For my family, Chinese New Year (CNY) is associated with family reunion dinner on CNY eve, hongbaos (red packets with money given to children), CNY cookies and visiting of relatives and friends. Each family has their favourite cookies, either bought or home-made, for self-enjoyment and for serving to visitors. In Singapore, home-based cookie 'cottage industries' spring up overnight in the month before CNY. Samples of the cookies are given to friends, relatives and colleagues for tasting, orders are taken and fulfilled in time for CNY celebrations. Bakeries and supermarkets would also start stocking up on CNY cookies. Over the years, more and more varieties of cookies have started popping up. However, my family still prefer our three traditional cookies – Pineapple Tart, Peanut Puff (Kok Chai) and Love Letter (Kuih Kapit).
Pineapple Tarts (Photographed by Jonathan Phoon)
A good Pineapple Tart has buttery crumbly pastry and a sweet tangy pineapple jam. Necessity is the mother of creation. My sister started making Pineapple Tarts because they were not easily available in Australia. She experimented with different recipes for the pastry over the years and we now have one that we are happy with. For the pineapple jam, she uses canned crushed pineapple in juice (instead of grating fresh pineapple) to reduce the effort required to make the jam. In Singapore, you can now buy ready-made pineapple jam from the stores. Pineapple Tart is my favourite CNY cookie and I hope my sister maintains the tradition of making it every year. Everyone gets involved in the process and it's become a nice family activity leading up to CNY.
Peanut Puffs (Photographed by Jonathan Phoon)
Peanut Puff is my father's favourite CNY cookie. Apart from liking the crispy pastry and fragrant crunchy peanut filling, perhaps it also evokes memories of his younger days. His mother used to make Peanut Puffs every CNY. There is a belief that once you start making Peanut Puffs for CNY, you have to continue doing it every year or bad luck will befall you. He is a very happy man this CNY because Coles Supermarket at Rundle Place, Adelaide started selling Peanut Puffs this year and they taste just like the ones his mother used to make.
Love Letters (Photographed by Jonathan Phoon)
My mother's favourite CNY cookie is Love Letter, a crispy and delicious wafer made from flour, sugar, eggs and coconut milk. Coconut milk is the hero of this cookie. A good Love Letter has the rich taste and lovely fragrance of coconut milk. She used to make them with grandma. The video shows the wafers being folded into triangles but the ones we like are in rolls. This cookie is called Love Letter because lovers in olden times used to insert love notes in the rolls. Ingredients for Love Letters are simple but to make them, you will need special Love Letter moulds (two round plates clasped tightly together and attached to long handles) and a charcoal stove. The person who rolls the Love Letters has to be able to take the heat of the soft wafer and roll it into shape very quickly (before it becomes crispy). Authentic tasting Love Letters are also available from Coles Supermarket at Rundle Place, Adelaide so Mum is happy too.
What's your favourite CNY cookie? Do share it with us, part of the fun of CNY is trying different types of CNY cookies.