Saturday, January 31, 2009

Pineapple Tarts V2


Pineapple Tarts V2
Originally uploaded by Taking5

Someone who read my last post commented to me that I had kept my readers waiting quite some time for the sequel. Much as it pains me to admit it (pride going before a fall and all that) but the reason was because I was not quite satisfied with my pineapple tarts. The jam turned out beautifully – sweet and aromatically spicy, but with a tangy edge to it – but the pastry turned out a little too hard and not crumbly enough. I was also trying to get the hang of the pastry cutter/mould and so the shape of my tarts was not that nice; nor was my jam perfectly rounded or smooth. All in all, an amateur effort.

Fortunately I had made loads of jam so I had the opportunity to try the pastry again. This time the tarts turned out nicely shaped (I had improved my cutting techniques) and the pastry more crumbly and softer in texture. I must admit that since I used a standard shortcrust pastry recipe, it was not as buttery and rich as some other pineapple tarts I’ve eaten. Also my mother was commenting that I should have put in some salt (but I was not using unsalted butter, was my reply) and used some lard as well as butter (I’m concerned about health implications, I said). Nonetheless, I thought the pastry complemented the tarts well.

Anyway, here is a brief recipe:

Jam

(generally, do this at least one day before the pastry to let the jam cool down completely)

1. Take two pineapples, dice and blend finely in a blender. Add a little pineapple juice to facilitate the blending process – the juice adds a little zing to the jam later on. Note that traditional recipes call for the pineapple to be grated or chopped finely but this is very timeconsuming and probably the reason why I didn’t get around to making pineapple tarts for so long. It is of course possible (as someone suggested) to grate half and blend half the pineapple, for a better and more chunky texture. But for simple and fuss-free pineapple jam, I’d go for the blender.

2. Slowly cook the pineapple mixture over a low flame. Add 2 cloves, a stick of cinnamon and a piece of star anise to flavour the jam. Cook till thick (this should probably take 30-40 minutes or so), remove from flame. See picture for how the cooked jam should look like.

Pastry:
Ingredients: 250g flour; 125g butter; pinch of salt to taste; 2 eggs (beaten).

1. Sift flour and mix with salt. Rub butter into the flour till it resembles breadcrumbs.

2. Pour in the beaten egg slowly, mix together to form the dough - use hands if nec. No need to use all the egg. Put dough in fridge for at least half an hour to cool.

3. Roll out the dough to about 0.5 cm or so. Using a pineapple tart cutter (metal ring with mould within to form depression in pastry), cut out the tarts and put them on baking tray. Fill in with jam, glaze with beaten egg (now you know why you don't need to use it all) diluted with a little milk. Top with a little pastry piece.

4. Bake at 180 degrees centigrade for about 15-18minutes, when it has reached a light golden brown colour.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Pineapple Tarts and their Origins

I have made mention in an earlier post that I buy my pineapple tarts rather than make them (too much effort involved in cooking the jam, then baking the tarts). But in my current baking craze, making pineapple tarts for Chinese New Year seemed Just the Thing to Do. And so it began.

There were a few problems, of course. First, the equipment. I had no idea where my pineapple tart cutter and mould were. So a new cutter was definitely needed. This is not the sort of thing one can pick up easily in the local Cold Storage. Fortunately, I chanced to go to Haig Road Hawker Centre for lunch last Sunday. There, I found Gim Hin Lee, a specialist baking shop. It sold everything the aspiring baker could desire - baking tins of all shapes and sizes, other baking equipment such as cookie cutters, rolling pins, a wide variety of baking ingredients (in small sizes and large sizes for commercial kitchens), and of course, my pineapple tart cutters. Not quite the traditional one-piece copper mould, but the two piece cutter and mould which is good enough for me.

The second challenge was finding the right recipe. My grandaunt used to make the best ever pineapple tarts, a family recipe which she had bequeathed to her daughter. But my dear mother kept on forgetting to get it for me. So I had to turn to the recipe books for some ideas. Then the questions arose: should I find a Peranakan recipe, or a Eurasian recipe? And, who started making pineapple tarts anyway, the Eurasians or the Peranakans?

A difficult question to answer, so it turned out. Quite clearly, the techniques behind pineapple tarts appear to me more European in origin. The cooking of the jam, the use of European pastry suggest that the Eurasians may have come up with the tart first. But then, the pineapple tart is a treat so closely associated with traditional Chinese New Year celebration food. The golden colour of the pineapple jam on top of the pastry circle, or the jam forming the golden heart of a pastry ball - the very appearance is auspicious. And then "pineapple" translates (or so I understand) to "Ong Lai", or "wealth comes" in Hokkien. Doubly prosperous, indeed! Little wonder the Peranakans embaraced the pineapple tart as their very own.

I thought that one way to find out would be through looking at cookbooks. But the two oldest I have (Mrs Handy's and Mrs' Lee's) make no mention of pineapple tarts at all. Hmmm... could it be that pineapple tarts are a relatively new culinary innovation? Seems unlikely - my mother recalls one occasion as a child when she helped her mother and aunt make (Eurasian) pineapple tarts. And of course her aunt must have been making pineapple tarts well before that, so the practice must be at least 60 years old, based on my family history alone.

In the end, I decided to use a combination of recipes from Eurasian cookbook writers Wendy Hutton and Mary Gomes, as I thought these recipes would be closer to my grandaunt's secret recipe. More about my baking experience (and the recipe) in my next post.

But for now, gentle reader, one question for you: do you know how pineapple tarts originated, and how long ago? Whilst stories and anecdotes would be most welcome, I am hoping for historical confirmation/evidence of some kind as well.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Family Treasures

I have been meaning to put up this post for some time, ever since I visited the Peranakan museum for the second time (after my eating expedition at the Big Eat Out). But got caught up in the whole Christmas baking frenzy and ended up with the shortbread post instead.

I must confess that I was quite caught up in the whole excitement of the museum opening the first time I visited the Peranakan museum. And there were just too many people milling around to allow for much time to view the exhibits. So I was happy to spend more time this visit touring the "Junk to Jewels" exhibition, especially as this exhibition would be closing soon.


Old letters, cookbooks, crockery, furniture, clothes and shoes, tell us a bit about daily life amongst the community . Dr Goh Keng Swee's golf club, Dick Lee's cultural medallion, Tun Tan Cheng Lock's knighthood medal - all remind of the contributions eminent Babas have made to Singapore. An intricate reproduction of the Emmanuel College coat-of-arms, done in beads, tells the story of a mother thinking proudly of her son, studying far away. Delicate, beautiful traditional jewellery - mainly gifts - symbolise the enduring warmth and strength of human relationsips.

As one comment on my earlier post documenting my first visit to the Peranakan museum indicated, what made the exhibition meaningful was the little stories behind each exhibit. And, at the broader level, each little piece contributed to the story of the babas and nonyas of Singapore.

Junk and Jewels - family treasures all.
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