Going through old photos of friends and family celebrating the Chinese New Year, I yearn to go back to Taiwan more and more everyday. I crave Taiwanese pastries and breads, and since many cannot be found fresh here in Berkeley, I decided that writing about them would help.
1. Black sesame bun.
I haven’t found this one in the Bay Area. It looks like your everyday Chinese bun: white with some filling in the middle, but actually, it’s unique. The first time I saw it, I was a little taken aback by the black filling that seemed to resemble dirt and sand. When I finally took a bite, I realized the flavor was unparallel. Although it’s not obvious what’s in the filling besides black sesame seeds, I know that some people use honey and others use peanut oil to achieve that slightly sticky, barely sandy, but otherwise pasty consistency. The most perfect black sesame buns have a very high ratio of filling to bun, and the filling is not liquidy so that it doesn’t immediately seep out as soon as you take a bite. The bun tastes sweet, but it’s an Asian sweet, like the sweetness of peanuts dusted with sugar.
2. Pepper bread.
A breakfast item. I have not been able to find a formal English translation and name for it, so this is the literal translation. The Chinese name is 胡椒餅, pronounced hújiāo bǐng. It is a soft fluffy rectangular bread with chopped onions and white pepper. The outside, covered in sesame seeds, is a little bit crunchier than the inside, which is as soft as a cloud. Unlike American and some European bread, which are dry and often porous, the pepper bread is completely smooth with no holes. The dough inside has the sponginess of fresh hand-kneaded dough: you bite down on it, and it slowly rises back up, almost like a sponge cake. The onions are dispersed throughout the bread, and the white pepper is invisible. The bread is a bit salty, a bit peppery with just the right amount of onions, making it perfect for breakfast.
3. Mung bean cake
I like mung bean cakes with dates for dessert. It is a greenish yellow bite-size cake, smooth and slightly crumbly, filled with mung bean or azuki bean paste, and ranging from circular to floral shapes. Some of the ingredients are coconut milk, cow’s milk, mung bean, and sugar. The cake is smooth, with a sweetness somewhere between peanut sweet and red bean paste sweet. When you pick up the dessert, the oil that makes it slightly crumbly may cause your hand to become oily, just like eating very buttery shortbread cookies. Ttaking a bite, the dessert is the perfect amount of sandy texture. The slight sandiness prevents it from being too gooey. Lucky for me, I can find this dessert at Sheng Kee Bakery.
4. Sun cake
A dessert that originated from the city of Taichung in Taiwan. Some stores make sun cakes for a living, and they are so popular that people line up on the streets to buy them. Sun cake is a white flaky dessert filled with maltose, which people usually eat with tea. Made of multiple paper-thin layers of phyllo dough, the flaky pastry is rolled into the shape of the sun. With each bite, pieces flake off, so make sure you have a plate or a napkin. The taste is slightly sweet, similar to honey but a little sweeter mixed with a malt sugar taste. The texture is a little bit sticky, as if a very thin layer of caramel was sitting inside the pastry. The dry flakiness of the outside perfectly contrasts the denser stickiness of the inside.
As I finish writing about these delicious bakery and pastry items, the craving has only increased. Some of these can be found in the Bay Area, and although they are just not the same as the freshly made ones in Taiwan, I’m glad Chinatown and Sheng Kee Bakery are there.