Pineapple Tarts: The Start Of The Journey


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In the beginning, there were pineapple tarts.

These buttery, crumbly, bite-sized marvels bewitched me as a child in Singapore. My paternal grandmother made the best ones, of course — every Chinese new year, she would hit the kitchen to churn out her tarts, pushing me to eat as many as I wanted as we sat in her living room, unhurriedly passing time.

I never learned to make my grandmother’s tarts as a child, unfortunately.

When I was 11, she died. And the chance for her to teach me anything suddenly vanished.

After many years of mourning this lost opportunity, I traveled back to Singapore in early 2009 to learn how to make these tarts from my aunts. My grandmother had taught them how to bake the tarts when she was alive and they were now the keepers of her prized recipe, which I’ve included below.

The experience was enlightening — but it also generated a spark. I now knew how to make the tarts of my grandmother, a legendary cook in our family and to all she knew.

But still, I wanted more.

Thus began a journey of discovery — one that would take place in the kitchens of my Singapore family. Over the next lunar calendar year, the women of my family would gather over hot stoves to laugh, tell stories, shake our heads and, above all else, cook.

The story of my journey will be shared very soon. (Hyperion’s Voice is publishing “A Tiger In The Kitchen” in January 2011.)

But first, it must be written — and so I must bow out of this blog for a while. Seven weeks, to be exact. (Special thanks to Yaddo, the artists’ colony, for generously offering me a nook in the woods to think and create.)

I hope you’ll forgive this absence, but you must admit, it’s for a rather good reason. 

When I return in late April, I’ll be looking for all of you. My year of cooking in Singapore is over but the journey continues here. And I hope you’ll be coming along with me.

Until then, buon appetito and enjoy …

~~~

My Grandmother’s Pineapple Tarts

(Recipe first appeared in the Wall Street Journal)

Ingredients

Yields about 100 tarts

To make the jam:

4 pineapples
at least ½ kilogram sugar (at least 2 ½ cups, depending on desired sweetness)
2 to 3 pandan leaves* knotted together
1 long cinnamon stick, broken in two

  • Peel the pineapples, dig out the eyes and chop into
    chunks. Run the chunks through a juicer. Place the pulp in a large wok
    or pot with a large surface area and heat on the stove. Add the juice
    until the mixture has the consistency of porridge or grits; add the
    knotted pandan leaves and cinnamon stick. Bring to a boil and keep it
    there for a total of three hours, stirring often. Halfway through,
    taste the jam, and add sugar by the half cup until it is as sweet as
    you desire. (Note: The amount of sugar needed will vary greatly
    depending on how ripe the pineapples are.)
  • The jam
    is done when the pineapple mixture has changed color from bright yellow
    to brownish ochre and most of the liquid has evaporated, leaving a
    dense but moist jam.

For the pastry:

375 grams salted butter (3 sticks plus 2 ½ Tablespoons) at room temperature
600 grams flour (about 4 ¾ cups)
4 egg yolks, plus 1 yolk for brushing onto pastry

  • With a mixer on low speed, combine the butter, flour and four egg yolks, mixing for 3 to 5 minutes.
  • Place
    dough in a cookie press fitted with a disc featuring a circle of
    diamonds. Press cookies out onto greased baking sheets. Form small
    balls of dough and press each one into the hollow of a cookie, forming
    the base of the tart.
  • Beat the remaining egg yolk
    with ½ teaspoon of water. Brush the rim of each tart generously. Take a
    scant teaspoon of pineapple jam (more or less, as desired) and form a
    ball, then press into the hollow of each tart. Pat the sides of the jam
    to create a small dome.
  • Bake for 15 to 20 minutes at 350 degrees, until golden brown. Remove cookies from sheets and cool on a rack.



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15 thoughts on “Pineapple Tarts: The Start Of The Journey

  1. Aww, thank you guys! Your words of encouragement are helping to nudge me ever closer to the finish line! I’m thinking of all of you as I’m writing in the woods…

  2. I am SOOO excited that i found your blog!! I hauled my butt from Hong kong all the way to Evanston many years ago and graduated from Northwestern in 2008! Though I’m not a fabulous food writer or traveler like you are, I LOVE food and have a little humble blog of my own. I can’t wait to get to know A Tiger in the Kitchen better and to start utilizing some of your fantastic recipes at home. Pineapple tarts…my favorite Taiwanese tart ever!!! (I didn’t say favorite dessert because we both know Hokienese people have WAYYY too many awesome desserts!!)
    Anyways, I love your blog and i’m excited to learn more from you!!! :)

  3. Daniel! You’re too sweet. Now I’ll need to stop in Berlin so I can sign your book! (And taste some of your amazing bread.)
    Thanks, too, tigerfish and Michelle. Glad you found this blog. There’ll be more to come after April so, stay tuned …

  4. Thank you for this recipe. My parents have tried shipping me my mom’s pineapple tarts (Kuala Lumpur to Chicago) and have encountered many roadblocks. So this year I’m going to try my hand at it, and was looking for tips. The tips on how to make the jam will be very helpful :)

    • It’s a southeast Asian leaf that’s used to flavor many Asian desserts and jams — you can buy its bottled essence (just like you would vanilla essence) or buy the leaf frozen in Asian grocery stores in the U.S. Its taste is similar to vanilla but more complex. Delicious!

      • I am SOOO excited that i found your blog!! I heluad my butt from Hong kong all the way to Evanston many years ago and graduated from Northwestern in 2008! Though I’m not a fabulous food writer or traveler like you are, I LOVE food and have a little humble blog of my own. I can’t wait to get to know A Tiger in the Kitchen better and to start utilizing some of your fantastic recipes at home. Pineapple tarts my favorite Taiwanese tart ever!!! (I didn’t say favorite dessert because we both know Hokienese people have WAYYY too many awesome desserts!!)Anyways, I love your blog and i’m excited to learn more from you!!!

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