Usher in a Sweet Lunar New Year with Pineapple Tarts

Usher in a Sweet Lunar New Year with Pineapple Tarts

What lies under the crumbly, buttery golden coat of pineapple tarts?

The bright side of having less visitors over this Lunar New Year is that you can hog all your favorite Chinese New Year snacks – or better yet – bake and devour all of them without any judgment from inquisitive relatives or friends. Pineapple tarts are the must-have sweet treat in any respectable Chinese home, and all the different varieties out there often share the same irresistibly sticky sweetness encased or on top of a crumbly, buttery crust. Why not nibble on one as you digest the story behind this popular pastry?

Origins

Pineapple, the star ingredient of this little treat, was introduced to Southeast Asia by the Portuguese during the colonial times. They flourished in the warm tropical climate (similar to their native Americas origins), growing in abundance in plantations across the region. Influenced by the Portuguese style of baking, Peranakans developed a creative way to use this sweet, tart and juicy fruit in their snacks and the renowned pineapple tart was born.

The golden pineapple itself was and still is seen as a symbol of wealth and prosperity among the Chinese, and this fruit’s name literally translates to “coming in wealth” in Hokkien. Pineapple tarts were soon regarded as an auspicious treat and families started gifting them during the Lunar New Year - a tradition that still continues today.

These buttery, crumbly tarts are not just unique to Chinese festivities. Also known as Nanas tart, or Nastar in Indonesia, it is also a common indulgence during Hari Raya, Christmas, and even Deepavali and in Singapore and Malaysia.

Different Kinds of Pineapple Tarts

Open-faced pineapple tarts with a buttery floral-patterned base

There are 4 main shapes of pineapple tarts – open-faced, ball, roll and cake. They typically share the same egg and buttery base that gives all these lovely tarts that coveted melt-in-your mouth texture. The pineapple jams across the varying pineapple pastries are also made in a similar way, by cooking pineapple puree over an extended period of time till it reaches a thick, jam-like consistency. Spices like cinnamon and star anise are sometimes mixed into the jam to add aroma and beautiful earthy flavors that pair well with this tropical fruit.

The traditional and instantly recognizable open-faced pineapple tart is more commonly seen in Singapore and Malaysia, with a floral pattern base and occasionally comes with little crisscross patterns on top. To achieve that crumbly consistency, the western technique of rubbing cubes of cold butter into the flour by hand to create a sandy mix is sometimes used.

Related Recipe: Open-Faced Pineapple Tarts

Nastar often have corn flour in it to give it a more golden hue

If you grew up in Indonesia, chances are that Nastar is the norm when it comes to celebration treats. Pineapple tarts that are shaped into a ball usually contain corn flour to give it crumblier and tender texture while lending a deeper golden color to the pastry when baked. Shaping them into balls with your hands is not easy as the dough is sticky but coating your hands with vegetable oil will help!

Related Recipe: Healthy Pineapple Tarts (Nastar Sehat)

Rolled pineapple tarts. Photo: Getty

Roll or pillow versions of pineapple tarts are not as common, but they look and taste equally pleasing! Thanks to the stickiness of the pineapple jam, rolled tarts (also known as Nastar Gulung in Indonesia) hold together well in the oven while enticing you with a peek of its sweet offerings within. Using a makisu or bamboo sushi roller mat will definitely be a huge help in rolling these delicacies.

Finally, Taiwanese pineapple cake or fenglisu is almost a world on its own, deviating from the super crumbly texture of the Southeast Asian varieties. The exterior, as its name suggests, is closer to that of a cake, with a softer bite leading into a sweet pineapple jam filling that is sometimes mixed with winter melon to reduce the overall tartness from the pineapples and give it a less fibrous mouth feel. Milk powder is often added to give fenglisu a touch of creaminess, and to enhance the sweetness of the crust. It also lends a golden brown hue to the baked treat when the milk powder caramelizes.

Related: The Beginner’s Guide to An Ox-picious New Year at Chinatown Complex

Tart Trends

Open-faced pineapple tarts with differently-shaped pastry

The biggest gripe everyone has about this treat (besides there being not enough to go around at times) is the amount of calories hiding in its tiny mass. A traditional pineapple tart contains 93 calories, meaning having just 5 adds up to the same number of calories as a meal. It comes as no surprise then that home bakers and bakeries alike offer eggless and less sugar varieties in recent years. Sugar is sometimes swapped for honey, agave nectar or other substitutes that are deemed healthier as well. 

Cheesy pineapple tarts are another trend that managed to stick around, perhaps because when added in the right amounts, it offers a savory flavor to offset the cloying sweetness of pineapple tarts. Finely grated cheese or cheese powder – parmesan works well here – is mixed into the batter and sprinkled as a finishing touch on top of the tarts, giving it an golden yellow hue when baked.

 

Related: Top 10 Realistic Tips for a Healthy Festive Chinese New Year

 

As bakers experiment over the years in giving a unique twist to their pineapple bakes, we’ve also seen salted egg pineapple tarts, spiced mala pineapple tarts and truffle pineapple tarts in the marketplace – just to name a few. Hybrids like combining pineapple tarts and Bo Lo Bao (pineapple buns), and even combining chicken skin with pineapple tarts have also made their way into the pineapple tart scene. What can we say? This well-loved treat holds up well to additions, colorings and shaping. If you’re making them at home this Lunar New Year, why not adopt an eclectic mix of shapes, techniques or special ingredients to make your own tarts truly unique?

 

For more delicious recommendations and recipes for Chinese New Year, see our Moo Year Moo Eats page. 

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