Pastry lovers in the know are buzzing about Oakland’s pop-up Batik and Baker, which regularly sells out of its monthly box of European and Malaysian-influenced baked goods. Founder/baker Audrey Tang merges her culinary school baking chops with influences from her childhood in Penang, Malaysia. The result is a rotating monthly menu of seasonal treats that balance familiar and unexpected flavors.
Tang’s pastry influences reflect the deep well of local pastry talent. At the San Francisco Cooking School, she studied under chef Nicole Plue. Stints under top pastry chefs at Craftsman and Wolves, Cotogna, Quince, and Mister Jiu’s also shaped her baking values and views.
“It was tough,” Tang said, of working in fine dining kitchens. “I’m not going to front. It was hard. The stress was amazing — the level of expectations.”
She enjoyed the speed and adrenaline required for the job, but the lifestyle wore her down and took a toll on her personal relationships. She began to wonder if the fine dining pastry world was where she should direct her skills and energy, and ended up returning to her tech job when a past employer came calling. She never stopped baking, though.
“The thing is, [if you bake,] you never leave pastry.” Tang said. She started selling her baked goods in 2020 to help raise funds for restaurants and restaurant workers, beginning with a pay-what-you-want model with revenue going to World Central Kitchen, chef Jose Andres’ support fund for restaurants and restaurant workers. She quickly discovered that she loved making the bake boxes. “People were getting treats, and money was going towards what I cared about and helping people.”
In December 2020, after taking a break from participating in bake sales and fundraisers, Tang revisited her goals, assessing how to continue baking, but under her own terms — not as a restaurant and not as a brick and mortar bakery. She started by choosing a name, Batik and Baker, that was inspired by her maternal grandmother, who was “a Nyonya, of Peranakan descent, and always wore an ankle-length wraparound batik sarong. Batik is a type of fabric that women in Indonesia and Malaysia of that ethnicity used to traditionally wear all the time.”
Peranakans are Chinese immigrants who settled in Malaysia in the 15th-17th centuries intermingled with the region’s Malay and Javanese people. The culture and cuisine of this area reflects the melding of Chinese, Malay, Indonesian and Thai influences.
Each Batik and Baker bake box echoes that spirit of cultural melding, with each of the four to five treats in the box inspired by Tang’s travels and eating experiences. Last month’s bake box, for example, contained a coconut lilikoi (passion fruit) tart. It’s Tang’s take on a Chinese bakery classic, the coconut tart, reflecting her love of tart, citrusy flavors and island vacations.
Tang enjoys introducing people to Malaysian and Southeast Asian flavors and ingredients that may not be widely known in the Bay Area. Past bake boxes have featured offerings like a kaya-flavored kouign-amann, lapcheong gougeres and spicy and sweet-savory white sesame. Another box included white and black pepper snaps inspired by Tang’s favorite biscuit found at a bakery in Penang, and another had made-from-scratch pineapple-jam-filled sable cookies, which are Tang’s take on pineapple jam tarts or nastar, a Malaysian new year’s treat.
One type of sweet Tang has included in her bake box menu is her version of Malaysian kuih. Bite-sized sweet snacks, usually made with rice or sticky rice as a base, kuih frequently showcase flavors such as coconut, pandan, coconut cream and palm sugar. Tang’s seri muka kuih has a layer of sticky rice on the bottom and a pandan-flavored top layer. Visually, the sticky rice base layer of the Malaysian kuih is often marbled with an indigo blue color reflecting the incorporation of butterfly pea flower.
According to Tang, Indonesian versions (often spelled “kueh”) typically do not have color in the base. “People are really liking it [the kuih]. I love that people are getting excited about something not popular or famous or widely known here. I want to do more of that.”
Tang’s creative process involves tapping into her love of both Malaysian and Southeast Asian sweets and European-style pastries, often merging the two. For example, when she knew she wanted to make a pandan cake, she first considered what else pandan came in. She thought of cendol — a Southeast Asian shaved ice dessert with palm sugar, coconut milk, red beans, and green pandan jelly. “This inspired a pandan layer cake with coconut cream and palm sugar streaked through it. I thought, ‘Will people get it?’ People loved it and understood.”
Since she started selling her baked goods, one of her most popular items is her Vietnamese coffee cake, featuring an airy coffee-flavored sponge cake, with condensed milk buttercream, and espresso paint on the outside to replicate the visual of a Vietnamese coffee drip. The cake is frequently available by the slice or whole for order/pick-up at Magnolia Mart in Oakland.
Ultimately, Tang said, she wants Batik and Baker to be “a space for expression, a space for creativity and curiosity.” And she also wants it to be delicious, fun, and a little bit ambitious, saying “every piece I put out and share with you is something I’d be proud to give to you.”
The October menu, featuring fall flavors like Black Kat Plum and Ginger Kouign-Amann, will be up on the Batik and Baker Instagram account @batikandbaker and website by Oct. 3 for Oct. 16 delivery/ pick-up. Orders close Oct. 10 or whenever boxes are sold out.