Chinese New Year is less than two weeks away, and Sabahan baker Christina Au, 58, has been extremely busy baking rabbit-themed pineapple tarts for the festive season.
She has close to 600 orders for her bite-size tarts made with homemade jam.
“So far, I have bought 30kgs of pineapples to make the jam. I prefer pineapples from local farmers in Kota Kinabalu because they are fresher, juicer and sweeter. My pineapple jam is prepared using sugar. I do not use cinnamon sticks or cloves in my jam because most of my customers do not like the taste of spices in pineapple jam,” Au said during a phone chat from Kota Kinabalu recently.
She started baking her handmade tarts last week. She spends 13 hours each day fulfilling her orders.
“There are many orders for my rabbit-themed tarts and bunny-themed biscuits which are inspired by the zodiac animal that represents the Lunar Year. While it’s tiring, I enjoy every moment of it because it is in the spirit of Chinese New Year,” she said.
This is the third year Au has made zodiac-themed pineapple tarts. Two years ago, she baked ox-themed tarts and last year, tiger-themed ones.
“I started baking zodiac-themed tarts due to boredom during the movement control order. I had so much free time on my hands, so I learned the skill by watching YouTube video tutorials. It’s fun to bake these cute tarts as it adds to the festivities,” said the mother of one. She shares photos of her delectable creations on her Facebook.
The pineapple filling is encased in a shortcrust pastry made from flour, egg, butter and sugar. Shaped like a ball, it is decorated with poppy seeds (eyes) and tiny bits of rolled pastry to represent the ears and nose. She also makes Taiwanese pineapple tarts which are typically square or rectangular, with pineapple jam encased in shortcrust pastry.
“It is a time-consuming task to create the rabbit-themed tarts. It takes me about three minutes to complete each tart. You need lots of patience and passion to do this.”
Au isn’t the only one posting photos of her rabbit-themed creations on social media. The words “rabbit cookies” have over 600 million views on Google, and the hashtag #chinesenewyearcookies has close to 20,000 posts on Instagram.
Penang-based baker A.R. Sha, 30, also uploads photos of her custom-made sugar cookies and Chinese New Year-themed macarons and meringues on her Instagram.
She has received orders for 800 royal icing sugar cookies, 400 meringue cookies and 300 macarons for the upcoming Lunar New Year celebrations.
“People like sugar cookies and macarons during Chinese New Year because they are festive and cute. Many of my customers have ordered them as gifts for loved ones.
"Meringue cookies – in the form of miniature tangerines and rabbits – are another hit, especially as we welcome the Year of the Rabbit,” said Sha.
She takes about 15 minutes to ice a sugar cookie. The royal icing is made using meringue powder, water and icing sugar.
“The most challenging part is ensuring the icing isn't too runny or too thick. Sometimes the colour outlines the cookie. The secret is to ensure the icing is dry before other colours are piped onto the cookie. And always follow the correct royal icing recipe.”
Sha has roped in a few Universiti Sains Malaysia undergraduates to help complete the orders before Chinese New Year.
In the last week, she's been spending close to eight hours in the kitchen a day to cope with her growing orders.
Her chocolate-dipped mini pretzels are also popular as the Year of the Rabbit draws near.
“Many of my customers ordered chocolate-dipped pretzels for Christmas. And they have requested similar designs for Lunar New Year. Some people like the taste of chocolates dipped in the cracker-like flavour of pretzels,” says Sha, who buys the imported mini pretzels from the supermarket.