Natalie Eng

The expression “too pretty to eat” best describes the sweet treats that Singapore chef Natalie Eng. The 25-year-old pastry chef is known to her more than 26,000 followers on Instagram and luxury clients like Chanel, for her minimalist, sculptural and picture-perfect desserts like fig tarts or her patisserie take on a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.

Just don’t expect the Paris-trained Eng — she left for Paris at the age of 17, working in the Michelin-starred Restaurant Le Meurice — to be putting an a la Francaise spin to her confections this time of the year. Ask her why and she says matter-of-factly: “I am not really one to mess around with the traditional Chinese desserts or play on local or Chinese flavours simply because I much prefer the traditional Chinese desserts to remain that way — for nostalgia. For instance, a fancy improved upon French-style version of a pandan cake to me, is no longer a pandan cake. You cannot capture the same essence of it when you try to do too much with it.”

 

Mandarin petit gateau

That’s not stopping her from posting some really pretty shots of Oriental-looking desserts on her social media feed lately, though. A recent post of a mandarin petit gateau has garnered more than 1,800 likes at the time we wrote this. Luscious and extremely photogenic, the piece highlights the non-literal interpretation she has on the Lunar New Year theme (in this case, mandarin oranges).

The chef has been working with private clients for festive desserts for the past two years. The spoiler: The goodies she displays on her feed are not for sale though she is open to taking orders from the public come next year. Here, we learn a little more about how Eng puts her craft to work for the Chinese New Year.

Natalie Eng’s Chinese New Year petit four

What’s your approach to Chinese New Year flavours?

“I would still keep it traditional. But if I really had to get creative for a client, I would still preserve the classic flavours and textures of said CNY cookie and rework them into a more modern and aesthetically pleasing looking cookie.”

What are the top three creations for Chinese New Year?

“I typically do an assortment of cakes or petits fours for CNY, not necessarily just cookies. I draw inspiration from the festivity of this entire occasion, the colours that surround me and the fruits and tidbits that we eat. My top three CNY creations would have to be my mandarin orange petit gateau, my pineapple-coconut sables, and my traditional kueh lapis.”

Kueh lapis and mandarin petit gateau

Could you elaborate more about each of these flavours?

“The mandarin orange petit gateau has layers of mandarin mousse, homemade mandarin orange marmalade, orange cremeux, dacquoise and sable breton crunch at the base for texture. The entire cake is sculpted into an orange, glazed in orange, and garnished with a chocolate stem and leave.

Meanwhile, the pineapple coconut sables consist of pineapple-coconut ganache filling with a pineapple confiture centre is sandwiched between two sables and adorned with a coconut curl, desiccated coconut, and a white chocolate “double happiness” Chinese character seal.

Then there is the kueh lapis. You could get this anywhere, but they are different from the normal ones you can get out there because it is my recipe and technique.”

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