Each year, we can see unique mooncake flavours being introduced during the Mid-Autumn Festival. Due to the popularity of the delicacy as well as the Chinese culture of giving out mooncakes, it’s not uncommon to hunt for the prettiest mooncake boxes in town as a sign of prosperity or social status. For this year’s edition, baker Maria Ngui is introducing three new flavours to her unique Kek Lapis Mooncake series.
Tedious process, rewarding outcome
This year’s Mid-Autumn Festival, also known as the Mooncake Festival, will see celebrations and gatherings limited to respective households only due to the surge in Covid-19 cases. However, even with restrictions in place, it does not stop the Chinese from enjoying the star of the show — mooncakes.
The Mid-Autumn Festival’s coming round on September 21 this year, and even amidst the pandemic, it does not hinder bakers from making preparations.
Over the years, the market has seen more creative flavours and versions of the mooncakes, and this year, Maria Kek Lapis will be presenting its special edition kek lapis mooncakes to the Malaysian market.
These unique mooncakes were first introduced by Maria Ngui Sai Moi in 2017. However, back then, she limited the orders to her friends and family only.
“I was not confident of how customers would respond to these different mooncakes. But the following year, when I marketed it on Facebook, I was surprised to see that many looked forward to the new infusion. The feedback was very encouraging.”
Sharing further, the woman of Chinese-Bidayuh descent disclosed that baking kek lapis mooncakes was much more difficult compared to the traditional ones.
“Traditional mooncakes are filled with paste. There are even ready-made paste packets sold in the market.”
But with the kek lapis mooncakes, Maria said the process was much more tedious. “I have to bake the kek lapis first, cut it to the desired shapes, then put them to cool in the refrigerator for a couple of days. Then I will wrap them with the mooncake skin, and this can be a challenge.”
Nonetheless, the pioneer of the kek lapis mooncakes said that she had mastered the way to bake these goodies. With more than 10 flavours in the series, Maria introduces new flavours this year.
“The new line of mooncake flavours are lotus biscoff cheese, cadbury pistachio and ice cream strawberry,” she told the New Sarawak Tribune.
A fusion of skills
Maria merged both her kek lapis making and mooncake making skills which she learnt since she was 14 into one product. It all transpired from watching her aunt bake kek lapis.
“My aunt was a home baker, and she taught me how to bake the kek lapis.”
When she was in Form Two, Maria had to work to help her mother support her younger siblings. With a passion for baking, she managed to get herself a job in a home bakery manned by a couple.
“I worked there throughout my studies. I helped them to make Nyonya kuih, butter cakes, kek lapis and mooncakes.”
With the skills acquired to bake different desserts at the home bakery, the 44-year-old continued baking even after she stopped working for the couple.
Once she had given birth to her son in the late 90s, Maria decided to start baking from home as she needed to look after her baby, thus marking the starting point of her very own home bakery.
“All my life, I only knew how to bake. I had no other experiences. It was also hard to find jobs outside that could suit my requirements.
“I needed a job that had flexible timing but I also needed to care for my son, too,” she added.
That was when she decided that being a home baker was the best choice for her.
“I was able to look after my son full time while also baking to earn an income.”
The pandemic effect
In 2006, Maria opened her bakery at the Main Bazaar in Kuching. There, she continued to create more baked goods with interesting flavours as she constantly kept up with the trends.
But with the emergence of the pandemic last year, Maria was forced to seek different means to stay afloat. Instead of only kek lapis and seasonal baked goods, Maria also baked cakes, pastries and other mouth-watering desserts.
“The pandemic had indeed slowed business down as there were no tourists. Furthermore, the council could not organise the annual Mid-Autumn Festival celebration.
“Nonetheless, I learned to rely on food delivery services to sell and deliver my sweet treats,” she said.
With her creative mind, Maria constantly experiments with new recipes to entice the market.
Whether it is her kek lapis, or mango cake, Maria’s heart and soul remain in the kitchen.