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.