Thursday, 14 November 2013

The Pineapple Cake Debate

A box of SunnyHills pineapple cakes with one cake cut in half before I ate it!
Pineapple cakes (鳳梨酥) are must-buy edible souvenirs from Taiwan. They aren't delicate pastries like croissants or macarons, but from the outside look like yellow bricks which is the short crust, but inside is a thick filling of pineapple sweetened with some sugar.

However there is much discussion about whose pineapple cakes are the best because there are so many different brands, even in the airport gift shop. Before my trip to Taipei, a Hong Kong friend excitedly told me about a brand her colleague brought back from Taiwan. She could not stop talking about how good it was, and how different it tasted from other ones she had tried.

She even emailed the brand's name (SunnyHills), address and web address to me, as a sign of insistence that I had to check it out.

However, another friend who had just come back from Taipei, raved about another brand called Chia Te Bakery. She told us about the different flavoured pineapple cakes, not just the original, but also combinations of pineapple with red bean and cranberry. She added there were long lines in front of the store just to get the cakes, though it went quite quickly.

During dinner on the first day we arrived, I can't remember how it happened, but we talked with our Taiwanese hosts about pineapple cakes. Someone brought up how famed Taiwanese restaurant chain Din Tai Fung sold pineapple cakes that tasted quite good, but our hosts gave them the thumbs down.

"Those are contracted out," they said. "There's no way they could make their own cakes so they aren't good."

When I brought up Chia Te, they again immediately shook their heads and waved their hands.

"No good!" they said, adding it was only doing well because the brand was so well known, while the quality had dropped.

We were surprised to hear this because our friend is quite a foodie and knows her food.

But then they told us about a different brand that they said was the best. When I asked if they name was SunnyHills in English, they said yes. Bingo!

Our Taiwanese hosts told us that whenever companies send pineapple cakes during special occasions to their office, everyone wants to get first dibs on SunnyHills cakes. So if locals think they're good, they must really be.

They said it was so good because the pineapple they used was grown in Taiwan, whereas other producers used imported ones as there wasn't enough pineapple to go around. Interestingly SunnyHills was started about four years by IT tycoon Hsu Ming-ren, chairman of Asian Information Technology Inc.

SunnyHills uses Smooth Cayenne pineapples grown in Nantou County and Hsu has said quality local ingredients are the key to the company's success. "The filling of most pineapple cakes on the market is mixed with winter melon. But we use only Smooth Cayenne pineapple, which is sweet, but also naturally sour," he said.

His brother Hsu Sheng-ming manages the pineapple production where three years ago they used 10,000 pineapples a day, whereas the first year was only 2,000. Surely the number has doubled since.

When Hsu Ming-ren created his first batches of pineapple cakes, he gave them to his clients, the likes of Hon Hai Group chairman Terry Gou and BenQ Group chairman KY Lee -- all in the IT business -- who loved the cakes and word spread. Fast.

SunnyHills cake is a slender rectangular shape, unlike the typical ones that are more fat and stubby. Inside the filling is dark and as Hsu says, not as saccharine sweet as other pineapple cakes we've tried before, with lots of bits of pineapple in it. The pastry is more crumbly, but probably with the use of butter has a nice smooth taste.

So the next tine you go to Taipei, put SunnyHills pineapple cakes on your shopping list!

SunnyHills
台北市民生東路五段36巷4弄1號1樓
Tel: (02)27600508
Hours: 10am-8pm

2 comments:

  1. I wonder what Taiwanese folks think of the pineapple cakes from Kee Wah Bakery here in Hong Kong. I like them quite a bit! :)

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    1. Hi YTSL -- Haha I don't know! But they are very proud of their domestic agricultural products!

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