The Tiong Bahru Galicier Pastry shop, with a cheery yellow signboard, is a place that lifts one’s mood. The aroma of baked goods, and the row upon row of delectable cakes, pastries, cookies and kueh at the counter, will bring a smile to your face.
The enticing treats at this neighbourhood confectionery range from old-school ladyfinger sponge cakes and coconut tarts to kueh ambon and ondeh ondeh.
How many types of goodies does it have in its repertoire? Chef-owners Tan Yong Siang and wife Jenny Soh take a while to give us a number. Their guesstimate is about 100 types in total, but as everything is handmade, only a selection is available at any one time.
Of the vast assortment, the putu ayu (steamed coconut pandan sponge cake) is a firm favourite. The little shop turns out hundreds of them almost daily. Drop by in the late afternoon and, if you are in luck, you will find these fluffy little sponge cakes topped with savoury-sweet coconut on display.
Putu ayu, or puteri ayu, which loosely translates to “pretty princess” in Bahasa Indonesia, is thought be Indonesian in origin, but can also be found in Malaysia and Singapore. This beautiful steamed treat, shaped like a mini bundt cake, is essentially green pandan sponge cake crowned with shredded coconut.
According to Soh, it’s not difficult to make. However, it is tedious to prepare, which could explain why it is not commonly found these days.
The fresh coconut has to be prepared separately and pressed into individual moulds, and allowed to set, before it can be filled with cake batter and steamed. Every component has to come together perfectly for that one delicious bite. Soh has also tweaked the original recipe, adding gula melaka to the mix.
“Most of the putu ayu you see are white and green, from the coconut and the pandan. Ours is brown, white and green. The brown comes from freshly grated coconut flavoured with gula melaka, which gives the kueh added fragrance. Our white coconut is also slightly savoury, so you get a good balance of sweet and savoury, ” says Soh.
The affable Tan shares that he has been a pastry chef for over 50 years and worked at a Western confectionery located near Killiney Road. There, he met Soh, daughter of his mentor and boss. The pair went on to set up Galicier in the 1980s, and the shop eventually made Tiong Bahru home some 15 years ago.
Over the years, the couple have refined traditional recipes (Tan’s Peranakan grandmother taught him how to make nonya kueh), and made them their own. Tan and Soh, both in their 60s, take much pride in their confectionery. For them, the balance of flavours, and getting the right texture, is key.
Their dedication to their craft is evident from their insistence on making all their tarts, pies and kueh from scratch, using fresh ingredients. And this commitment to quality keeps their customers coming back.
The couple’s son, Shaun, helps out at the shop and looks to be an able successor, keeping the tradition of hand-crafted confectionery well and alive.