With Hari Raya or Eid, the festival marking the end of Ramadan drawing near, baking season will soon be in full swing in many parts of the world.
Here, in California, my Malaysian friends bake both modern cookies and traditional Malay goodies, from family recipes or those via the Web. I hope they know that their resourcefulness and efforts are appreciated.
In Malay homes, there will be several varieties of kuih (a Malay word which collectively refers to cakes and cookies) set at the table for the enjoyment of guests, and for family members as well.
I know I’m fond of traditional cookies not just for the taste, but for the memories behind them . In the extended family home of my childhood, my grandmother and grandaunt did almost all the baking. Every Hari Raya, they would make pineapple tarts shaped as apples and pears.
The dough was wrapped around balls of pineapple filling, then shaped round for apples, and slightly elongated and curved for the pears. The children were called in for the fun part. My grandmother mixed a pale wash of food dye, and with a small brush we painted the “fruits”: yellow for the apples and green for the apples. Then we stuck a piece of clove for the “stem”.
Today, not many people make this type of pineapple tarts. But in my mind I see them clearly as the day I colored them.
My mother did not bake, but every year, she insisted on having kuih batang buruk, which means “old bark” or “old branch”. These are a mixture of flour shaped like tiny logs, fried and filled with a green bean filling. They can be pretty addictive and I’ve always loved its imaginative name.
I guess I’m also a stickler for traditions. I gravitate towards the heritage kuih before any other. And sometimes, they taste even sweeter just because they are made or savored so far away from their original home.