“Wow this tastes good! What do you call it?” my colleague Christina asked as she was chewing and reached out for another piece.
“Oh, it’s a pineapple tart.”
“But this is not a tart... It’s too small to be a tart. It’s more like a cookie.”
“Yeah I know. But it’s called a tart in Singapore,” I grinned and held out the plate for her to take another. “Besides, does the name really matter? What matters is how it tastes, right?”
Munch, munch. More munch and swallow. Then Christina made a pronouncement which nearly caused me to drop the plate of pineapple tarts.
“Yes, I agree… the taste is more important. Hmm you know what? I think we should try it with some whipped cream. It would probably taste even better then.”
If you haven’t guessed by now, Christina is a bona fide Belgian who loves her whipped cream and would add it to almost any dessert and hot drink.
This exchange took place more than five years ago, but I still remember it clearly today, and sometimes I do wonder if I should have given Christina a few more pineapple tarts for her to take home and try with some whipped cream (shudder!).
As a Singaporean living away from home, there are days when I long for the people around me to appreciate the food I love without passing comments about how ‘strange’ it is or how it can be improved. And it is especially during festivals which are celebrated on our foodie-central island that this feeling of foodstalgia (known to be one of the key causes of homesickness) appears even more strongly.
With Chinese New Year just around the corner, I find the cold and silent winter days with its grey skies especially draining. My friends back in Singapore roll their eyes when I tell them that I miss the loud Chinese music that is blared through every shopping mall at this time of year, or that I miss seeing the bright red lanterns and good luck signs that decorate the corridors of HDB blocks.
Growing up in multi-cultural Singapore, Chinese New Year was significant in many ways. It meant a double public holiday when nearly all the shops on the island were closed. My mum would make it a point to check her kitchen cupboards to ensure that she was not running low on any staples like sugar, salt or rice as all the shops in our neighbourhood would be closed and there was no running out to get any last-minute provisions.
Dressing up in bright-coloured clothes (red was preferable) to visit friends and neighbours, always turning up with a pair of bright mandarin oranges in hand and leaving with a bright red envelope filled with a token sum of money – the bill(s) inside always fresh and crisp.
This was also a time of never-ending snack feasts with multiple flavours and scents finding their way to our kitchen and living room. Crunchy almond and cashew nut cookies, spicy hae bee hiam (prawn) rolls, melt-in-your-mouth snow white kuih bangkit cookies. Rolled love letters that I would hoard for days and make-believe were written to me by a secret lover miles away. Stinky and chewy sugar-dipped red-coloured dried cuttlefish strips.
Sending you love with this letter from miles away
Copyright: Lim Monica Devi
But of all these snacks the one that I could always never resist were the pineapple tarts. My preferred style was the open-faced ones with rounded globs of pineapple jam on a flower-shaped pastry base, often topped with a silver ball. The crumblier the base, the more I loved them much to my mum’s dismay. (I have since learned to pop them into my mouth all at once and to avoid making a mess.) Chinese New Year simply was not Chinese New Year without these sweet snacks that sometimes left the stringy fruit fibres of the jam stuck in between your teeth.
How can anyone resist popping one of these into your mouth?
Copyright: Nicole Anne Phillips
This year, I hear that there are several adaptations of the well-loved traditional tart available on the island. So far, friends have told me of versions that have purple sweet potato and foie gras. While my traditional tongue screams sacrilege at this new colour and French-meets-Chinese pastry fusion, I am slowly accepting that people will always try new things in the belief that it may be better than what was before, and I should not expect the culinary world to be spared.
While my jury is still out on these new interpretations of the ubiquitous pineapple tart, this weekend I am going to start making the bite-sized cookies as I remember them to be. In the meantime, if someone would be tempted to send me a package of the innovative variety, I wouldn’t say no. After all, a new year heralds new beginnings, and trying a new version of my beloved pineapple tarts is as good a place to begin as any. Xin nian kuai le, and may this new year of the pig bring you sweet success, whatever its form.
Preparation – 20 min
Cooking – 120 min
About 40 pieces
For the jam:
2 whole pineapples
1 cinnamon stick
For the pastry:
½ tbsp water
¼ tsp salt
For the egg wash varnish:
1 tsp water
Baking tray and parchment
Pineapple tart mould or cookie cutter
Remove skin of pineapples and cut flesh into cubes, then blend to a puree.
Sieve puree to remove as much juice as possible.
Cook pineapple puree on medium heat, together with cinnamon stick and clove, for at least 25 minutes. Puree has to become drier. Add sugar to the mix. Continue to cook the puree at a low heat until it reaches a sticky jam-like consistency and turns golden brown in colour.
Remove cinnamon stick and clove, then leave aside to cool.
For the pastry base, rub the butter into the flour. Then add egg, salt and water. Mix all the ingredients well to create a dough but avoid over-kneading (if you do, this will make it too hard).
Leave the dough to set in the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes.
Flatten the dough and cut out the shapes using a pineapple tart mould or a cookie cutter. Place shapes on baking tray.
Make small rolls of the pineapple jam and place in the middle of the dough.
Brush egg wash onto each tart surface before popping the tray into the oven to bake at 1800C for 20 minutes.