When our new baby was one month old, we celebrated by giving out boxes of sticky rice and red eggs to close friends and family. But a few weeks later we celebrated again by giving out gifts of honey cake to friends at the Rotary Club of Taipei. Twenty years ago or so, a father celebrated the birth of his baby by gifting cigars to everyone in the club. These days, however, when not all members are male or smokers, cake is a more acceptable (and palatable) choice.
The traditional gift from parents of new baby boy is sticky rice (油飯 youfan, literally oily rice) and red hard-boiled eggs. But these days it is often more common to give cake, especially when celebrating the birth of a girl. And because cake is an easier and more transportable option, especially packaged varieties that do not require refrigeration such as Taiwanese honey cake, it is becoming increasingly common instead of sticky rice.
Taiwanese honey cake is actually a derivative of Japanese honey cake, inherited from Japan’s colonial legacy in Taiwan. As previously noted, the honey cakes are more commonly known as ‘Nagasaki cake’ in Japan (after the city where it is popular), or ‘kasutera cake’ in reference to its origins as Spanish Castella cake. The cake was probably introduced to Japan by Portuguese traders in the 16th century. But whatever the global ancestry of the recipe, it has now become popular in Taiwan in its own right.
We purchased our honey cake from D. Ren Bakery, whose bakery museum we visited last year while on holiday in Yilan (Ilan). D. Ren Bakery makes several varieties of honey cake, including the surprisingly light red bean and green tea varieties. After some deliberation, we chose to order their Taiwan-style honey cake. As the order was over the minimum amount, they delivered it free of charge (and on time) to the Rotary meeting in Taipei.
I love the way that the fragrance of honey wafts up as you open the box of D. Ren’s honey cake to reveal neatly pre-cut slices. The cake itself is soft and light in texture and taste, suited as snack to nibble on with a cup of tea rather than as a substantive high tea item. Although the cake is Taiwanese/Japanese, I could imagine being served it on fine China while sitting in someone’s parlour. There is something elegant in the simplicity of this delicately flavoured sponge-like cake that improves on the second or third slice. Still, I I prefered their unique red bean honey cake variety over the more subtle Taiwanese version. Perhaps I need another trip to Yilan to conduct a taste test.
D.Ren’s museum is at 122 Meizhou Second Street (宜蘭市梅洲二路122號), around ten minutes out of central Yilan. It is a popular stop with tourists and there are many tour buses there. Visit their website to order online or phone 03 9286777.