Ever thought of food as time capsules? Everyone can think of some food that instantly transports us back to an exact place and time in our lives with its unique combination of taste, scent, and texture. For me, some of these traditional Chinese confectioneries bring me back to long childhood road trips from Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia up to the northern city of Ipoh along the old North-South trunk road (before super highways). These Hup Toh Soh (Chinese Walnut Biscuits) were sold in some specific towns along that road, namely Kampar, Bidor, and Gopeng. The Chinese communities in this particular region came from Guangdong Province and brought their Cantonese-style biscuits with them.
As one travels even further north of Ipoh, the trunk road snakes through the narrow mountain pass of Bukit Berapit and descends towards the northern coastal plains. The food scenery changes as the Hokkien (Fujianese) food culture predominates. The type of biscuits found among the Chinese communities there are totally different with sugar-filled puffs and sweet peanut crumbles filling the shelves of small town confection shops. In both types of Chinese communities, these local biscuits fulfill the need for wedding dowry gifts and also festive day offerings, just like the Lunar New Year.
The southern region also have their own specialties. With all things regional, there is often rivalry but we embrace it all in Kuala Lumpur, the central region. To figure out a food’s origin, one will just have to know in which dialect the food is named in. Hence, tau sar piah (mung bean biscuit), hiong piah (puff biscuit), and kong th’ng (peanut crumble) are from Penang down to Taiping. Yee chai peang (ear lobe biscuit), kai chai peang (chicken biscuit), and Hup Toh Soh (Chinese Walnut Biscuits) are from Ipoh southward to Kuala Lumpur.
Back when I was a kid, these traditional biscuits were very popular for the many Chinese festivals celebrated. People pre-ordered and purchased boxes of biscuits from their favorite biscuit shop. This was because full sized ranges with ovens were not common. Some families did have round tabletop ovennettes but the capacity was relativey small. Homemade cakes and goodies were either steamed, deep fried, or cooked over charcoal braziers. In my teenage years more and more people began to have ovens and all kinds of “new” goodies like almond cookies, cashew nut cookies, and cherry cookies started appearing for the Chinese New Year.
As time went by, these biscuits became less popular and more of a novelty. And so it was with this old favorite, Hup Toh Soh (Chinese Walnut Biscuits). These biscuits were huge, about 4 inches in diameter. They were yellowish in color and crunchy. I remember they were quite a treat but pretty messy to eat. There were crumbs everywhere after we were done eating. Today, even the store bought ones have been scaled down in size. The ones I made are about two and a half inches in diameter. I adapted the recipe by Amy Beh from Kuali.com using butter instead of cooking oil. Although they were not as crunchy probably due to the butter, they were still very delicious. The ones shown here are from my second batch.
- 1½ cups (225g) all-purpose flour
- ½ tsp baking powder
- 1 tsp baking soda
- ½ tsp salt
- 1/3 cup (72g) sugar
- ½ cup (50g) walnuts, coarsely chopped
- 10 tbsp (140g) salted butter, softened
- 1 egg, beaten
Combine all-purpose flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, sugar, and chopped walnuts in a large bowl. Mix well. Add butter and knead into a smooth dough. This takes about 5 minutes.
Divide dough into 16 portions. Roll into balls and place on a cookie sheet. Using the back of a spoon, press down onto dough.
Brush top of cookies with egg wash. Bake in 325°F (165°C) oven for approximately 30 minutes.
Remove and cool in pan for 10 minutes. Transfer onto wire rack to cool completely. Store in an air tight container.
Enjoy…..and have a wonderful day!