen Ong is a self-confessed foodie who loves to hunt down the best of Penang.

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