Sales of Mid-Autumn Festival pastry gift sets made by Changhua Prison inmates are expected to exceed NT$1 million (US$31,740) this year.
The prison’s eight-year-old bakery, which provides instructional workshops to inmates, begins making moon cases and other special treats for the festival a month in advance, prison warden Huang Kun-cian said.
The idea for making moon cakes and the recipes for low-sugar salted egg yolk, mung bean and other pastries traditionally consumed during the festival came from an inmate who had been a hotel chef, Huang said.
The bakery began receiving requests from inmates’ relatives to purchase its moon cakes, spread through word of mouth. Two years ago, prison officials decided to allow the bakery to take orders from the public.
This year the bakery has received orders for more than 1,000 gift sets so far, Huang said.
Ten student-baker inmates make between 2,000 and 2,500 pastries per day, priced from NT$23 to NT$25 each, he said.
Sales of Mid-Autumn pastries earned the bakery NT$970,000 in 2017 and NT$1.03 million last year, he added.
While the original recipes remain successful, the inmates and their supervisor continue to develop new flavors, such as red bean paste pastries with red yeast rice and sesame, and yam pastries with bamboo charcoal, Huang said.
Public enthusiasm for the pastries has been a source of encouragement for the trainee bakers, giving them confidence as they prepare to reenter society, the prison said.
People typically think of lanterns when it comes to items produced by Changhua Prison, but the pastries have become immensely popular, said Liu Ko-ho , a prison supervisor.
Part of the pastries’ popularity can be attributed to the selection of the bakers, he said.
Baking experience is preferred for inmates who want to work in the bakery, but they must also pass a physical exam and cannot have committed violations in prison within the past year, he said.
Having the same interests makes the bakers more focused on creating healthy food, he said.
One of the bakers, a former chef at a seafood restaurant nicknamed Hsiao-hei , said the bakery’s good reputation has given him a sense of accomplishment.
It has also provided him with the opportunity to learn new skills, and he hopes to open his own baking studio and sell pastries online after his release, he said.
This year’s Mid-Autumn Festival gift sets come in boxes of six or 12 pastries, and are priced between NT$150 and NT$280, said Chen Su-ching , head of the prison’s operation section, adding that they must be ordered by Sept. 6.
Since the pastries contain about 20 percent less sugar than commercially produced ones and do not contain preservatives, they have shorter shelf lives, she said.
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Changhua Prison Warden Huang Kun-chien, left, and another official on Sunday hold gift boxes of “iron-bar mooncakes” and pastries for the Mid-Autumn Festival made by inmates working in the Changhua County prison’s bakery.