February 26, 2010

Goodbye, Lunar New Year & Steamed Rice With Spare Ribs in Fermented Black Bean Sauce 送別新年與豉汁排骨蒸飯

Time flies by. The 15-day long Lunar New Year celebrations will come to a conclusion this Sunday. The 15th day of the first month of Lunar New Year (農歷新年) is known as “Chap Goh Mei” (十五暝 or 元宵節) locally, which is a name derived from the southeastern Chinese dialect of Hokkien (福建話). (There are many Chinese descendants here who can trace their roots to the Hokkien-speaking Chinese province of Fujian.) Among the overseas Chinese communities in Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia and Brunei, Chap Goh Mei is our version of Valentine’s Day. (We do celebrate Western V-Day, too! Not me though! =P)


In Penang, Malaysia, single Chinese women would stand by the river and toss tangerines into the water. Why? We single ladies are eagerly awaiting the very special man in our lives to pick it up, which reminds me so much of the good old message in a bottle. What a fun when there’s so much mystery surrounding it!

According to C, my co-worker who hails from Penang, Gurney Drive is the place for single ladies to toss their wishes nowadays. Of course, that isn’t open to only singles. Married, widowed and divorced women are welcome to toss their wishes into the sea, too! She did invite me for a stay at her hometown this weekend. Too bad, I can’t due to other commitments! Sorry, C! I promise I’ll visit Penang one of these weekends and snap lots of pictures! Thank you!


Anyway, ‘nuff said! Here’s to share with you some of the meaningful moments from my Lunar New Year before it ends. On the Second Day (大年初二) of every New Year, my family never fails to visit my mom’s hometown in Malacca (or Melaka.) We’d usually have a quick breakfast and then hit the road. This year though, both my baby brothers refused to join my parents and I because they claimed the whole deal was “boring.” Yes, they’d been part of this ritual growing up in this family. Sadly, they now would rather stay home and glue themselves to the computer playing online games. Sigh … I only came to appreciate family and kinship even more after my 3-year stint in the U.S. One day, these brats will learn their lesson! (As the eldest, I’ve failed a big part here … I can’t teach them!)


Malacca isn’t that far from Kuala Lumpur. When we behave while driving on the crazy roads here, it usually takes us a little less than 2 hours to get there. Most importantly, we were there to catch up with our relatives. I was also there to escape from the hustle and bustle of the city. It was indeed relaxing with its slower paces and simpler way of life.


Sugar cane plantation by the road

The moment we landed there, it was a little past noon. My aunt already had lunch ready to feed eight hungry bears, including her daughters, grandchildren, my parents and I. Feeling stuffed after lunch, I decided to take a walk around the neighborhood with my darling camera.


The Malay neighborhood next door

Green unripe starfruits

It was quiet. I felt relaxed. I snapped and snapped – until the sound of a lorry broke the silence and brought me back to the ground. I saw eight or so happy little Malay kids running excitedly towards the vehicle. Curiosity killed the cat. I, too, made my way toward the lorry.

A messy trunk: beverage, trash & prop for lion dance

The crowd grew as each second vanished. It was a good – a truly Malaysian crowd. We had Chinese, Malay and Indians standing side by side anticipating its "awakening." Each of us waited patiently. The kids sure went wild when the Lion finally “woke up” and started to “dance.” It was my first lion dance (舞獅) experience in 3 years.


Besides businesses, some wealthy people would hire a lion dance team to perform the ritual on their compounds. They believe it will bring them good luck and prosperity in the year to come. It was no doubt a stunning performance! The crowd reveled and cheered. But, my inner thoughts traveled deeper than that.


I stood and observed. My camera told me to watch and listen. I obeyed. In minutes, tears started rolling down my cheeks gently. I was still sane. I was simply touched by the innocence and tolerance shown by the people. Stubbornly mirroring on my own beliefs at the same time, I couldn’t help but sighed. Malaysia is such a lovely country, if only it’s more innocent and liberal. It’s such a shame that it’s been blemished by fallen angels. I’ve said a thousand times how I wish I don’t have to abandon this beautiful land. But, I have to leave Her eventually. While in search of a better life and equal opportunities, my family is left with no choice.


I hope you won’t be turned off by my sentimentality. Despite my efforts in trying to be a rational reasoning animal, I sentimentalize easily. Anyway, I guess we’re getting sick of cookies, huh? It’s time for a change. (Well, I’m sort of. But, I don’t mind having them around me 24/7. They’re a handy snack!)

I’ve been meaning to share this fabulous dinner idea with you. But, I think I’m suffering from attention deficit disorder. I just keep getting distracted. Argh …!

Dim sum (點心) is a southern Chinese specialty, which literally means “touching the heart.” At authentic dim sum restaurants, light dishes are served. To touch someone’s heart, I suppose these hors d’oeuvre are, traditionally, made painstakingly with love. They’re only meant to be taken as a light snack, not a meal. But, we always end up stuffed in the end. Hahaha …!

Made when I was in the U.S. Taken in March, 2009.

Steamed spare ribs in fermented black bean sauce (豉汁排骨) can be found at many dim sum restaurants. Ask anyone who’s had authentic dim sum, he or she has probably heard of or even tried these ribs. Fermented black beans (豆豉) lend a pungent and sharp, salty and slightly bittersweet flavor. They're an acquired taste. Joining forces with other seasonings and spices, you’ve got yourself a savory marinade. Immersing the ribs for hours in this unique blend gives you utterly flavorful ribs.

To steam these spicy ribs together with rice, it renders you an easy fuss-free meal. Thanks to my favorite Hong Kong-based blogger Siukwan for sharing this fantastic idea! In Chinese, we call this type of dish 一鍋熟, which literally means “cooking with one pot.” I’ve been making this one-dish meal since I was a student in the States. And I always have a side dish of stir-fried or blanched vegetable to go with it, making it a complete meal after a tiring day at school or at work. What’s best is you can prepare the marinade and marinate the ribs ahead of time – and it requires no additional oil to cook them because they’re steamed. Healthy!



Steamed Rice With Spare Ribs in Fermented Black Bean Sauce 豉汁排骨蒸飯 (Adapted From Siukwan’s)
Serves 2 persons
*Typical of Chinese cooking, the recipe is just a guideline. Please feel free to adapt it to suit your own palate. I guarantee you that many of the (B) seasonings can be found at Asian grocers, especially when you're residing in the West.*

240 g (pork) spare ribs -- washed to clean well and pat dry, then cut them into smaller sections

(A)
1 Tbsp caster sugar
1/2 tsp baking soda

(B)
1 fresh small red chili pepper 紅辣椒仔, diced into tiny bits
**I used dried ones when I was in the States, which worked just as good. That obscure small town only had fresh jalapeño peppers. Sad, huh? Obsession for Tex-Mex food!? Probably.**
1 Tbsp fermented black beans 豆豉, diced into tiny bits if possible
***When I was in the U.S., I used those jarred ones that had been soaked to preserve in oil. Because they were already mushy, I simply mashed them up.***
****The ones I'm using are a hot variant of the regular ones, are also jarred and mushy. If you so happen to have these spicier ones, omit the chili pepper.****
1 tsp minced garlic
1 tsp minced fresh ginger
1 Tbsp oyster sauce 蠔油
1 tsp light soy sauce 生抽
1/4 tsp salt
1 tsp caster sugar
1/2 tsp granular chicken bouillon 雞粉
A little bit of sesame oil 麻油, or to taste
Pinch of ground white pepper
1-1/2 tsp cornstarch

240 g jasmine rice 泰國香米
240 g water

Sweet soy sauce 甜豉油, to taste (optional)
  1. Combine the cleaned spare ribs with (A), then leave aside to tenderize the meat for 1 hour
  2. After the 1 hour is up, wash the spare ribs very well to remove the baking soda; drain well or pat dry to remove excess water
  3. Marinate the spare ribs together with (B) for 30 minutes, covered (to avoid unnecessary "visitor," LOL!)
    *****I've tried marinating the ribs for 4 hours and up to overnight, covered with cling wrap and refrigerated, which makes them taste so much better, I think.*****
  4. Place a steaming rack over the wok, then fill it with enough water until it's about 5cm/2 inches below the rack. Cover and bring it to a full rolling boil over high heat. Alternatively, you can steam the whole deal in a steamer, if you have one.
  5. Wash the rice to clean, then drain well. Combine the rice together with 240 g water in a "stove top-friendly" bowl (i.e. heat-tolerable), then place onto the steaming rack. Steam over high heat for 20 minutes or till almost cooked. In other words, the 240 g water should have been almost soaked up by the rice and the rice itself should look "swollen" and rather "fluffy."
    To cook for a bigger crowd, I cook it in the rice cooker. Simply cook the rice in the rice cooker till it's almost cooked -- like what's described above -- then, proceed with the following steps.
  6. Uncover the lid of the wok, steamer or rice cooker, then transfer the ribs and marinade onto the rice -- making sure they spread out so that they can cook evenly. Cover again and cook or steam over high heat for 10 minutes or till the meat is cooked through.
  7. Turn off the heat or the rice cooker. Dish out and serve hot. If you like, splash a bit of sweet soy sauce over to serve.
Here's to wish everyone a Happy Chap Goh Mei! (在此恭祝大家元宵節快樂!) Play hard and have lot of fun before Lunar New Year festivities end!

February 20, 2010

My Lunar New Year’s Eve and Day 1, Plus Green Pea Cookies 我的年三十晚、大年初一與豌豆酥

The Lunar New Year (農歷新年) of 2010 is rather unique to me. It’s my first Lunar New Year  celebrated back in Malaysia in 3 years. But, it’s also my first Lunar New Year celebrated with the loss of a loved one in 15 years. It just feels different this time; it’s a rather short one.

Under the influence of Confucianism (儒家思想), my family has been observing 1-year mourning over the loss of my grandpa since Father’s Day last year. However, most of my relatives are urban dwellers who race against time while juggling between family and work. We hardly have time to do some visiting. So, Lunar New Year seems like the only opportunity for us to catch up with each other. We still join in the festivities – but less elaborately.

Reunion dinner is a must for many Chinese. We call it 團圓飯 (pronunciation in Mandarin: tuan yuan fan / Cantonese: too-WIN yoo-WIN fahn), in which 圓 means “round.” For us, beauty, happiness and perfection equate roundness, which is so true of family reunion. It’s such a beautiful thing and a complete entity on its own. I feel so blessed with constant shower of love and attention from my loved ones.

My elder baby brother helping himself with the food on our reunion dinner table. (Sorry for the lousy shot!)

Last year, I was invited to join the feast by my Chinese professor from Shenyang, Liaoning (遼寧沈陽). Being away from home, an occasional gathering such as this lessened my homesickness in friends’ company. It got even more fun when our American and other international friends came and reveled away with us. Authentic northeastern Chinese dishes (東北菜) were served. There was a bit of culture shock, but we learned a lot from each other. I even remember our friends saying, “Man, this is the best food I’ve ever had!” I miss you guys!


As a northern Chinese herself, my Chinese professor was one of those who introduced me to the art and joy of eating Chinese dumplings, or jiaozi (餃子). Jiaozi form an essential part of the Northern cuisines. My family is of southern Chinese descent. So, we weren’t too familiar with jiaozi. Because we aren’t big eaters, we just prepared more food, in greater variety, than what we’d usually have (大魚大肉). For us southern Chinese descendants, there’s got to be a plate of chicken or pork, fish or shrimps, vegetable and a big pot of soup on the table. Just to share with you though it’s sort of embarrassing, I tried to make boiled jiaozi – but they flopped! They looked downright ugly and unappetizing, but they tasted good. This won’t be my first ever attempt. I know it takes practice to perfect my wrapping and shaping skills. So, more jiaozi and gyoza (鍋貼) to come in the future! Argh …!

Ugly ducklings: my jiaozi

Beauties: my professor's home-made jiaozi

On the next morning, we turned into vegetarians just for that 1 hour. It’s been a tradition in our house. My mom got up early to make her version of Buddha's delight (羅漢齋) and soup dessert (or tong sui 糖水 in Cantonese.) They were all good old home-cookin’. (Yes, you heard me right! We love sweet runny desserts. LOL! Learn more about it here and here.)

My mom dishing up her tong sui right before we had breakfast that Morning.

The dessert was a soup sweetened with palm sugar and it had glutinous rice balls (湯圓), lotus seeds (蓮子), ginkgo nuts (白果) and dried longan (桂圓). It’s unusual; it’s my mom’s blend of stuff. On the other hand, the medley consists of edible fungi and algae, dried bean curd (腐竹) and vegetables — and perhaps, there are more that I can’t recall now – that are stir-fried together. (Hey, I should try cook this up one day and share with you all. We’ll see …) One thing for sure is it didn’t have any of the five pungent spices forbidden in Buddhism (五葷): garlic, onion, shallot, scallion, and Chinese chives. They are thought to easily provoke human’s sexual desire. Well, true or not? You’ll be the judge, yea?

Buddha's delight, or Law Hon Zah-eey 羅漢齋

So, besides being a troublemaker, what else would a snoopy Pei-Lin be doing in the kitchen?
Picture courtesy of Starstore.com

我終于在年三十晚收工了!(Mission accomplished on New Year’s Eve!) My Lunar New Year bake-a-thon officially ended on the afternoon of New Year’s Eve. I worked on New Year’s Eve! Dang! We’ve been told to paint ourselves red every New Year. Ironically, one-half of my body was enrobed in black while the other half in gray. See, I totally forgot about this unspoken rule. But, that didn’t bother my family much. In the end, I became the Pillsbury Doughboy wannabe! Hahaha …! I became literally in “white,” thanks to the whirlwinds of flour from making jiaozi and these irresistibly yummy cookies!


We’ve got a neighbor who’s a darn good baker. She’s good enough to sell her goodies, leaving people craving for more of her signature pineapple tarts (黃梨餅) and green pea cookies (豌豆酥). I can’t recall when, but I remember she introduced these little emeralds to us a few years ago. Too bad, she will never, ever share her knowledge and recipes with others. What’s worse, she criticizes what others have made and offered her even though the food itself is good, which sounds discouraging. Her tastes are too classy for a commoner like me, eh? She once told us, “All these are from my hard-earned money.” I do respect her stance on that, but what about all the bloggers who have been so willingly and generously sharing experience, knowledge and recipes with the rest of us! I even shut my mouth up as a secret food blogosphere admirer for 2 years! Tsk, tsk!

So, we love her green pea cookies. But, it’s just such a pain to spend USD8 for a jar of these cookies. (Yes, I’m stingy! ;P) Deep down, I know they aren’t difficult to make: It’s about patience, persistence and will. Boy, it was such a happy accident when I chanced upon Swee San’s recipe.


In Malaysia and Singapore, roasted and salted dried peas are a popular snack that are commonly found and sold by the local Indians. Once cooked and cooled, these peas turn crunchy and keep real well at room temperature. We snack on them like how you’d to M&M's. That said, green pea-ness is what green pea cookies (豌豆酥) are about. Duh! So, how can you tell if it’s a good one?

These little emeralds should look green – the natural way – due to the ground green peas. They will cast a spell on you with their highly addictive nuttiness – even children wouldn’t say “yuck” to green peas, like my peas-hating brothers. The cookies have to be sweet and outright salty. They stay intact in your hand; they fall apart in your mouth. They slowly dissolve as they reach your throat. They even surprise you with a lil’ crunch here and there, thanks to the green peas.


Swee San, thank you for sharing such a fabulous recipe! My family ate 1/3 of the batch and gave the rest to my vegetarian aunt as a gift (見面禮) for the New Year. She loves it, too!

On the next post, I’m going to share with you some of the special moments from my Lunar New Year this year. Till then, stay tuned! As for now, here’s the recipe for the yummilicious green pea cookies. Thanks once again, Swee San, for sharing this great recipe.


Green Pea Cookies 豌豆酥 (Adapted from Swee San's)

140 g unsalted dried green peas

30 g powdered sugar

(A)
30 g powdered sugar
1 tsp salt
*Omit salt if you're using salted dried green peas*
170 g plain/all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp cornstarch

100 mL neutral-flavored oil, or more -- please adjust the quantity accordingly
*I used rice bran-canola oil. Peanut and sunflower seed oil works, too! But no olive and palm oil, please!*

1 slightly beaten egg yolk, for glazing (optional)
**Milk works, too, especially for vegetarians who don't take eggs. The downside is the peas aren't going to stick to the top of the cookies real well. So, just leave out the extra peas, which are meant for garnishing**

Enough dried green peas, for garnishing
  1. In a wok (or something similar), constantly stir to roast the peas over low heat, till some sort of nutty aroma starts to seep out. Turn off the heat and let the peas cool completely. This additional step yields cookies that smell and taste much better.
  2. Once the peas have cooled completely, in a food processor or something with similar functions, thoroughly pulverize them together with 30 g powdered sugar. You won't end up entirely with real fine green pea meal, but that's OK. After all, you're going to need those specks of peas for that added aesthetic value and a little crunch along the way, right?
  3. Combine (A) together and sift well, then stir in the mixture of green pea meal and powdered sugar until evenly combined
  4. Gradually stir the oil into the dry mixture -- mixing as you pour in the oil -- until a dough has formed, i.e. one that stays intact and won't crumble. However, don't use too much oil because you may wind up with a very sticky and wet dough
    ***It took me close to 200 mL oil. All these depend on the quality of the ingredients you use. I didn't use any store-bought green pea flour, which is finer and greener in color -- less aromatic, too.***
  5. Divide the dough by 10 g, then roll each out to get the shape of a ball; arrange them those "green balls" on parchment-lined baking trays
    ****I started out by weighing the first few ones to get 10 g each exactly. Then, I got lazy and just eye-balled. Hey, talking about efficiency ...****
  6. Glaze those "green balls" with slightly beaten egg yolk, then stick one dried pea onto the center of each cookie -- press the pea down slightly to "lock it in place." If you're using milk to glaze the cookies, leave out the extra peas for garnishing entirely.
  7. Bake at 170C for 15 minutes until the surface of the cookies has turned golden in color
  8. Remove the cookies from the oven and transfer them onto cooling racks to let cool completely before storing or serving.
    Store the cookies in an airtight container. They keep pretty well.

February 13, 2010

Pineapple Tarts: Will Ya Be My Valentine This Lunar New Year? 虎年的黃梨餅之戀

In these past few days, I’ve been trying to squeeze a bit of time to write here. It seems like with Lunar New Year coming tomorrow, I find myself juggling with multiple tasks with real short time. I’ve got to agree with You Fei that work taxes ¾ of our waking hours. This is especially true for those whose jobs are sedentary, including mine, in which sitting on the same office armchair and staring at the same monitor for 8 hours per workday are required. Life is so colorless! Dammit! So, good news! A hectic schedule like what I’m having now is going to make this post concisely short.


Well before a month into Lunar New Year (農歷新年), if you admit you’re one food blog addict yourself, you’ve probably been swarmed by the gazillion recipes out there for the same thing. Yes — it’s no other than pineapple tarts (黃梨餅). And, these dainty treats come in various forms and with various textures. We Malaysians and Singaporean food bloggers make it to a point to blog about it at this time of the year — just like what you’d do with gingerbread men during Christmas. Pineapple tarts are an indispensable part of Lunar New Year in these two countries.


Being born with two aunts who are amazing cooks and bakers themselves, I’ve been showered with boxes and jars of goodies each festive season. Aunt A is famous for her Nyonya-style pineapple tarts and kuih bangkit while Aunt B is famous for her nastars and mooncakes (月餅). Feeling inspired, I set out to make my own this New Year.


Actually, I’ve already started my pineapple tart adventure since I was a student in the U.S. Motivated by the need and severe cravings for some festive treats last New Year, my maiden attempt came about last January in the freezing northern Minnesota. When I come to think of it now, it was a so-so attempt. Not really my best. What was different back then was I didn't use a nastar press but a rolling pin and a knife. I also cooked the pineapple filling in the microwave. This modern method can be a boon. However, if you weren’t careful enough due to underestimation, you may end up with wet filling! What’s worse your microwave will be suffering from a high fever after 50 minutes of constant heating. Poor thing!

Modern nastar press

Now, let’s fast forward to February 2010. Ready-made pineapple filling has been trying to seduce me into giving up a few extra bucks for more free time and convenience. Luckily, the devil’s advocate in me reckoned and said: “They look artificial. They’re less fibrous. And they’re too sweet!” I was and am utterly convinced. So, I cooked the filling from scratch twice with four jumbo pineapples.


I adapted the pineapple filling recipe that Quinn and her granny shared with me. What keeps me from giving up on this recipe is the slightly caramelized sugar it calls for — it’s so unique! At my first attempt, I overcaramelized the sugar till it looked amber in color and ended up with darker, slightly bitter filling. A bit too spicy for my picky family, too. (Not for me though. I’m a glutton!) Feeling defeated, I set out to make another batch again the following weekend.


Boy, I got it right finally! After consulting with Quinn on MSN and Aunt A over the phone, I had an idea of where went wrong. This time, I had the sugar barely caramelized, i.e. turning it into somewhat beige in color. I also modified the recipe and used less spices to suit my family’s taste. Voila! With higher energy efficiency, using slightly more than 2 hours instead of 4 hours standing by the stove cooking compared to my earlier attempt, my pineapple filling looked like a mound of gold, exactly what we want in a pineapple tart! In the southeastern Chinese dialect of Min Nan 閩南話 (or Hokkien 福建話), pineapple tarts are known as 黃梨餅, in which 黃梨 (pineapple) is pronounced as “ong lye.” For a homonymic language like Chinese, it sounds like you’re saying “prosperity is imminent (旺來)!”


As for the pastry, I wanted to make two kinds of texture. But in the end, I ended up with one!? First, it was the melt-in-your-mouth pastry. Like what many other fellow food bloggers have shared, I struggled and sweated to have the dough piped out of the nastar press. I even struggled to have the straps of piped-out dough rolled up to wrap around the pineapple filling. At my first attempt, I didn’t mess the dough up. And because I didn’t overwork it, the pastry was short and melted in our mouths. The downside was it was too fragile that the tarts simply fell apart as I was holding it. So, there was no way for us to stack and store these fragile creatures properly!


Quinn told me that for the melts-in-your-mouth type pastry, it should ideally be sturdy enough to be held and immediately crumbles the moment it touches down in your oral cavity. Aunt B, who’s been selling pineapple tarts for almost 20 years, has a recipe that yields such texture precisely. Her tarts are sturdy enough to be held and packed; they fall apart as they enter your oral cavity. Since hers are for commercial purposes, I don’t dare to beg that recipe from her — one that she had perfected after years of trials and errors!

Feeling defeated again, I determined to give it another shot — but with modifications. As much as I wished for them to turn out like Aunt B’s, I got a texture that stood between crunchy and crumbly – but didn’t melt in your mouth. The tarts made with this dough were sturdy enough to be stacked up and stored in the jars. They have no problems traveling. Though not exactly what I’d looked for, they were still quite a happy accident! =)


On the same day, I also made the crunchier Nyonya-style pineapple tarts. I decided to go with Florence’s recipe, a fellow blogger whose recipes have been trusted by many others out there. Most importantly, remember to have the butter and all the liquids called for in the recipe chilled to yield crumbly, flaky pastry! And, DON’T overwork the dough! All these are precisely the rules you have to keep to get flaky and short pie crust!


So, let’s see … Did I end up with one or two kinds of pastry here for the pineapple tarts then? Feeling stupefied (after rounds and rounds of baking and cooking in the kitchen while having to work on weekdays), my answer is one — and I love them all! Though it’s been exhausting, all the efforts are worth it! Let’s cross our fingers hoping that I shall continue my experiment on short and crumbly pastry in the near future. I won't be publishing my experiment on nastars this time around due to my lack of confidence. As for now, here are just the recipes for the pineapple filling and Nyonya-style pastry. Hope you'll like them. =)

Here's to wish everyone A VERY HAPPY LUNAR NEW YEAR with the Tiger! Gong Hey Fatt Choy! (在此恭祝各位兄弟姐妹虎年快樂!!恭喜發財!!) Happy Valentine's, too!!


Pineapple Tart Filling 黃梨餡
(Adapted from the recipe originally by Quinn's grandma; recipe courtesy of both the ladies)

*I halved the recipe with two jumbo pineapples.*
**I guess if you're like me during my days in the States, canned pineapples aren't too bad as fresh ones cost you a bomb. They suck, too! Well, just buy canned ones to save you time and money. In Malaysia, I got two giant ones for less than USD1.00 (= MYR3.20!)**
***Be warned: The entire process of making the pineapple filling is going to take you 2 to 3 hours back-to-back!***

5 almost ripe average-sized fresh pineapples

3~4 Tbsp unsalted butter

(A)
2 barks of whole cinnamon
4~5 whole cloves
1 whole star anise
***Please adjust the quantity for the spices based on your preference: increase, decrease or totally omit it.***

2 Tbsp lime/lemon juice (optional)
****Highly recommended because it adds such a refreshing tang to the sweet pineapple filling, my dad loves it!****

800 g sugar

Start by processing the pineapples. Pluck off the "leaves," but keep the stem for the sake of convenience -- it acts as a grip for you to hold on to as work on it. And no, we don't wear any gloves. We just try to minimize direct contact with the acidic flesh of the fruit.
 
Slice off the tough pointy "skin," then carve out the fruit's "eyes" thoroughly e.g. with a small sharp and sleek knife -- try not to carve out the flesh; otherwise, your money would have gone wasted. =(

Next, slice off the tender flesh of the pineapples; cut it up into smaller chunks and set aside. We use the core, too. So, don't dump it! Slice off both ends of the fruit and chop up the tougher core real well into tiny cubes for ease of working later on. However, don't mix those two together! 




Process the pineapple flesh and core in a blender or food processor. Start out with the flesh first. Give it a few pulse till you get a runny mass with tiny bits of pineapples remaining--don't purée and don't add additional liquid to it. Pour it out into another bowl (or something similar), but reserving a bit in the blender to help process the tougher core better. Purée the core real well, then pour it out into the rest of the chunky pineapple purée. You should place the purée into a colander that's been set over a larger bowl to drain out excess juice on its own till no dripping anymore -- you need not press to squeeze out the juice intentionally.
*****If you prefer smoother, less fibrous texture for the filling, purée the pineapples completely. Aunt A told me that chunkier filling is easier to work with actually. Gotta agree with her, she was so right on that! Anyway, we cooked and sweetened the juice up before consumption due to its highly acidic content. Perfect on hot, hot days!*****


In a big and deep heavy-bottomed kettle, melt the butter over medium-low heat till just warm. Then, sauté (A) till aromatic. Once you hear melted butter sizzling and making the sound of "flip plop," reduce to low heat -- to avoid splattering -- and dump in the drained pineapple purée along with the lime juice.

Turn the heat up to medium, stir it all the time with e.g. a wooden spoon as you cook the pineapples, cook it till they've thickened and gotten almost dried up. Turn off the heat and set the pineapples aside.


Now, in another big and deep heavy-bottomed kettle and over medium-low heat, caramelize the sugar till it's barely caramelized and looks beige in color -- the sugar needs not be completely melted and caramelized though.

Dump in the almost-dried up pineapples along with the spices into the caramelized sugar and stir continuously, constantly to incorporate them. Continue with constant stirring and cook till the pineapples are very thick and can leave the sides and base of the kettle. Turn off the heat immediately.

Transfer the hot pineapple filling onto a plate and leave it aside to cool till it feels barely warm. Next, cover it with a sheet of plastic film and refrigerate overnight. It's best to work with after overnight chilling.

******Leftover filling can be kept in airtight container and refrigerated for 3~4 days or frozen for 1 month******


    Nyonya-Style Pineapple Tarts 娘惹式黃梨餅 (Adapted from Florence's)

    (A)
    340 g plain/all-purpose flour
    2 Tbsp powdered sugar
    1/2 tsp salt
    1/2 tsp baking powder

    200 g cold cubed unsalted butter

    (B)
    1 egg yolk
    1/2 tsp vanilla extract/brandy
    5 tsp ice-cold water, or more -- please adjust it accordingly

    2 egg yolks, slightly beaten -- for glazing

    1. Combine (A) together and sift once, set aside
    2. Cut in the cold butter cubes into the flour mixture (with e.g. a pastry cutter, fork or knife) till the mixture resembles coarse meal.
    3. Combine (B) together -- starting with 5 tsp ice-cold water -- and gradually pour them into the butter-flour mixture, try to bind the crumbly dough together lightly by hand as your pour in the liquids. If it still looks rather dry, stir in more ice-cold water --1~2 tsp at a time -- till you've a dough that stays bound together. DON'T knead or overwork the dough lest getting a hard texture in your final products later on.
    4. Cover the dough with a sheet of plastic film and refrigerate for 1 hour to let it rest while getting chilled to harden the dough up a bit
    5. When 1 hour is almost up and just before you start cutting out to assemble the cookies, remove the pineapple filling from the fridge. Divide it by 3~4 g and roll each portion really well to get marble-sized balls -- pick out and discard those spices as you do it. Set aside
    6. Lightly flour the working surface, rolling pin, one 5 cm-in-diameter flower-shaped cookie cutter and your hands. Then, roll out the dough till it is 7 mm-thick. Cut out the dough to get mini "flowers." Lightly flour the surface, rolling pin, cookie cutter and your hands again every time the dough sticks.
      You can gather the scraps of dough up by gently pressing them together. Repeat the steps above to cut out the cookies. Continue till the dough has been used up
    7. Arrange the cut-out dough onto parchment-lined cookie trays, leaving 1.5 cm in between to accommodate dough expansion
    8. Bake at 200C/400F for 10 minutes. Then, remove them from the oven and glaze them all over with the egg yolks. Next, stick one portion of the pineapple filling onto the indented center of each of the par-baked cookies.
    9. Bake again at 180C/350F for 10~15 minutes till golden in color. Remove them from the oven and transfer to let cool on cooling racks completely before storing/serving
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