Teatime treats Singapore-style

If you harbour fond memories of afternoon tea in the UK circa 1950, surrounded by elderly aunties smelling faintly of Yardley’s lavender soap, with dainty sandwiches followed by fondant fancies and Victoria sponge, prepare to relive them here in all their glory. Singaporeans take baking very seriously, it’s a veritable art form. Afternoon tea is a ritual to be accorded the utmost respect.
There are cake shops at every turn. If you feel peckish, don’t be lulled into opting for western brand names selling muffins and donuts you can sample anywhere in the world. Be adventurous, forget the calories, you can always go easy on dinner.
You’ll know when you’re getting close to a haven of teatime delights, your nose will be filled with the delectable warm vanilla smell of fresh baking. At the entrance you’ll find trays, wax paper and tongs. You’re now ready to forage. It will be crowded in the shop, giving renewed meaning to the phrase ‘bun fight’. A continual human chain is formed by staff clad in aprons and hats bearing trays of fresh temptations to be lovingly placed in brightly-lit glass cases ready for your close inspection.
You’ll quickly spot some old favourites, such as Portuguese custard tarts with their delectable light pastry and nicely browned eggy centres, or light fluffy cupcakes brightly decorated like miniature jewel boxes. Be prepared to be enticed by small lightly-baked cubes that reveal a soft chocolate custard core, or intrigued by quaintly-named offerings such as a Squabble Bubble which resembles an English muffin but comes filled with a delicious sweet and sticky paste of pumpkin and yam.
Do you fancy home-made scones? No problem, they’ll be there, full of luscious fruit and glazed with egg the old-fashioned way. Swiss roll? Of course, and the sponge will be the most delicate and meltingly light you’ve ever tasted. Bakewell tart? The Singapore twist on this classic has a thick layer of peach confection at its base and a generous smothering of almonds on top.
But perhaps you’re in the mood for something more sophisticated? Take a look in the chilled cabinet and feast your eyes on the dazzling array of patisserie. Cool velvety-textured lemon cheesecakes nestle next to dark chocolate squares crowned with arcs of bitter chocolate and flecks of gold leaf. Sunshine yellow mango-laden sponges glisten and shimmer beside berry-clad strawberry shortcakes. Don’t hold back, you really mustn’t miss a single glorious mouthful.
And what about Christmas? Well, come to Singapore and you’ll be treated to some of the best mince pies available on the planet, their light crumbly short crust pastry cases filled to bursting with some of the plumpest and juiciest fruit you’ve ever tasted. If you hanker for a chocolate log complete with festive English robin, you’ll be offered a traditional-looking creation complete with a choice of creamy gooey centres in chocolate, coffee or raspberry.
What are you waiting for? I’ll put the kettle on.

M Emmens

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