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Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Pineapple Tarts

So, what makes a good pineapple tart? It must be bite-size so that you won't feel wozzy after going through 1 or 2 (face it, pineapple tart lovers can't stop at 1). It must have a good ratio of pineapple jam to tart shell. When the flavour of the buttery tart and the jam comes together, it should strike a blissful balance. The tart shell must be sturdy enough to hold and soft enough to crumble in your mouth. The jam flavoured with cinnamon and cloves, though sweet, must have a hint of sourness to entice you to reach out for the next tart, another, then another. Well, this is my idea of a good pineapple tart.

Pineapple tarts are the only festive cookies I look forward to during Chinese New Year. For as long as I could remember, it is the only cookies I attacked when I went visiting from house to house. I used 'is' because I still do. So, you might want to guard your pineapple tarts when I visit.

My mom used to bake pineapple tarts and sell them during Chinese New Year. She has since stopped baking her 'melt-in-the-mouth' killer pineapple tarts. We had to make-do with store boughts. After a few horrid pineapple tarts, I decided to make my own. There is this perculiar trait that runs in my family. Whenever we eat something that tasted awful or not up to mark, we will search frantically for an 'antidote'; same food but of course, a known, delicious one. Armed with my mom's recipe, I got the taste and texture I like. My mom used to shape the tarts in closed-tart type, a very pretty 'leaf' shape. I had clumsy hands and couldn't shape them like hers. So I made them into open face tarts. 1 good thing about baking your own tarts is that you can take 1 off the tray and pop it in your mouth, all in the name of quality check (uh-oh, the calories! *gasp*)

These are what I have to offer this year. From top; almond cookies, pineapple tarts, peanut cookies and cornflake cookies. I would like to thank those who placed their faith and ordered from me. I am glad that the taste that I love has found a way to your home. I hope you liked them. Order is now closed. Thank you for your support.

祝 :新年快乐 身体健康 万事如意

Tips for Making Pineapple Jam

This post is rather late as the lunar Chinese New Year (CNY) is just 5 days away. I have been busy with my orders and couldn't find time for this write up. Stealing some time now to get this done. I hope this post can be of some help this year or the next CNY.

For those who want to cook pineapple jam instead of using store bought jam, here are the tips I have gathered from my own experience. Below is a list of pros and cons of cooking your own jam.

Pros :
1. No preservatives and stabilisers
2. No flour added to thicken the jam
3. You control the sweetness of the jam
4. You control the consistency of the jam
5. You control what spices you want to use and how much you want to use

Cons :
1. Prepare to stand at stove for at least 2 hours
2. You sweat buckets
3. Risk getting scalded
4. You don't know when to stop cooking the jam
5. Risk burning the jam
6. You need to hand-grate the pineapples

I have never used store bought jam but the feedbacks I got from friends who do, weren't that great. Either the jam is not fragrant enough, no bite, too hard and dry or too sweet. Based on these feedbacks, I will explain why I did my pineapple jam my way.

There are many pineapple jam recipes online, so I won't elaborate here. The basic recipe is of course, pineapples, sugar and spices, if you like. You shouldn't add flour to thicken your jam at all. Taste is subjective to each individual so do not follow the recipe blindly.

Things you need to cook pineapple jam
1) Stainless steel or glass bowl (to collect grated pineapples)
2) Stainless steel or glassware for cooking
3) A wooden spoon (I dedicate 1 wooden spoon solely for cooking pineapple jam
4) A grater
5) A pair of gloves (to protect your hands from the acidity)
6) A corer or back of spoon to 'blind' the pineapples (I dig out those 'eyes' instead of cutting)
7) A lot of patience
8) Water to hydrate yourself
9) Some upbeat music for this monotonous work (at times, I sing along with Enka too)

*Picture Added

Many recipes likes to use unripe or half-ripe pineapples. My personal concoction uses half-ripe and ripe pineapples. Half-ripe pineapples will provide the 'bite' while ripe pineapples will provide the fragrance. Just like cookies and cakes will emit the aroma to tell you they are done, ripe fruits give out fragrance to tell you they are ripe and ready to be eaten. If you cook unripe, half-ripe and ripe pineapples separately, you'll get what I mean. Also, I do not strain the juice of the grated pineapples. Yes, it will take longer to cook the jam, but the full flavour is retained.

I used cinnamon and cloves for my jam. Traditional Nyonya pineapple tarts use star anise too. Alhough I might have some minute Nyonya blood somewhere along my ancestral line but I am a Teochew too. And to Teochews, we use star anise for braised duck or pig trotters. So I never gotten use to the idea of adding star anise. If you dislike the smell of these spices, you can just cook the jam with sugar. But at least give the cloves a go; it does go very well with pineapples. I will use 2 cloves for 1 pineapple.

*Picture added

As mentioned, half-ripe or unripe pineapples will give you more fibre, thus the 'bite'. Do not blend the pineapples with a food processor, always use a grate to grate it coarsely. During cooking, the grated pineapples will dehydrate and shrink. Do not grate the core of the pineapples in attempt to increase the volume. The core even after being grated, will remain quite coarse and fibrous. Personally, I do not like the texture.

Cooking fruits can be tricky as they have sugar content. Though pineapples are mostly sour, it does contain sugar. During heating, it will break down to fructose. When the juice evaporates, the fructose will be left behind. Adding sugar is a must to preserve the jam. I usually add 70% of the sugar the recipe stated and taste the jam before slowly adding more sugar if required. I used 65g of sugar to 1 pineapple as a guide. I only add sugar when the pineapples started to dry up. The chemical composition of sugar is made of of Carbon, Hydrogen and Oxygen. When heated, sugar will breakdown in to water and carbon, thus causing the jam to caramelise. The jam should be sticky with a golden hue. It should not be too dark.

The tricky part of cooking the jam is knowing when to stop. If you are making an open-faced tart, you need the jam moist. If you are making closed tarts, the jam cannot be too wet or it will be difficult to handle during wrapping. For me, I am clumsy with closed tarts. I only make open-faced tarts. I cook the jam till it coats the wooden spoon and the jam doesn't fall off the spoon immediately. However, when you flick the spoon, some jam should fall off. I'm sorry if you find this description vague. You need to cook it to experience it. After the jam is being cooled, remove the spices and store the jam in a container. It should be refrigerated till ready to use.

In my haste yesterday, I forgot to mention that you should use a pot which is wide. The bigger the area, the faster the evaporation. This will help to cook the jam faster. But don't go greedy and cook too much jam at a time.

Have fun! 頑張ってね~~

Monday, January 12, 2009


Ah Girl loves Tsukune sold at Tori Q's. It's a good sign as she isn't very experimental with food. I'm glad that she has taken to Japanese food well. She will ask for Teriyaki Chicken or Salmon or Tsukune repeatedly. And with that, she could eat more. Usually on New Year's day, I will cook Japanese food. We went out on New Year's day, there wasn't enough time to cook O-Zōni (雑煮) or Toshi Koshi Soba (年越面). So instead, I made Chikuzen-Ni (筑前煮) and Tsukune (つくね). These 2 dishes are quite easy to prepare. While Chikuzen-Ni is a typical New Year's day dish (not restricted to), tsukune can be eaten all year round. It is especially popular with children and served as a side dish at drinking sessions. It can be shaped into balls then skewered or it can be pan fried as patties.

For those who requested for the recipe, here's how I make these.

Tsukune (つくね)

For meat balls :
300g Chicken, remove skin and fats, deboned and minced (I used drumsticks, thigh and breast meat)
1/4 White Onion, chopped finely (optional)
2 Eggs, medium sized
1/2 Tsp Salt
1 Tbsp Plain Flour
1 Tbsp Corn Flour
7 tbsp bread crumbs (panko)
1 inch section of ginger, grated and extract juice

For sauce たれ :
4 Tbsp Sake
5 Tbsp Shoyu
2 Tbsp Mirin
2 Tbsp Sugar
1 Tsp corn flour
2 Tsp water

1. Soak skewer in water before preparing ingredients.

2. Mix all ingredients for meat balls in a bowl and set aside for 20 minutes.

3. In a pot, add 2 cups of water and bring to a boil. Wet your hands and shape the meat balls into desired size and drop them into boiling water.

4. Cook for about 7 minutes or when the meatballs float to the surface. Remove and drain.

5. Preheat oven to 200 deg.C. When meatballs are cool to touch, skewer them, 3 to 4 balls in 1 stick. Grill the meatballs, turning them after 4 to 5 minutes. Brush the sauce and grill. Repeat process at least twice. Remove and serve with shichimi (七味) powder or serve as is.

Do give this recipe a try. It's cheaper to make these yourself than buying them. Moreover, you know what exactly you are giving to your children.

Happy Cooking~~ じゃね~~

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Mince Pie

It's already past New Year but I'm still doing Christmas post. Photobucket I am so behind. Ahaha~~ I've been rather busy lately and when you're busy, time seems to pass so quickly. Moreover, this year's Chinese New Year comes rather early. So it's one festive after another. I have to start my CNY bakes soon. This year, my pineapple tarts, peanut cookies and cornflake cookies are on sale. I don't have New Year resolutions because I can't keep them. I just hope that I can spend more time with my kids and that I can earn some extra income (私房钱) from my bakes. Oh, and that I don't put on anymore weight. Photobucket

Back to the mince pies. Mince pies are eaten traditionally during Christmas and New Year period. It has its origin from the British. For further reading, please see here. Traditionally, it has raw mincemeat (usually beef) but considering our humid weather here, I do not believe or trust marinating raw meat in alcohol for 2 weeks outside the refrigerator. My fridge space is limited, I omitted meat altogether. I usually have a one litre jar of dried fruits and citrus peel, macerated in liquor all year round. Whenever I needed to bake something with dried fruits, it comes in very handy.

These mince pies were a last minute, ad-hoc decision. IH said his grand-dad's mince pies were to die-for. He used to work as a cook for a British family. I have not tasted his version so I wouldn't know (it may be an overrated comment from IH. Oops, okay, I'm being mean) but it is welcomed challenge. I remembered Sweet and Simple Bakes provided a mincemeat recipe some time back. The original recipe requires soaking raw apples in liquor for 2 weeks. I adapted the recipe and cooked the apples and macerated fruits instead. With the amount of liquor the fruits had absorbed, it might be too strong on the palate if I didn't cook them. Mine is more of an 'Instant' method and here's what I did.

Mince Pies
For Mincemeat :
350g Dried Fruits (macerated in liquor), drained
250g Granny Smith Apples, peeled, cored and diced finely
90g Candied Ginger Dices
80g Brown Sugar
1-1/2 Tsp Mixed Spice
3/4 Tsp Ground Nutmeg
3/4 Tsp Cinnamon Powder
Juice of 1 Lemon
Juice of 1 Orange

Zest of 1 Lemon
Zest of 1 Orange

50g Butter

1. In a pan, fry the apples and dried fruits together slightly. Add in the rest of the ingredients in (A).

2. Continue to fry till ingredients are slightly dry. Stir in zest. Turn off the flame and stir in butter thoroughly. Leave aside to cool.

For Sweet Crust Pastry :
125g Butter, bring to room temperature
100g Icing Sugar
2 Egg Yolks, chilled
50g Ground Almonds
250g Cake Flour
Zest of 1 Orange

1. In a bowl, using a hand whisk, whisk butter and icing sugar till pale and fluffy. Add in egg yolks.

2. Add in zest, ground almonds and flour till it forms a dough. Transfer the dough into a ziplock bag, flattened and chill the dough for at least 30 minutes.

3. Divide the dough and press into tart tins, leaving some aside for the top. Rest for 15 minutes. Blind bake (use pie weights) at 200 deg.C for 10 minutes. Remove pie weights and bake for another 3 to 5 minutes or till browned. Leave aside to cool.

To Assemble :
1. Fill up the pastry cases with mincemeat. Roll out pastry dough and cut into circles. Lay the cut outs on top of the mincemeat. Press slightly at the seams and trim away excess if necessary.

2. Bake at 200 deg.C for 15 to 20 minutes or till evenly browned. Leave on the cooling grid to cool before sprinkling snow powder or icing sugar and decorate.

Verdict : IH said not quite the same but close enough. The flavour is affected by the absence of meat. Well, not that I care, I love my version. If I didn't check myself, I could have 3 at one go! Good thing it is usually eaten during Christmas. But wait, I still have dried fruits... hmm...