Tuesday, February 1, 2011

A tart in the making

Because I can never be half arsed to make myself a meal, much less dessert, so it really spoke volumes when I decided to make my own pineapple tarts from scratch.

I called my parents over the weekend and they were in the midst of baking pineapple tarts (as usual) for the coming Chinese New Year. When I hung up, i felt a sudden wave of homesickness wash over me. It's strange because I have been away from home 6 years now, and i've never really felt the impact of it (save my first year). J says it's largely due to not even having close friends here with me. In the past, at least my boss would invite us to her place for a reunion dinner and some 'lou hei' affair.

I began to think about all the Chinese New Year goodies I'm missing... pineapple tarts, kueh bangkit, bak kwa... and was super listless by bedtime. The J-man saw how sad I looked and (bless his heart) searched for bak kwa online.

He said, "how can i make it any better for you, dear?"

We found on online store Bak Kwa King based in Oakland, CA and placed an order for 2 pounds of bak kwa. Not a lot, but just enough to cheer me up a little. And then i decided that i was going to bake myself some pineapple tarts. It really can't be that difficult, as long as i had a recipe!

When i was young, i remember helping my mother out in the kitchen, stirring the bubbling pot of pineapple pulp for eternity, while i watched her churn out batch after batch of tarts single-handedly.

I found a recipe off Wall Street Journal (??) and decided to use it only because the writer is from Singapore, and surely, that recipe will be closest to home. I did ask my mom for her recipe too, but knowing how busy my family will be, preparing for CNY, i decided to go ahead and try it out on my own first.


The recipe calls for ingredients that would yield 100 tarts, and for the life of me, I don't know why i didn't half the recipe to try it on a smaller scale. I was ambitious, and thought that since I was already making them, I might as well make more to satisfy my cravings.


My first challenge came in the form of chopping up FOUR huge pineapples. My dad used to slice and dice all our fruits, what do I know of chopping up pineapples??? Fortunately, the pineapples came with a tag that gave instructions on how to chop it, even though it did take me a good half an hour to get all four pineapples diced up. I thought to myself, if i DID give up here, at least i'd learnt how to cut up pineapples today.

And then the instructions said to run the chunks through a juicer, to obtain the juice and pulp separately. We have no juicer! Great! i had thought our food processor will do the trick, but it mushed the pineapple to a complete puree that it was not really possible to separate anything from anything. Resigned, I took out a strainer and did it by hand. What was left of the pulp i placed in a pot to prepare for the 3 gruelling hours of slow boiling and stirring.

While that was going on, I decided to be smart and start on the pastry (or i'll never be done by the end of the day). That was easy enough. Years and years of making playdough in school gave me the experience i needed. Even when the recipe said only a certain amount of flour was needed, i knew i had to add more because the dough was too sticky (*double pats on the back*) Making the dough was the easiest and most pleasant part of the process. The dough smelt like cookie dough and was a refreshing change from all that pineapple wafting into my nose.

And then i realised we do not have cookie cutters in the house. J and I brainstormed the different ways we could stuff the pineapple into the pastry and agreed on one method. i used the lid from my water bottle to cut out circles and folded in the edges all round to make a little depression in the middle. J used a knife to draw in stripey patterns all around the edge, but i WASN'T about to do that to 99 more tarts. No sireee! Well, the rolling, and the cutting, and the folding, took another three taxing hours. All this done while stirring the pineapple constantly, to make sure it doesn't burn.

Eventually the pineapple got done cooking (with all the juice evaporated) i rolled them into tiny little balls with my hands. I placed each one in the middle of my coarse looking excuse for a pineapple tart and set them in the oven to bake.

I started at about 2pm in the afternoon, took a break in the middle to have dinner. And i only finished baking, cleaning and washing up at around 1030pm. At the end of it, I was tired, grouchy and had a lousy output of only 70+ tarts. BUT it was a rewarding experience, and I will savour my tarts, and any future tarts I make/eat with relish, knowing how much work goes into each and every one of it.

Happy Chinese New Year y'all! Have a wonderful year of the rabbit!


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