Indonesian factory sticks to traditional recipe for popular basket cakes

Chinese New Year

Traditional basket cakes are a Spring Festival favorite among Chinese in Indonesia.

In a historic factory just outside of Jakarta, the smell of burnt sugar fills the air. Workers at Ms. Lauw’s factory are busy stirring buckets of coconut milk and sugar. They’re preparing to make thousands of traditional cakes for the Chinese New Year.

CGTN’s Silkina Ahluwalia reports.
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The tradition has been passed down for three generations. Reny Lauw is now the woman behind her family’s business.

“The business started with my grandfather. Then it was passed down to my mother-in-law and now my husband and I are in charge of it,” she explained.

Lauw said she still remembers celebrating Chinese New Year. She enjoyed the cakes as a child with her grandfather. It’s part of the reason why she’s preserved the traditional ways of hand-making basket cakes.

The factory bakes traditional, Chinese basket cakes daily during the Lunar New Year season.

The factory has made the delicious basket cakes daily, using traditional method, for 50 years. It’s only produced twice a year: during Chinese New Year and the Islamic holiday of Ramadan.

Lauw is one of the only factories in Jakarta that still uses equipment and methods from decades ago. She is known for two different kinds of sticky cakes. One is the Chinese basket cake made out of rice flour and sugar. The other is a traditional Indonesian cake made out of coconut milk and palm sugar.

A factory worker gently wraps a traditional Indonesian sticky cake with fresh banana leaves.

Only fresh ingredients are used to make all of the cakes, from fresh coconuts to make coconut milk, to organic sugar to sweeten the cakes. Locally-grown banana leaves are used to wrap the basket cakes.

A factory worker makes coconut shavings for the traditional, Indonesian sticky cake.

The mixture is stirred by hand until it becomes thick, sticky and sweet. Around 200 workers take turns, for 8 to 12 hours, to reach the perfect consistency.

“Our customers tell us that the texture of our cakes is softer than others,” Lauw said. “It has just the right amount of sweetness and the color is perfect too.”

Sticky cakes are prepped and packed for shipment.

These cakes signify an important meaning for many of the Chinese in Indonesia. The sticky texture symbolizes togetherness, and the cakes are used as an offering to the Gods. They bring in luck and blessings to their homes throughout the year.