These are deceptive little treats. You wouldn’t realise from their appearance how melt-in-your-mouth totally delicious they are. You pop one in your mouth and say ‘wow!’ then reach for another, then just one more, then … well you get the idea. These traditional Lunar New Year cookies are very addictive. The first I ever tasted were brought from Indonesia by my brother and sister-in-law, made lovingly by her mother. Boxes and boxes were transported over and we couldn’t stop reaching for these yummy little bites. Hmmm, I know I’m repeating myself but they’re irresistible! So it seemed wise to make healthier ones. Yes, I take my diet very seriously (lol). The filling’s made with canned pineapples (in natural juice with no added sugar) and honey instead of sugar. The pastry’s lower-gluten with gluten-free cornflour replacing about a third of the flour, plus there’s less butter, a little skimmed milk powder and they’re sweetened with a tablespoon of maple syrup. There’s a gluten-free option too. Oh and coincidentally they’ll be starring in Lin’s Chinese New Year Challenge! More about that and their origins later. Let’s make them some first…
If you don’t buy the pineapple jam at an Asian supermarket these cookies are a labour of love. Yes, you need to love standing by the stove stirring a pot for a while. Um… around 4 hours for the filling (but not stirring all the time). Some people like making them on a rainy day. I did one batch while making a boeuf bourgignon (stew) and matcha pie, and another while making macarons. Because if you’re in the kitchen you might as well multi-task. You could call in family and friends to wrap the pastry around each ball and explain it’s customary to make these in groups. But personally I found the whole process very therapeutic and if you love pineapple, Chinese New Year, moist cake-like biscuits and baking you should try these! 🙂
I made hundreds of pineapple tarts last year but wasn’t totally convinced by them. Now by jove, following further experimentation with four batches this is my near-perfect recipe (mua ha ha, crazy scientist laugh). There are actually other bloggers chasing the elusive perfect tart with four or five different recipes posted, including the latest BEST EVER ones!!
Mine are inspired and adapted from a combination of different recipes on Rasa Malaysia’s blog, the Dumpling Sisters’ book and other sources. I hope to get together with my Indonesian sister-in-law one day and make some under her expert guidance, probably the BEST EVER ones!! Meanwhile these are an absolute delight and just like I remember them! Surprisingly so. I did a little victory dance after eating three of them (just to triple-check) then shouted ‘Yay!’ and ‘Hurray!’ My friend loved them. She was astonished at how soft and delicious they were. Perhaps looking at them you don’t appreciate their extreme yumminess?
You can play around with the quantities. The consistency of the pastry depends on the environment and quality of your flour so please adjust accordingly if it feels too dry or soft. You can use fresh pineapple instead of canned and adapt the quantity of honey (or sugar) according to the sweetness of your fruit. These cookies come out a bit different each time but always delicious.
The pineapple filling (aka jam or paste) – makes between 300g (1 cup) and 450g (1 and 1/2 cups)
If you make this in advance it freezes up to a year (tightly-wrapped in plastic film). But the pineapple flavour is probably strongest using it immediately.
- about 1250-1350g/2 and 3/4 to 3lbs drained canned pineapple, with the juice squeezed out – from about 2250g/5lbs undrained canned pineapple, preferably in juice with no added sugar (check the label). You can also use fresh pineapple.
- about 120-130g/5 to 6 tablespoons organic honey or maple syrup (sugar if you prefer) – the ratio is usually about 10% sweetener to pineapple
- 4 or 5 whole cloves (optional) – you can also add 1 whole star anise (leave it in 30 minutes then remove) or a little ground cinammon
Make the purée rough with very little pieces left in to make the texture more interesting. Use a big heavy-based saucepan like le Creuset. The timings vary depending on your pan, heat and moistness of pineapple so be flexible and check your purée regularly. Lower the heat if it’s going brown too fast.
The final consistency, flavour and quantity is affected by your pineapple and how long it’s left on the stove. When it’s a bit more moist it’s a brighter gold, more difficult to roll or wrap but sharper. When it’s dried longer it becomes more golden brown, easier to roll and wrap, and a little sweeter. All the versions are delicious. 🙂
Note: check the purée and stir regularly, even more after adding the sweetener. If it browns underneath quickly stir and incorporate it into the main body of purée. If there’s some black pick out the burnt bits then continue but obviously try to avoid burning (ahem). Towards the end stir every few minutes or continuously.
Cool completely before wrapping in pastry.
I find it best to make the pastry only 30 minutes before assembly. Even wrapped in plastic it hardens quite fast in the fridge but it probably freezes very well, like most pastry.
For 45 cookies (450g/1 and 1/2 cups pineapple jam) – makes 540g pastry (good for 12g each cookie or a little extra than required if 10-11g)
- 188g/1 and 1/2 sticks softened good-quality unsalted butter (like the President brand)
- 1 and 1/2 egg yolks from a medium-large egg (30g)
- 30-36g/1 and 1/2 tablespoon maple syrup (or honey/sugar)
- 12g/4 tsp skimmed or full-fat milk powder
- 3g/1/3 tsp pure vanilla extract
- 1/8 tsp fine sea salt
- 203g/2 cups cake flour (or 203g/1 and 1/2 cups plain/all-purpose flour) – see below for gluten-free option
- 98g/10 and 1/2 tablespoons cornflour (cornstarch) like Maizena
For 30 cookies (300g/1 cup pineapple jam)
- 125g/1 stick softened good-quality unsalted butter (like the President brand)
- 1 egg yolk from a medium-large egg (20g)
- 20-24g/1 tablespoon maple syrup (or honey/sugar)
- 8g/2 and 3/4 tsp skimmed or full-fat milk powder
- 2g/1/4 tsp pure vanilla extract
- 1/12 (one-twelfth!) teaspoon fine sea salt (a good 2 or 3 pinches)
- 135g/1 and 1/3 cups cake flour (or 135g/1 cup plain/all-purpose flour)
- 65g/7 tablespoons cornflour (cornstarch) like Maizena
Option for gluten-free tarts: for 30 cookies replace the cake flour and cornflour with 200g/1 cup plus 2 and 1/2 tbsp gluten-free flour – I use Doves Farm self-raising flour (other gf flours may not work as well – if your mix doesn’t contain xantham gum then add 1/4 – 1/2 tsp xantham gum); for 45 cookies – 300g/1 and 1/2 cups plus 3 and 1/2 tbsp + 1/2 tsp gf flour.
Be flexible and add a little less flour initially then more if necessary to make a soft pastry ball. Stir lightly a minute or two for the flour to absorb the moisture so the pastry comes together but don’t overwork.
Assembling the tarts
- 300-340g/10-11oz pineapple jam
- 330-350g/11.6-12oz pastry
- 1 egg yolk, beaten with 1/4 tsp water and a few pinches of milk powder (optional)
I found if the dough circle cracks then kneading and massaging it a little helps.
Be careful to not overbake – a little pale means more melt-in-the-mouth.
Eating and storing
Wait 15 minutes before eating and they’re best eaten cold. Store in airtight tupperware at room temperature – they’ll keep very well about 1 week.
It’s difficult to find anything definitive but the general understanding is these tarts originated in Malacca, a state in Malaysia and they could have Eurasian, Malaysian and Chinese influences. For some related debate go to Pineapple tarts and their Origins on the Kawan Katong website. There’s a theory the origins are Eurasian because of the European techniques of pastry and jam-making. Then a commenter states pineapples are not European but another mentions they originated in South America. To top it all apparently there are similar cookies in Portugal!
It would be fascinating to discover how pineapple tarts have travelled around the world. But what’s clear is these cookies are such important little treats in different areas of Asia, coming in a variety of shapes, forms and sizes. You can find more detailed information in Wikipedia’s Pineapple tart article. Or look for #pineappletarts on Instagram to see shots of the multiple batches currently gracing Asian kitchens. This Chinese new year is Fire Rooster so some tarts are disguised as chicks sporting red beaks and crests!
I’ll be bringing these tarts to Lin’s Chinese New Year Challenge where it will be posted end of February with other participating New Year recipes. Maybe you’d like to join in and make a dish too?
Or just visit Lin’s Recipes and check out her dishes and other interesting challenges!
I’ll leave you with some healthier pineapple tarts. I’m off to make another batch! So addictive…
Farewell again sweet reader! Wishing you once more a great start to the year with some traditional and non-traditional yummy food and lots of fun baking! 🙂 Lili x
P.S. Quick photo update to show how these cookies can be shaped at Chinese New Year into relevant animals. Now in 2019 it’s the year of the Pig! The eyes are black sesame seeds and a toothpick makes the holes in the snout. All the pieces stick on easily without needing water.