Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Cook the Books 2013: Spiced Pineapple-Filled Pastries for the Chinese Lunar New Year

I tend to balk at too many choices. At restaurants when confronted multiple dishes I cannot decide upon, I often ask the waiter to pick for me. Andrea Nguyen's Asian Dumplings had a similar effect in that so many of the recipes appealed to my senses (stomach, eyes, and taste buds!), I didn't know where to start.

This book is especially exciting with its liberal interpretation of the term dumpling, and its Pan-Asian offerings. After much page turning and salivating, my top contenders list narrowed down to Curried Chicken Baked Bao, Shrimp Rice Noodle Rolls, Sticky Rice and Spiced Chicken in Banana Leaf, Kimchi Dumplings, Spiced Pineapple-Filled Pastries, Milk Dumplings in Cardamom and Saffron Syrup, Sticky Rice and Mung Bean Dumplings in Ginger Broth, but in the end I only made one dish from this book. It was that kind of month.

And it ultimately came down to ingredient availability amid my crazy schedule. I had a big fresh pineapple on the kitchen counter calling my name, and after perusing the book had grabbed ground annatto recently at one of the markets in my neighborhood. Thus the decision was made.

I made the filling one evening after work, but quickly realized the entire project was too ambitious to finish in one fell swoop. I put the jam in the fridge and then made the dough and dumplings on the weekend when I was in a more leisurely state of mind.

My delay was fortuitous as I ended up making the Spiced Pineapple-Filled Pastries on the first day of the Chinese Lunar New Year. When I realized that, I had a niggling feeling I'd actually seen these on offer around this time of year in the past. And, as a little research confirmed, these appealing fruit-laced packages are in fact traditional for the new year celebrations and signify prosperity! The stars had aligned for my cooking project, which has got to bode well for Year of the Snake overall. I brought the extras in to work the next day and delivered them to co-workers with a cheeful Gung Hei Fat Choy!

Spiced Pineapple-Filled Pastries
Kuih Tart
Adapted from Asian Dumplings by Andrea Nguyen
Makes approximately 32 pastries

1 20-ounce can crushed pineapple in natural juice, drained with juice reserved OR 1 whole fresh pineapple, chopped plus water
10 tablespoons sugar
1/2 whole star anise (4 robust points)
1 cinnamon stick or cassia bark (approximately 3 inches long)
2 whole cloves
1 pinch of sea salt

10 ounces (2 cups) all-purpose flour
3 tablespoons cornstarch
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon ground annatto (optional)
3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) plus 1 tablespoon unsalted butter, room temperature
2/3 cup confectioners' sugar
1 large whole egg plus 1 large egg yolk, lightly beaten
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract

2 large egg yolks, lightly beaten and strained
32 whole cloves

To make the filling: Pulse drained pineapple in a food processor 10-15 times until it has a finely chopped, uniform texture. Scrape pineapple paste into a saucepan and add the reserved juice (or an equivalent amount of water if using fresh pineapple), star anise, cloves, cinnamon stick, sugar and salt. Stir frequently over medium high heat until it comes to a boil. Carefully taste without burning your mouth and adjust sugar accordingly. Decrease the heat to medium low and let simmer for about 1 3/4 hours or until almost all of the liquid has evaporated, stirring occasionally. The mixture will have thickened to a jam-like texture and darkened to a deeper amber yellow color. Be more vigilant and stir more often during the last 30 minutes to prevent scorching. It is done when it holds its shape and has just a little bit of bubbling liquid left on the bottom.

Remove all of the whole spices, and transfer jam to a bowl to cool for approximately 2 hours. Once cool (and more firm), you may cover and refrigerate for up to a week. It can be used while still chilled and makes about 1 cup.

To make the dough: Sift together the dry ingredients (flour, cornstarch, salt, and annatto) and set aside. Using an electric mixer, cream the butter and confectioners' sugar until light and fluffy. Add the eggs and vanilla and beat until well blended. Using a wooden spoon, mix in the dry ingredients one-third at a time, until a slightly sticky dough has been formed. It will seem dry at first, but will moisten as you continue to stir and fold. Once similar to a mass of marzipan, turn it out onto a lightly floured work surface. Form into a ball and then press out into a 1-inch thick disk. Wrap in plastic and chill for 1 hour in order to firm up the dough. It can be refrigerated for up to 2 days, but let it sit at room temperature for about an hour afterwards to become workable.

Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper or silicone baking mats. Cut the dough in half, re-wrapping the other half while you work to keep it from drying out. Gently squeeze dough into an elongated cylinder and then roll into a 1-inch thick log. Cut into 16 equal pieces (quarter the log first and cut the tapered ends a little longer than the rest), and shape into squat cylinder pieces.

I will provide abbreviated instructions here for forming and rolling out the wrappers, but the author has a video tutorial on her site (as well as great illustrated step-by-step instructions in the cookbook).

Cut two squares of plastic wrap approximately 5 inches in diameter. Placing one piece of dough at a time inside the plastic pieces, use a tortilla press if you have one, or some heavy flat object such as a frying pan, to flatten each piece of dough into a thin circle.

Place each wrapper on your work surface. Flouring only as needed to keep the dough from sticking, use an Asian dowel-style rolling pin (or a regular one, which worked fine for me using it an an angle) to roll each piece out into a 3 to 3 1/2 inch circle. Apply more pressure on the outer rim as the wrappers should be thicker in the middle and thinner on the edges for dumplings.

To assemble, hold a wrapper in the palm of your hand and place a scant 1 1/2 teaspoons of jam in the center. Fold your hand in slightly to center the jam, keeping 1/2 to 3/4 inch clear on all sides. Chose a spot on the wrapper rim, such as 3 o'clock, and fold the rim towards the center. Repeat as you work your way around the the wrapper, gently pinching and pressing the dough together to create small pleats. Once all the dough has been folded inward, if you jam is not completely sealed up, use your fingers to pinch the dough together to close.

Cup the pastry in your hands to gently shape into a round ball. If any holes appear, patch them up with your fingers or a tiny bit of dough. Place pleated side down on the prepared baking sheet, spacing them 2 inches apart.

Preheat the oven to 350° and position the rack in the middle of the oven. Chill the pastries for about 15 minutes before baking. 

After brushing with egg yolk, stick a clove with the ball end down in the center of each one.

Bake for 24-26 minutes until golden. Cool on a rack, and don't be alarmed at any leaking jam or appearing cracks.

Repeat with the second half of the dough and filling.

Whew, that was a long one! Have some virtual pastries why don't you?

All I can say is the length and detail of the recipe is deceptive. These were easier to make than I thought they would be and also extremely satisfying. Unless you have super stamina cooking powers though, I would recommend breaking the different stages up by a day or two. I also froze half of the dough and plan to make more of these down the road using some of my homemade jam stash lining the pantry shelves. 


  1. These look great! I have a friend who brings trunks of them home from Singapore every time she goes, so I've eaten more than my share, and these look just about right (although the ones she brings back don't have the clove stems, which probably change the flavour a bit). Well done!

    1. Thanks so much Sarah! Your gulab jamun looked very delicious and authentic too.

  2. I've been wanting to make something like this since reading about them in Cheryl Tan's A Tiger in the Kitchen. I'm not sure this is the same recipe, but I think it's similar. I was intimidated by how much work they seemed to require, so you've given me some courage. Even so, maybe I can find a buddy to help me out.

    1. You should definitely give them a go! I was actually surprised at how easy it all ended up being. Report back if you think of it, would love to hear about your experience.