Since I have been away for ages and hopelessly silent on the blog front (mainly because of the sheer volume of cheese I consumed whilst away in France; eating seemed to occupy alot of my time) I thought I’d start 2014 with an ultra topical foodie post, what with Chinese New Year being just around the corner.
For my UK based readers, pineapple tarts are the CNY equivalent to mince pies at Christmas, except that everyone likes them. Alot. And like mince pies, the best ones are always homemade.
Who’d have thought that the traditional technique for making one of the culinary cornerstones to Chinese New Year celebrations would be brought to you by an angmoh charboh (read English girl)? I am seriously thrilled that it is, even if I can only lay claim to the recipe by marriage.
The recipe I followed is H’s great grandmother’s recipe that she taught her daughter-in-law, his grandmother we all called Mama.
She, in turn, handed it down to her daughter and to us.
Nyonya and a wonderful cook, it is just one of the many recipes Mama painstakingly recorded in beautifully neat, handwritten, indexed books. She wrote out seven identical copies for everyone in her immediate family and they are gold dust. I guard mine fiercely.
Sadly yet understandably, I have been asked not to share the family recipe with you (hence re-posting this as my original post did contain it*). I tried – in vein – to find a ‘same, same but different’ one to post in its stead, but after a few hours trawling the internet for inspiration, am sad to say that I can’t find one that appears even remotely similar; most seem to contain caster oil (yuks) and/or icing sugar (wrong).
So below I’ve listed the basic ingredients in a step-by-step guide, with a few pics, to explain the different stages that go in to creating these little beauties that take exactly two seconds to ingest. Four of us sat down to make them the other day and the whole thing took two and a half hours from start to finish; not to be embarked upon if you are in a rush! We made 130 tarts. The great news is that after slaving away making them, you really don’t feel like eating them – although I’m sure I’ll get over it.
(I have to confess that I only turned my hand to making the pastry. The jam is apparently even more laborious and involves hours of standing over a hot pan, stirring. Someone lovely made the jam that appears below – made according to Mama’s recipe – and brought jars of it for me to use for the filling.)
Pineapple Tart Pastry
‘Egg Yellow’ Colouring (optional and only available in Singapore)
Using the largest possible mixing bowl you can find, add the 3 pats of butter and roughly chop them up. Set aside.
Crack the eggs into a separate bowl, discarding 2 and a half of the egg whites (it’s a weird thing to have to split an egg white in half but basically remove 2 eggs whites and a little bit more. It’s all a bit agat agat – estimate – but that is half the fun of old recipes).
Beat the eggs with fork before adding to the butter bowl (below).
Due to the huge volume of the flour, sieve it onto brown paper, unless you have another huge bowl (I only had one).
Add the flour to the butter mixture in thirds, leaving some to scatter on the table/work surface when you are kneading the dough.
The kneading comes next and is the most important, and hardest, part. You can’t rush it and you must do it with a light touch. You also shouldn’t do it on a boiling hot day as the butter will melt too quickly (for those with non-air conditioned kitchens like me).
Tip it all over a big, clear surface (I had to use a wooden table as you need a large-ish area to work and my kitchen surfaces are too cluttered). Gently start by pushing the mixture together, with the aim to do it slowly and get the mixture to absorb all the flour. If you rush it or knead it hard, you’ll bring the oil out from the butter *fail*.
It should look something like this after your efforts:
Shape as you wish. You can buy pineapple tart moulds in most baking shop here in Singapore (try Phoon Huat in Holland V) but we used Mama’s china tart plates which are antique and sadly can’t be bought now for love nor money. They look like this:
Now, here comes the fiddly bit. You make about half of the dough in to little balls…
…that you then press in to each mould,
Each ball needs to be exactly the same size (around 3g); we had a Din Tai Fung set up to make sure that they were:
The rest of the mixture is used for the tart case edges. These are tricky and for me, were the worst part; make them too fat or too long and there won’t be enough room for the jam. In fact, I wasn’t allowed to make too many as they kept getting rejected by the group; instead I was tasked with the much easier bases *result*.
Last comes the pinching, which takes practice. The tool looks like this
…and you use it to pinch a pattern around the sides of each and every tart; time consuming doesn’t even cover it. It was lovely being the four of us and we nattered away as we worked – very Nyonya-style.
Arrange on a baking tray and bang ’em into a preheated the oven at 180 degrees until they are light golden in colour. Think shortbread. Don’t over cook them!
They can be kept in an airtight container, unfilled, in the fridge for a good few months. Add the jam just before they’re eaten.
So, you think you’re done? Nope! Now is the time to start on the jam. The basic recipe being sour pineapples, grated, and sugar in equal measure. Stir continuously for three hours until jam-like. Fill tarts once jam has cooled.
Eat & enjoy!
*Although I am uber careful about checking with people whether or not I am allowed to post things on this blog if it makes reference to them or affects them in any way, I have been asked by a family member (who has changed his mind) not to share the family recipe, handed down four generations, for pineapple tarts on changmoh. This is a re-post, without the recipe but none-the-less featuring the hugely laborious technique and all the basic ingredients.