Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Making pineapple tarts from scratch

There I am, standing at the stove with sweat dripping down my legs, and stirring, stirring the pot of pineapple jam for hours, asking myself, "Why do I bother?" It's not as if I'm a huge fan of sweet stuff, and I could easily just go pick up some store-bought pineapple tarts that magically appear everywhere in the run-up to Chinese New Year. But then again, I don't really prepare anything else for the celebration, and my son, B, is a fan of the tarts. So I am attempting, yet again, to make pineapple tarts, from scratch.

I think the preparation of goodies for feasts should be a communal undertaking. Whether it's the making of cookies, pies or more intricate dishes that involve a lot of time and manpower, it's really true that many hands make light work. Time seems to pass much faster too. But my decision to make pineapple tarts this year was a spur-of-the-moment decision. I happened to see nice and really cheap pineapples at the supermarket, and so picked up five of them. I should have stuck with just three which is what the recipe I have calls for, but I thought, what the heck, since I was going to be stirring the pot of boiling grated pineapple anyway, I might as well be using more of them. I did end up with too much jam and had to make extra pastry dough to use it all up. Note to self: Don't be so greedy. Or cheap.

Grated pineapple
There are loads of recipes out there for pineapple tarts, some which use canned pineapples which I'm told taste pretty good. But I'm a purist and believe in sticking to original recipes. So I gamely peeled all five of the fresh pineapples, which involved removing the thick, touch skin as well as as the black "eyes" which are inedible. I could have chucked the peeled pineapples into a food processor or blender, but I wanted the fibrous strands of the fruit which are chewily delicious, so I gamely grated them, along with some skin off my fingers!

Cooked pineapple jam
I've cooked the pineapple before in my wok, but I read somewhere that if you do it in a heavy duty enamelled pot, it's a lot easier. So out came my trusty Le Creuset, which did allow me to step away from the stove more often. The pineapple jam didn't stick, burn or sputter out, but still, I spent four hours stirring the damn thing. I'm told that others just drain out the juice from the pineapple mixture before cooking to speed up the process. I must remember to try that next time. If there's a next time.

The pineapple jam ended up dark golden and jammy, and sat in the fridge for quite a number of days before I could get to making the pastry. Now, I'm pretty clueless when it comes to baking. I can't make a cake to save my life and my first few attempts at pastry ended up in a cardboard-like, brittle mess.

Again, I could have chucked the whole lot in the food processor, but I decided that I would be better off making the pastry by hand, from scratch. Living in the tropics, dealing with butter is hazardous. I've learned, from experience, to refrigerate everything until I'm ready to make the pastry. So I sieved the dry ingredients and put them in the fridge. Yes, I did! I read that tip on the internet! I diced up the butter and put that in the fridge as well. Then I turned the air-conditioner on while I tried to crumble the bits of butter into the flour and other ingredients, ending up with a sandy mixture that could easily be rolled into a ball. I left the dough sitting in the fridge until I was ready to work with it.

Pineapple balls in uniform sizes
This year, i decided to be a little more professional in my approach, and even weighed out my pineapple jam into 8-9gm balls so that each tart would have an equal amount of jam in it. Again, there are numerous ways you can make the tarts. Roll the jam up in it like a mini sausage roll. Apparently there are contraptions that do that for you. Cover the jam entirely in an oval ball and use scissors to snip off bits so that it looks like a pineapple! I wasn't so ambitious and I'm also greedy in that I want a lot of jam in my tart.

Mini tart shells
So I made mini pastry shells that are really deep, using pastry molds that I bought many years ago and hardly used. Taking my dough out of the fridge, I tried to work quickly, pressing a little ball into the mold and smoothening out the edges. Then I stuck a ball of the pineapple jam into the shell and smooshed it down on top, taking care not to leave any pineapple fibers hanging out, because that would burn when baking and look ugly. Alas, upon closer inspection after baking, many of my tarts sported those unsightly fibers sticking out. Note to self again: Don't ever try to make pineapple tarts to sell.

I placed the tarts in their molds onto a baking tray for easy handling. In batches, I baked them in the oven, at the exact temperature and for the exact time indicated in the recipe. I've learned, to my detriment, that in baking you have to follow the instructions to the T to end up with good results. When I removed the tarts from the oven, I cooled them down before gently removing the tarts from the molds. They're very crumbly and can easily disintegrate if handled even slightly roughly. When absolutely cold, I packed them in jars, with greaseproof paper protecting each layer.

Because these tarts are made with butter, they spoil very quickly so it's best to eat them up fast (not a problem) or store them in the fridge. My pineapple tarts tasted good, with the right amount of sweetness and tartness, but there were tiny chunks of pineapple in some of them and perhaps the jam was a tad too moist. Not perfect but delicious nonetheless. Would I attempt them again? Perhaps, if I can gather some fellow bakers to make it a communal effort, as it well should be!

Home-made Pineapple Tarts


Pineapple jam

3-4 pineapples (with juice)

500g sugar

1 3" cinnamon stick


570gm flour
340gm butter
1 egg

1 tsp vanilla

1/2 tsp baking powder

Pinch of salt

Cold water if necessary 

Peel and grate pineapples. Discard central stem.
Cook for 4-5 hrs or until all the liquid is evaporated and the pineapple mixture is the consistency of thick jam.
Cool and set aside. (This can be made beforehand and stored in a covered container in the fridge.)

Sift flour with baking powder.

Add salt and sugar
Add egg and vanilla
Cut the butter into cubes and crumble into flour mixture until the consistency is sandy. Do not knead.

Roll into a ball and stand covered in a cool place for 30 mins.
Roll pineapple jam into uniform balls with wet fingers (Mine were about 8-9gm each).
Grease molds for tarts.
Line each mold with pastry and fill with pineapple jam
Bake for 23 mins at 170 degrees C.