6 January 2014

Corporate gifts to covet: Kele pineapple tarts

It's that time of the year again where you may be wondering what to get major customers as a Chinese new year gift. Mandarin oranges are a perennial favourite; but I always associate this time of year with one of my favourite pastries, pineapple tarts. So when I heard that Kele (可乐) pineapple tarts had been voted best in Jurong Point's search for the best pineapple tart in 2013, out of over 60 entries received, I just had to try them.

I even bought some for my family. The conversation with each family member would start with me explaining that these pineapple pastries had been voted the best in Singapore. My relative would say something non-committal, bite into the pineapple ball, and then exclaim: "It's realllly goood!" When you have an aunt who has sold thousands of her own pineapple pillows say this, you know you're on to something.

A single Golden Pineapple Ball
Kele Cakes and Cookies are at #06-16, the top floor of the Jurong Food Hub at 15 Jalan Tepong. The company participates at roadshows, but does not have a retail outlet. Kele may be known now for its pineapple tarts, but also sells cakes including a layered durian cake and prune kueh lapis, as well as cookies that have almonds, sunflowers and macadamia nuts in them.

Adrian Ang, Business Development Manager, explained Kele is a family business that was started by his parents about 30 years ago. It has built up a loyal following, and Adrian plans on reaching out to a larger clientele.

The second-generation entrepreneur was happy to let my friend and I sample the products on offer. We tried the famous pineapple tarts, actually Golden Pineapple Balls (very good) as well as the Golden Cheese Pineapple Balls (cheese adds a savoury note), the crunchy Almond Cookies, which are stuffed with crunchy slivers of Californian almonds, as well as the Nonya Kueh Bangkit, which are the brainchild of a Malaysian relative and toasted on charcoal for a subtly different flavour. There are two grades of love letters, one with a more pronounced coconut fragrance than the other, and the Sunflower Seed Cookies are a must-try with a lovely crispiness to them.

I asked whether it was the Golden Pineapple Balls or the Golden Cheese Pineapple Balls which had won the award from Jurong Point, and Adrian said they had been combined into a single entry for the Jurong Point competition. Both are lovely more-ish spheres of melt-in-the-mouth butter pastry with substantial fillings. The classic Pineapple Balls have an egg yolk coating that gives an eggy aftertaste, while the Golden Cheese Pineapple Balls are chewier with overtones of Parmesan cheese.  

Yummy flavourful pineapple filling inside
"Our traditional customers tell us they prefer the egg yolk glaze on the Golden Pineapple Balls, while younger customers tend to prefer the cheese flavour," said Adrian. "During our roadshows, the Almond Cookies were the most popular after our Pineapple Balls sold out."  

Kele takes its customers very seriously. Adrian shared that his mother has tweaked the recipe for the Pineapple Balls over the years due to customer feedback. They had used a softer pastry in the past, for example. 

Kele has got its butter pastry recipe for the pineapple 'tarts' just right, fragrant yet not too sweet and not too crumbly. One difference is the pure butter used, Adrian said. "一分钱,一分货," said Adrian, quoting the Chinese saying that you get what you pay for.

Corporate customers have taken notice since Kele won the 'best pineapple tart' award, said Adrian, listing several well-known brands which had recently made orders as corporate gifts. Gifts for the lunar new year typically have an auspicious theme, and Kele's cookies are mostly round, symbolising prosperity, while the brand itself is auspicious as well, symbolising happiness. Couple these traditionally lucky features with being named 'best pineapple tart' in 2013, and Kele becomes a really meaningful corporate gift. 

Most of Kele's cookies are sold in two sizes
Kele's pineapple tarts and other cookies are packaged in the traditional clear plastic jars with red lids, and two sizes of red festive bags can be provided for jars of two or more respectively. Delivery to a single location is free for an order of more than S$400. 

"Most of the customers go for a mix of flavours. One chose a set of Macadamia Nut Cookies, Almond Cookies and Sunflower Seed Cookies, while Golden Pineapple Balls with Almond Cookies are very popular," said Adrian.

Jurong Point is holding the search for the best pineapple tart again this year. It's likely that Kele will be a very strong contender for the top spot. Whatever the outcome, Adrian plans on making the Kele brand famous beyond Singapore's shores.

"When I was overseas, friends asked me what food Singapore is known for. There aren't enough alternatives to choose from today," he said.

*A 500g jar of Golden Pineapple Balls sells for S$16, while the fusion-inspired Golden Cheese Pineapple Balls go for S$17.50. Almond Cookies are S$11 for 400g. All prices are from the Chinese New Year 2014 price list.

*Almond Cookies ingredients: California almond slices, flour, almond flavouring, sugar, corn oil. Golden Pineapple Balls ingredients: Flour, butter, pineapple, sugar, salt, eggs. Golden Cheese Pineapple Balls ingredients: Flour, butter, pineapple, sugar, salt, eggs, premium cheese.