The Home Chef is a series that unveils the closely guarded recipes of the city’s most notable chefs, so that you, the home cook, can also recreate restaurant-quality meals in the comfort of your own kitchen. Improvised tea towel aprons at your fingertips. A dear friend (or furry pup!) assigned as the designated taste tester. Served with a sweet kiss from the chef, of course. Enjoy your meal!
Like all major holidays celebrated in the same calendar year, the Chinese New Year is steeped in long-standing customs and centuries-old traditions. From the colors we’re asked to wear – lucky red and prosperous gold – to the usual daily rules – no washing or cutting your hair, dusting the house or buying underwear – and the culinary customs that begin with the main courses of the banquet table to the tiny snacks that fill the traditional cheun hop (全盒, directly translating to “conviviality box”) candy box decorating the tables of houses inviting luck.
For those who know him, the cheun hop is a neat art form in itself; each of the eight slots must be filled with a snack that intends to bring a different blessing into the house. It’s the same meticulous and thoughtful premise that is instilled in the creation of Date by Tate’s, the two-Michelin-starred lifestyle and baking boutique Tate Dining Room, Chinese New Year gift set. A stunning old-fashioned wooden stand, printed with ornate flowers and filled – almost cheun hop style — with a handful of revamped traditional snacks: 五代同堂 (or yellow nipple fruit) molded from chocolate, black sesame and raspberry rock, old ginger Chinese New Year cake, Chinese financier à la marzipan and lotus and nut cookies — each considered a concept and creation pioneered by pastry chef Graff Kwok.
“I’ve always had fond memories of eating traditional Chinese pastries during festive times,” Kwok says. “What better way to celebrate than by tasting traditional delicacies?”
Le Cordon Bleu has been trained and apprenticed in bakery, pastry and cake production at prestigious five star hotels, restaurants and private clubs in the City of London including Café Le Cordon Bleu, The Langham and the Royal Automobile Club London, Chef Kwok returned to Hong Kong amid the initial Covid lockdown in early 2020. “The free time allowed me to rethink my career path,” she recalls.
A position as pastry chef at the Tate Dining Room alongside chef Vicky Lau proved to be. Today, Chef Kwok directs the production of Date by Tate’s delicate French pastries, decadent art sculptures often finished with a Chinese-inspired influence. “[Date] strives to provide a refined experience,” she continues. “We make our artisan pastries and cakes in-house and take catering to the next level.”
Chef Kwok’s Walnut Pastry
Although Date by Tate’s Chinese New Year Gift Set is sold out, better luck next year! – Don’t worry, dear reader. You can still enjoy one of Chef Kwok’s creations, round nut pastries, just in time for the Lunar Holidays. There is only one catch: you have to roll up your sleeves.
“I’ve always been a fan of traditional Chinese pastry,” shares Chef Kwok. “The nut cookie was one of my favorites when I was young. I remember my grandma buying them for me after school when I was younger.
Walnut pastry, 合桃酥 (“hey then“), is not limited only to the Chinese New Year. However, when giving gifts among family and friends at these grand celebrations, you’ll likely spot a decorative box passed politely. Appreciated for its crispy and crumbly texture, its flavors of hazelnut and butter, the nut dough is similar to the Western cookie. Its miniature size is a handy bite for an easy snack throughout the day – having two or three more won’t make much difference. During Chinese New Year, the nut pastry is an auspicious symbol of unity; harmony between the whole family.
Inspired during a stroll past a local bakery that happened to launch a brand new batch, Chef Kwok brought the golden, aesthetically cracked treats — she tried nut cookies from five different stores — to the Date kitchen. by Tate à la mode a recipe of its own. “I love the rustic look, unique crispy texture and strong nutty aroma,” she begins, “I hope to recreate that tantalizing scent of a bakery in our customers’ homes.”
As with all pastries, there’s a science that goes into making a great grandma-approved nut pastry, though Chef Kwok casually advertises it as simply “simple.” She shares some valuable tips from her tried and tested and now perfected recipe, which she claims is on par with some of the best nut pastries in Hong Kong, including her go-to bakery at Sai Ying Pun (she also recommends the to put chai ko, rice flour milk cake, here). Everything – she insists – must be weighed before starting. Absolutely no eye-balling. Particular attention should be paid to roasting the nuts, making sure they don’t burn, and whipping the lard for a light, fluffy texture.
Next, the secret that makes his nut paste triumph over the others: the nuts. It seems redundant for a pastry that is supposedly named after the nut, but Chef Kwok reveals, “Traditionally, nut cookies weren’t made with nuts. In fact they were just appointed after walnuts, simply because the irregular, cracked exterior resembles the ridges of a walnut. “In my opinion, a good nut cookie should be all about nuts.” She finishes.
And so, the Date by Tate iteration presents the nuts. Strong points. Spotlights, even! They are crushed and seamlessly incorporated into the dough for a satisfying crunch and a sweet nuttiness that balances the cookie’s rich, buttery flavor. And then added, as a final flourish, on top. And here they are, the best nut cookies in town.
Ingredients for the Walnut Pastry (for 45 people)
|40g (plus a couple for decoration)||Walnut|
- To prepare nuts:
- Preheat the oven to 170°C.
- Roast 80g walnuts for 10 minutes until fragrant.
- Book cool.
- Once cooled, place the nut in a ziplock bag, seal the bag and crush with a rolling pin.
- To do Pastry shop:
- In a bowl, whip the lard with an electric mixer until light and fluffy.
- Add the sugar and whisk until smooth.
- Repeat with the eggs.
- Sift together the cake flour, baking soda and baking powder and mix with the lard mixture using a scraper.
- Add the crushed walnuts and knead with your hands until the dough forms.
- Divide the dough into 10g pieces and roll into a ball.
- On a parchment-lined baking sheet, place balls of dough about 4cm apart and flatten slightly.
- Wash the egg batter and gently press a piece of walnut on top.
- Bake at 170°C for 15-20 minutes until golden brown.
Chef Kwok’s nut pastry is part of the Date by Tate Chinese New Year gift set for 2022, which is now sold out. For more information, click here.