Cookies inspired by our local flavours have been around for some time. For instance, Peony Jade restaurant by The Quayside Group has been offering Mao Shan Wang cookies as part of its seasonal creations as early as 2010, and Caffe Pralet by Creative Culinaire, a small food business in Tiong Bahru, has been selling its signature Hei Bi Brittle cookies during the Chinese New Year period for several years.
Wei Chan, managing director of The Pine Garden, says that in line with its mission to re-imagine beloved recipes, the bakery has created Salted Egg Yolk Cereal cookies studded with freshly baked salted egg yolk, curry leaves and cereal bits, launched in time for this year’s Chinese New Year.
In recent months, we have seen an increase in the number of establishments offering these bite-sized treats on a more permanent basis. Among those leading the trend are heritage confectioneries like HarriAnns, modern patisseries such as Antoinette, and new speciality stores such as Old Seng Choong.
Alan Tan, chief executive of home-grown Nonya kueh business HarriAnns, shares that the brand is continually striving to fuse heritage with modernity. By using ingredients commonly found in Peranakan cooking, they’ve crafted sweet and savoury goodies that can be enjoyed all year round. HarriAnns launched its new Nonya Laksa cookies and Coconut cookies this year.
For Pang Kok Keong, chef-owner of Antoinette, introducing the “Singapura” Cookie Tin was his way of celebrating Singapore’s vibrant food culture. “When we created this cookie tin, we thought about what we like to eat and what is close to our hearts,” Pang says.
“We use only fresh and natural ingredients such as real salted egg, freshly ground coffee beans, and osmanthus flowers. We even prepare the sambal ourselves. This is much more labour-intensive and costly, but it is essential because only by doing so, are we able to achieve the flavours that best represent ‘Singapura’.”
Iconic local flavours include kopi susu, ondeh ondeh, pork floss, prata (which inspired the Curry and Cheese cookies), and salted egg (one of his favourite ingredients). These flavours are then paired with suitable cookie bases with different textures – flaky, crumbly, melt-in- the-mouth, or crunchy – to complete the cookie experience. Pang shares that all flavours seem to be just as well received, and the cookies would be available beyond the festive period.
Renowned pastry chef Daniel Tay (formerly of Bakerzin) recently rolled out a collection of Singapore- inspired cookies at his Old Seng Choong flagship store. Tay explains that he wanted to develop a line of products for Old Seng Choong that are Singaporean at heart and have universal appeal, as he has observed that there’s a lack of food products that can represent Singapore on the international stage.
After much R&D, he decided to go with cookies, as they travel rather well and are convenient for customers who wish to bring the familiar flavours of Singapore back home. “Cookies work well, especially for tourists. Previously, if you come to Singapore for a holiday and have tasted satay, for example, you can only describe the taste to your family and friends back home. But, now, you can bring back our satay cookies for them to experience a taste of Singaporean flavours,” Tay says.
“These series present flavours that are reflective of who we are as a food nation and are each indicative of a specific time and era in Singapore’s history,” he adds.
Current favourites include Cereal Prawn, Satay and Putu Mayam cookies (under the Changi Picnic series), as well as Smokey Bak Kwa, Gula Melaka and Laksa cookies (under the Katong Breakfast Series).
In January, Old Seng Choong unveiled its first brick and mortar store.
For the bulk of his 30-career as a pastry chef, local food entrepreneur Daniel Tay always looked to the West for inspiration. “I was trained in French pastry and have been creating European cakes and pastry for many years, but after turning 40, I thought it was time to go back to my roots and celebrate local Singaporean flavours,” says the chef who recently launched a new Old Seng Choong store at Clark Quay Central.
THE ORIGINAL BAKERY
Old Seng Choong was named after Tay’s father’s now-defunct confectionery shop, Seng Choong Confectionery, a household name in Marine Parade in the 1970s. The shop was known for its old-school butter cakes, black forest cakes, and apple pies. Tay’s parents ran the shop from 1965 until its closure in 1996.
In 2016, the chef launched the Old Seng Choong bakery brand online, in a bid to revive the brand with lower cost. Its initial collection of Gu You Gek (Hokkien for butter cake), and local treats such as savoury yam cake and radish cake, were a hit. His line of products that sees a marriage of Western pastry techniques with local flavours continued to evolve. Tay created it as a tribute to his father, who unfortunately passed away a few months after the online store was launched.
“I want to bring back heritage recipes and nostalgic local flavours, in part to preserve the food memories of the older generation, in part to honour my dad.” He adds: “We should be proud of what we have. Our local dishes and chefs are just as good as those of any other country, and we should not neglect our local gems. In fact, we need to talk about local food more, so that our children will learn to appreciate and love local flavours, and so our food culture would not be lost.” Tay is also the founder of food solutions company Foodgnostic and cheesecake shop Cat And The Fiddle.
UPDATED BAKED GOODS
“Daniel and the R&D team took months to perfect each of the new cookie flavour, and it took us a long time to decide on the first collection of flavours as we had so many to choose from,” says Verone Tan, director of Old Seng Choong. Tan adds that other flavours, such as Goreng Pisang and Coffee are in the pipeline, and they will also be looking to collaborate with other local chefs to launch special cookie flavours.
Moving forward, Tay shares that he hopes to open 10 more shops in Singapore, and also market the Old Seng Choong brand abroad. “I would like each shop to have a distinct look and feel, with different local elements, and always with a little surprise. I’m excited about our future store concept – it could have old metal gates, and a beautiful wall painted with old-school wall murals. It could perhaps have some old bicycles, trishaw, or an ice- cream cart in the shop,” he muses.
These attractive tins and unique packaging were specially designed to house an assortment of local cookies.