Any idea what these are? They look like eerily uniform rasberries or cherries no? But they are actually hand-rolled gobules of sweet pineapple jam. And what purpose do they serve in their spherical state?
Delicious fillers for pineapple tarts of course, the quintessential festival treat in Singapore! The pineapple tart really is the holiday biscuit/cookie/kueh for us. Come Chinese New Year, Hari Raya or Deepavali, these sweet confections always occupy prime space in the household treat tray. I love them, as does my entire family. When we were younger, my mother never made pineapple tarts from scratch, cos it took so much time. So every Deepavali, she’d order 50 tarts from this middle-aged Malay lady who’d deliver the bottle of tarts to our house a week before the festival. Having got her hands on it, mom would promptly hide the precious hoard high up in the kitchen cabinets so that my brother and I wouldn’t be able to find it. But come Deepavali morning, a few tarts will magically appear on a plate in the living room and we would stuff our faces silly with the buttery pastry and sweet, fibrous jam. BUT then we’d realise we only had 50 pieces to split between us both… actually less, cos they are also meant for the guests (damnned guests, we would say). So then, we’d slowly savor each tart, restraining our baser instincts and somehow make the bottle last for a week before its all finished and we have to wait a whole year before enjoying the taste of those lovely tarts again.
But now, I laugh in the face of my mother’s unyielding hand. I tracked down a lady whose pinapple tart I love and she graciously gave me her recipe. And for the past three Deepavalis, I’ve made my own tarts…hundreds and hundreds of them. No need to hide them from our greedy little paws. Or ration them out. And now, I’ve taken things one step further. I’m not even limiting these tarts to Deepavali! I can make them anytime I want! *mwhahaha*
But of course, these babies take an ungodly amount of time to make. First there’s the pinapples, which you need to skin, cut, grate and drain. Then comes the jam, which takes at least an hour to make, with continous stirring. An excruciating arm workout if I ever saw one. Then, you chill the jam overnight and roll into small balls. The there’s the pastry, which you need to knead, rest, roll out and stamp (which is the most time-consuming thing). The you finally get to fill the tarts and bake them.
This ardous process is what relegates these pastries to celebrations I think, for events that deserve all that work. Which is why they are are most apt for festivals like Deepavali and Chinese New Year. It’s simply too much to make a batch of these for normal munching.
But even though I believe our elders knew what they were saying when they declared pineapple tarts the doyen of ethnic and religious festivals, I do suspect graduating from university could count as a valid exception. I just finished my last ever university exam two days ago *claps hands in glee* and these tarts were my reward. (A weird reward you may say, since I spent an entire day slogging away just to make them in the first palce. But this is just me.)
So now, I have a gorgeous bottle of freshly baked tarts in my kitchen cabinet which I can pop into my mouth everytime I feel a burst of self-congratulation is due 🙂
Pineapple Jam Tarts (makes about 80)
For the jam:
2 small pinapples, not too ripe*
1 stick cinnamon
a condensed milk tin-full of coarse sugar+
2 tsp dark red food coloring
For the pastry:
500g plain flour
3/4 tsp baking powder
300g butter, softened
1 tbsp ghee
1/2 tsp vanilla essence
1 tbsp ice-cold water
*Just inform the fruit stall auntie or uncle that you’re making pinapple tarts and ask them to choose semi-ripe fruit for you. You can even ask them to remove the skin and cut out the eyes if they’re really nice. That’ll save you so much time.
+I know this probably is the weirdest specification ever but this is what I got from the original recipe! I use an empty condensed milk tin to measure out the sugar… But for those who don’t have empty tins lying around, I’ll go weigh it out and update this with the exact metric measurement soon, promise!
Remove the skin of the pineapple and cut out all those black ‘eyes’ cos they can sting the tongue badly. Chop the fruit into quarters and grate them into a large bowl. Traditionally this is done with a steel spiked grater that is attached to a block of wood but I betcha can’t find it in Singapore anymore. A standard vegetable grater should do…jus make sure the strands are fine. Do not grate the really hard pith, although the first few bits of pith can be grated in to give the jam a fibrous texture. Just stay away from the really hard core bits.
Pour the grated fruit into a sieve and allow the juice to drain off into a bowl for about 15 minutes (Reserve about a 1/4 cup of this juice. You can drink the rest, sweetened with a little castor sugar).
Heat a non-stick wok or saucepan and pour the drained fruit into it. Add a stick of cinnamon and two cloves and cook over low heat, stirring.
Add in the sugar and stir until the sugar dissolves. The fruit will sweat and there’ll be alot of liquid now. Stir constantly to prevent the sticky syrup from solidifying onto the sides of the pan.
Stir. Stir. Stir. Over low heat until the jam thickens and caramelizes slightly to darken from a striking yellow to a deep golden. This will take about an hour at least. (I admit, however, to cheating a bit. Sometimes its just impossible to be stirring all the time, so I take short breaks and just let the jam boil away on its own, and give it a good stir every three minutes or so)
After the jam is thick, stir in the red food coloring to turn the jam into a rich rasberry hue. This is entirely optional though…you may prefer your jam to remain golden. Personally, I adore the contrast of crimson jam and blond pastry.
Cool the jam completely and refridgerate overnight. In the morning, roll out teaspoonfuls of the jam into balls. If you find the jam too hard to roll out, stir in a teaspoon of the reserved pineapple juice to loosen the jam, adding in small increments as you go along. Don’t forget to remove the spices from the jam before rolling it out!
For the pastry, cut in the butter and ghee into the flour and baking powder. Stir in the ice water and vanilla with a fork. Knead lightly until the dough is smooth. Shape the dough into two fat discs and wrap in clingfilm. Leave to rest at room temperature for about 30 minutes.
Preheat oven to 180 degree C.
Set up your work area, cos the assembling is gonna take time and space. Have ungreased baking trays, rolling pins, tart cutters, flour for dusting, the pastry discs, jam balls and a rolling pin on the table.
Roll out dough to about 1cm thickness on a well floured sheet of greaseproof paper. Stamp out dough with tart cutter and place on ungreased baking trays. Fill the center with a jam ball and flatten slightly. Place a macaroni shape or bit of pastry dough on the jam if desired.
Bake for 15 minutes, until the pastry is colored ever so slightly.
Cool and store in between sheets of greaseproof paper.