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Monday September 24, 2012

Bakery stays true to its Mid-Autumn Festival delicacies

A Johor Baru bakery stays true to its original Mid-Autumn Festival delicacies and keeps its customers happy.

WHILE many of its competitors are churning out quirky and unique flavours like mochi (glutinous rice), dragon fruit and chicken floss mooncakes, Lavender Confectionery and Bakery Sdn Bhd is sticking to what it knows best – lotus paste.

It is common for modern bakeries and companies to come up with contemporary flavours to be introduced to the market, but Lavender’s management has decided to stand by its classic lotus paste-filled golden brown baked mooncakes, which it believes is the essence of the Mid-Autumn Festival.

True to tradition: Some of Lavender Confectionery and Bakery’s mooncakes, including one with
bamboo charcoal skin. Lavender stands by its classic mooncakes which is believed to be the essence
of the Mid-Autumn Festival. True to tradition: Some of Lavender Confectionery and Bakery’s mooncakes, including one with bamboo charcoal skin. Lavender stands by its classic mooncakes which is believed to be the essence of the Mid-Autumn Festival.

Because of this, Lavender goes the extra mile to make the paste from scratch, even going as far as sourcing for quality whole lotus seeds from China.

Instead of purchasing ready-picked and halved lotus seeds from suppliers, the company’s managing director travels to Hunan, China, yearly to source for ripe month-old whole lotus seeds.

Procured from an area in the province called Xiang Tan, the lotus seeds produced there are said to be the best, and of course, are the most expensive in the industry due to the lake’s depth and quality of water.

“This is the part that we do not skimp on,” said Lavender’s operation manager Tam Yong Wen when met by The Star at the bakery’s RM18mil plant in the Plentong industrial area located in Johor Baru.

“We invest a lot to source for the best quality lotus seeds with their brown husks still intact to ensure the freshness is sealed in while the seeds are being brought back to Malaysia.”

The cooked lotus seed paste is put into a machine
that wraps the mooncake skin around it. The cooked lotus seed paste is put into a machine that wraps the mooncake skin around it.

The company, which produced 300,000 pieces of mooncake last year, begins production about two months before the Mid-Autumn Festival (this year, it falls on Sept 30) in batches for quality control and to prevent wastage.

Tam explained that the process begins with the seeds, which are put into a washer machine to soak in hot water and rinsed repeatedly for a few cycles to completely remove the brown husks.

The seeds are then washed and cleaned before going through a manual hand-selection process where workers pick out tough seeds. The seeds are also halved to remove the right amount of its inner membrane.

“Many other bakeries get their lotus seeds from suppliers and they are already split and picked so they skip the whole taxing manual selection process. It’s cost-efficient and time-saving for them but that does not guarantee the freshness and quality of the lotus seeds,” said Tam.

The process continues with boiling the seeds to soften them before putting them through two grinders for a fine milky white paste, ready to cook in huge industrial pots.

“At this point, the lotus paste does not have much flavour, which is why we add sugar, seaweed maltose, groundnut oil, vegetable oil and melon seeds to bring out the flavour of the lotus seeds.

“It is also essential to keep the enhancer ingredients balanced so they do not overwhelm the lotus seeds and make the mooncake very oily,” he said.

After the filling is wrapped with the mooncake
skin, it goes through a mould and is stamped with
Lavender’s signature design. After the filling is wrapped with the mooncake skin, it goes through a mould and is stamped with Lavender’s signature design.

The paste is left to cool and stored in a room at a cool regulated temperature to make sure the natural oils in the paste do not break down and make it greasy.

Next, the lotus paste goes into a machine that wraps the mooncake skin pastry around the filling before being moulded into their familiar shape and stamped with the company’s signature design.

“The mooncakes are packaged using the latest Japanese technology, from the machinery and mooncake holder to the plastic packaging. After that, we leave the mooncakes to go through an ageing process of a few days so that all the flavours marry well together.

“The key is to strike a balance. Although our mooncake is 95% lotus paste, it is creamy without being too rich,” Tam said, stressing that the mooncakes do not contain added preservatives.

This year’s theme for Lavender’s mooncakes is “Mooncakes represent my heart”, borrowed from the late pop singer Teresa Teng’s famous hit The Moon Represents My Heart. The line is printed on the bakery’s signature purple box packaging.

“We even bought the rights to the lyrics to be printed on our four-piece mooncake box and we switched up a few of the words to make them our own,” Tam added.

In the box, he said, they are trying something new by adding a thoughtful note to remind customers to store the mooncakes in proper containers and consume the treats within three days.

“The festival is a heart-warming occasion and we wanted to keep it as personal as possible by also adding a personal touch. We have included a zip-lock bag in the box for customers to keep the mooncakes,” he said.

With so many competitors out there, Tam admitted that the 12-year-old family-run business is still on a learning curve and strives to improve so that it can provide better products for consumers.

“We do face challenges but we pride ourselves in staying true to investing a lot of time and effort in ensuring the production of mooncakes meets the expectation of our customers.

“Our best-selling flavour is the single yolk white lotus mooncake and our customers seem to always come back to our products so we must be doing something right,” he said.

Lavender’s mooncakes, priced between RM44 and RM64 per box of four, come in many flavours, including red lotus paste, white lotus wrapped in bamboo charcoal skin, red bean, green tea and durian lotus paste as well as a variety of snow skin mooncakes.

> Lavender Confectionery and Bakery has outlets in Johor Baru and Kuala Lumpur. Go to lavendergroup.com.my for the locations.

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