People from the Laie area love and adore a certain cookie available at our local Sam’s Store which is next to the famous Hukilau Cafe. Here, and only here, they are referred to as Pake (pa-kay) Cake. Anywhere else, they are called Chinese Tea Cookies. “Pake” ” is a Hawaiian translation of the word “Chinese” or “China”. In Laie, we like nicknames, and the shorter the better!
A little bit about Sam’s Store. The original owner was Sam Choy. It has changed hands a few times, but it’s still a quaint, hometown store tucked well into a Laie neighborhood off of the Kamehameha Highway. This little corner has quite a long history. Sam Choy’s son, the now famous Hawaiian chef by the same name (Sam), carved out a little eatery from a section of this store. This is where he honed his craft – and created the famous Sam’s Place – clearly THE place on the Northshore for breakfast and lunch.
Sam Jr. has moved on, but the café remains and is run successfully by extended family members, except now it is called “Hukilau Café” (after Hukilau Beach, which is just around the corner). This restaurant is famous not only because the name was utilized heavily in the movie 50 First Dates, but because the people enjoy the food and the atmosphere that much. On the other side of the building is Sam’s Store. It is there that you will find the pake cakes…..and they are an integral part of the culture. Families take them to the beach, bring them to the football games and every trip to the mainland for islanders heading off to visit family (“don’t forget to bring us some pake cake there, Cuz!”)
Side note: For those who have been searching on the web, I discovered that there is a completely different dessert named Pake Cake – in this instance “pake” rhymes with “cake” – which is this amazing conglomeration of pie + cake = pake. Isn’t that clever? From the looks of it, this is something we really have to try, but that’s for another day, after I figure out a Hawaiian twist to it (I’m thinking macadamia nut pie inside a coconut cake – what do you think?)
The origin of the Chinese Tea Cookie is simple. It became a Polynesian favorite through the many Chinese bakeries throughout the Hawaiian Islands. They aren’t fancy, some may even consider them rather plain, but for many, the taste is incomparable. They are a rather large sized cookie – approximately 3″ in diameter. If you like them smaller and crunchier, just use half the dough per cookie and cook with slightly less time.
Chinese Tea Cookies (aka Pake Cake)
1 cup water
5 slabs (about 13 ounces) wong tong (Chinese brown sugar) * 1-1/2 cups brown sugar may be used in place of wong tong.
1/2 cup white sugar
5-1/2 cups flour
2 tablespoons baking powder
1/4 cup honey
1 cup vegetable oil
Bring water to boil. Break wong tong (or brown sugar) into pieces and add to water. Stir to dissolve. Remove from heat and stir in white sugar to dissolve.
Whisk together flour and baking powder.
Combine honey and oil; beat in eggs. Add to flour mixture and stir to combine.
Add sugar syrup and mix until smooth. Let rest 1 hour.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Cover cookie sheets with baking parchment.
Scoop dough onto cookie sheets and press flat (about 1/2 inch thick). Cookies should be 3 inches wide for traditional size, but it’s OK to make them smaller.
Bake 12 to 15 minutes.
Cool slightly on cookie sheet, then move cookies to a rack. For a twist, sprinkle with powdered sugar. Makes 20 large cookies.
My name is Nina Jones. I have lived all across the west coast and traveled even farther, but never dreamed that I would end up in Hawaii. I am the truest form of a foodie. I may not be a highly trained chef, but I know whats good. I am most particularly interested in ethnic foods, and Oahu is especially divergent in it’s offerings. What a dream come true!