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)
Yields about 100 tarts
To make the jam:
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.
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.