Haw Flake Cookies

Ah, haw flakes! They’re these little disc-shaped confectionary the size of a quarter (or an old Malaysian 50-sen coin), blushed pink like a cherry blossom, as fragile as one too, with the lingering tanginess of a hawthorn berry. Malaysians especially will remember eating these at children’s parties and Chinese New Year celebrations, buying it from the primary school tuck shops and nostalgic 90s candy stores when we were kids.

Truth be told, I was never a huge fan of haw flakes. They taste like cranberries – which I’m strangely apathetic towards – mixed with a little drip of cough syrup. But I know of people who never quite got over these sweets, and would involuntarily snack on them since they were young, letting the disc dissolve on their tongue like some sort of kiddy LSD.

Haw Flakes
Haw Flakes

The conspiracy

Anyway, this all sounds innocent enough, right? Well allow me to crush your pure, wholesome childhood attachments to haw flakes, because underneath that sweet, innocent mask of a confectionary is something slightly sinister – because haw flakes aren’t just sweets; they are MEDICINE DISGUISED AS SWEETS. *cue Pscyho shower scene screams*

Allow me to explain how I stumbled upon this culinary conspiracy. With Chinese New Year being a weekend away, I thought it’d be cool (read: appropriately weird) to make a dish out of haw flakes, since they’re one of the candies often snacked on during Chinese New Year. So, I did some researching, sleuthing for inspiration and maybe for some epic epiphany of a recipe I can riff off. I was also secretly hoping that whatever haw flake thing I made would finally change my mind about them, so I can finally understand its appeal.

But then, as you do anytime you browse through the web, I got side-tracked by a single line on Wikipedia – “Traditionally, haw flakes used to be given to children for the deworming of digestive tract parasites”. OMG. So haw flakes are basically the reverse anti-vaxxers of the food world, preying on our childhood nostalgia for the sake of an involuntary dose of medicine!? (Semi-related PSA: Please vaccinate your kids.)

The candor

Okay that might’ve been a little sensationalised; there’s no pharmaceutical compound that’s put into haw flakes that makes them a medical drug, or at least none that I know of. But hawthorn berries – what haw flakes are made of – are used extensively in traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) for aiding indigestion by clearing our bowels and increasing the appetite. So, I guess eating haw flakes might elicit a similar benefit in our bodies, though the dosage will be very much lowered since there isn’t that much actual hawthorn berry in the processed candy that is haw flakes.  

Still, there’s a part of me that squirms at the thought of 5-year old me ingesting low doses of drugs that’s hidden within a sweet. It kinda reminds me of those protein jelly bars in Snowpiercer that the poor people in the last carriages had, not knowing it was basically made of crushed up roaches and filth from the front carriages. (Yes I actually watched that weird movie. Funny aside: there’s actually a theory on how Snowpiercer is actually a dark apocalyptic sequel to Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, and the argument for it is surprisingly convincing.)

The cookie

Despite all that hubbub about haw flakes, I did eventually go ahead with using haw flakes in my baking, since we’ve established that they’re not actually *that* bad for you. (There are worse things that having a free bowel cleansing, after all.) And so I ended up making… oat and haw flake cookies! My logic was that since haw flakes taste sorta like cranberries, they’d work well in an oat cookie, no?

So what’s the verdict? I can’t say I like haw flakes any more than I did before, but if you’re a haw-whore (geddit?), these cookies might help you stave off that haw-nger. Also since I made these in the spirit of Chinese New Year, might I suggest baking these for your relatives too? Because not only will it earn you some praise for your creativity and culinary ability, more time eating means they’ll have less time to ask you when you’re going to get married, or worst still, in my case – when I’m going to even get a girlfriend. UGH. *I have an unlovable face, what to do. Here, eat my cookies already.*

(To all my relatives reading this, I’m totally kidding. Gong Xi Fa Cai, Wan Shi Ru Yi, and of course, Hong Bao Na Lai.)

Haw Flake Cookies
Haw Flake Cookies
Haw Flake Cookies

Oat & Haw Flake Cookies

Makes 18-20 cookies

Ingredients

130g all-purpose flour
½ teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon salt
180g steel-cut oats
230g butter, softened at room temperature
200g caster sugar
25g gula melaka, dissolved in 25g of water, can be substituted with 25g brown sugar + 25g water
1 egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
100g haw flakes, sliced in half
50g dried cranberries

Directions

  1. Sift the flour, baking soda, and salt all together into a bowl. Then add the oats to this.

  2. In a mixer with the paddle attachment, beat the butter and caster sugar on medium-high speed for 3-5 minutes, until it turns light and fluffy. Then add in the gula melaka, egg, and vanilla extract, and mix briefly until well-combined.

  3. Add in the dry ingredients to the butter and egg mixture, and mix on low speed for 10-15 seconds, until no clumps of dry flour remains. Then, add in the haw flakes and dried cranberries and mix briefly for 10-15 seconds until they are well-distributed into the cookie dough.

  4. Put the cookie dough into the fridge to firm up for at least 2 hours, or overnight. This will allow the flavours to really meld and will result in a (marginally) more flavourful cookie.

  5. When you’re ready to bake, heat your oven to 180°C. Then, scoop out your cookie dough into 50g balls and place it onto a lined baking tray (or a silicon mat), making sure to space them out well. (I usually have them 3 inches apart from each other, giving me 5-6 cookies per tray.) Put the cookie balls into the freezer for 10 minutes to firm up a little, and then pop it directly into the oven. Bake the cookies for 18-20 minutes, rotating the tray halfway through.

  6. When the cookies are done, remove the tray from the oven and let it cool for 5 minutes, before transferring the cookies onto a wire rack to cool down further.

  7. Have them as a sweet treat, or as an antidote to your bowel problems! 😂

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