Chinese New Year marks the start of a new year in the lunar calendar. When it comes to Chinese New Year, it is a time of reunion with family, relatives and friends. This is one highly-regarded festive occasion that is widely celebrated by all Chinese worldwide.
On Chinese New Year Eve ( 除夕夜), Chinese families gather for a feasting over dinner which symbolizes reunion. This is known as the reunion dinner. The reunion dinner usually includes a mouth-watering spread of dishes including roasted duck, steamed chicken, steamed fish with gravvy and other restaurant-style delicacies offering lots of meat and expensive seafood such as abalone and scallops. Some families may opt for a steamboat dinner instead which involves less preparation.
It sure was a lot of feasting for me as I had three reunion dinners in total: one at home on the sunday before week of Chinese New Year, one at my elder brother's place during New Year's Eve and the last dinner at my grandma's place (paternal side) following my 2nd reunion dinner. The feastings did not just include the reunion dinners. Since there is always an abundance of food for each reunion dinner, the leftovers are warmed up and taken for lunch or dinner the following day.
Apart from the rich dishes that are present during lunch or dinner, there is also a wide array of tidbits and cookies. There are some goodies which me and my younger brother consider a must-buy for Chinese New Year, namely: Julie's Chocolate Love Letters, Da Fa Fish Strips, Ferrero Rocher, Hello Panda Chocolate-filled Cookies and Pineapple Tarts.
This is the third year that I am making pineapple tarts (closed versions) and I decided to attempt to make the pineapple paste from scratch using Wendy's recipe and method. Her instructions were clear and the proportion of pineapples and sugar were just right. I was absolutely thrilled at how good my homemade paste turned out. However, I had to constantly observe if the bottom of my pan was charring since it was a non heavy based one. Each time the bottom of the pot charred, I had to remove the jam from the pot, wash the pot and scrub the charred spot/s clean. For the final bit, I had to resort to using the mircowave to dry my wet pineapple paste instead of constantly frying to reduce the risk of ending up with burnt pineapple paste.
I made two batches of pineapple paste using two different varieties of pineapples - Honey pineapples and S&W sweet pineapples. Honey pineapples are much sweeter and could do with lesser sugar. Over in Malaysia, Honey pineapples are known by their variety name instead. The S&W sweet pineapples were quite costly - $2.90 for each weighing 1.6kg. Even though these pineapples were steeply priced, I would gladly pay for them again since they produce a fragrant fruity sweet-tart pineapple paste as compared to the Honey pineapples.
I decided to be a little adventurous and tried out a different tart pastry recipe. My efforts paid off and it yielded tarts that crumbled easily with a melt-in-the-mouth experience. Excellent! My pineapple tarts were churned out in two different batches using different homemade pineapple paste. I was extremely pleased with my first batch of tarts for the texture and taste but felt that the second batch could be better improved on.
For the second batch, the honey pineapple paste was sweeter and a little too fibrous for my liking. Next time, I would process the pineapples longer to break up the fibres. I also made a mistake by measuring my paste and pastry by 1/2 teaspoonfuls instead of going by the teaspoon (I used the same baking time even though my pineapple balls were smaller), something which I only realized afterwards! No wonder I thought my pineapple tarts seemed to be smaller. Foolish me, haha... As a result, the pastry turned out to be firmer and more crusty.
Pineapple Tarts (pastry recipe adapted from Delicious Nyonya Kuek & Desserts by Patricia Lee)
Serving size: about 70 tarts, fills two small sized CNY cookie containers.
Taste and Texture: Crumbly and moderately melt-in-the mouth texture with sweet-tart fruity pineapple paste filling.
Equipment and Materials:
1) Baking/Cookie pans
2) Flour sieve
3) weighing scale
4) Measuring bowls
5) Measuring spoon set
6) Pastry cutter/ two knives
7) Wire whisk
8) Baking/Parchement paper
360g plain flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
2 tbs icing sugar
2 egg yolks
1 tsp vanilla extract
220g cold butter, cubed
2 1/2 tbs hot water
400g homemade pineapple paste (click on link to reveal recipe and method)
1 or 2 egg yolk/s for egg wash
Making the pastry:
Mix dry ingredients - Sift flour, baking powder, salt and icing sugar into a large mixing bowl. Whisk well to combine and distribute evenly.
Rub butter into dry ingredients - Tip the cubed butter onto the dry ingredients. Use the pastry cutter to cut the butter into the dry ingredients. Alternatively, use two knives in a scissor-like manner and cut the butter into the flour. Continue the process until the butter and dry ingredient mixture look like bread crumbs with a few large grains. If there is no pastry cutter or knives, you may use your hand to rub the butter into the flour mixture.
Adding yolks and vanilla - Beat egg yolks with 1 tsp vanilla extract. Add it to the butter-flour crumb mixture and stir gently with a folk.
Mix to a dough - Finally, add the hot water and stir gently until the mixture starts to come together. Knead with your hands gently to incoporate loose dough and bring everything together. Once the dough comes together, give it some further gentle kneading so that the dough is evenly coloured (there is presence of egg yolk). The kneading process should be as brief and as gentle as possible. Once the dough is done, wrap the dough with clingfilm and rest the dough in the refrigerator for 30 minutes.
Making the tarts:
Portioning the pastry - Scoop out slightly heaped teaspoons of dough and roll into into round balls. Set aside.
Portioning the pineapple paste - Scoop out levelled teaspoons of pineapple paste and roll into into round balls. Set aside
Wrapping the pineapple paste - Flatten a ball of pastry and place a ball of pineapple paste onto the flattened pastry. Wrap the pastry over the pineapple paste evenly to get round pineapple tarts. You may need to add more pastry or remove excess pastry in order to get the desired thickness of pastry around the paste.
Baking the tarts - Preheat oven to 170 degrees C. Arrange wrapped pineapple tarts onto baking sheets spaced evenly. Brush a thin layer of egg yolk over each pineapple tart. Bake tarts for 20 minutes. Allow tarts to cool completely on wire rack before storing in airtight containers.
1) The pastry needs to be handled gently and minimally so that it will achieve the crumbly yet melt-in-the-mouth texture. Use a trusted brand of plain flour for the pastry.
2) Do not brush too much egg wash or the pastry will taste eggy. I brushed a lot of egg wash to achieve the golden effect but the taste is slightly compromised.
3) Do not overbake the tarts or the pastry will turn firm and crusty as opposed to being crumbly and melt-in-the-mouth.
4) Tart semi-ripe pineapples are preferred for the paste.
5) Do not discard core from pineapples. Use it making the paste.
6) You can control the wetness of the pineapple paste if it is homemade. Store bought paste tends to be chewy and dry.
7) The tarts will not turn out be yellowish like commercially available ones since there is no yellow colouring used. Instead the colour obtained for the baked tarts is slighlty cream/off-white.
8) Pastry recipe is for closed tarts. It may or may not work well for open tarts.
9) Chilled dough (30 mins chilling time) is relatively easy to handle since it is for closed tarts.
10) Try baking a few tarts as a test batch to get the desired baking time.
11) Use good quality butter for the pastry.