Homemade Pineapple Tart Jam – A Photo Guide
Everyone seems to be really busy with Chinese New Year preparation now, judging by the number of CNY goodies related posts I’d been seeing over Facebook all morning… make that all week long. While some are showcasing this year’s cookies and snacks they’d prepared, others are just airing old posts made in yesteryears to revive interest and hopefully spike up some blog traffic. Whichever the case, the festive mood is definitely in the air. I had my hand making bak kwa recently and I think the next thing I need to settle is yet another of my favorite CNY munchie, Pineapple Tarts. I’d been making pineapple tarts for quite a number of years now. I think it is a good time to consolidate my experience for its preparation, and let’s start with a photographic guide on how you can make pineapple jam at home from scratch.
Pineapple Tarts, comes in many different forms and is known by many names. In Singapore the favoured ones are the open faced tarts called 黄梨挞 aka ong lai tart or kueh tair by the Peranakans. In recent years, the enclosed ones are rising in favour which can look like golden balls shiny with glaze or moulded into shapes like ingots or golden pillows etc. In Indonesia, there is a rolled version called Nastar while in Taiwan, enclosed pineapple cakes 凤梨酥 which uses a slightly different type of pastry is commonly seen in confectioneries all year round. Whichever the type, the cooking of the pineapple jam paste is a necessary step in making the tarts. It is a laborious and somewhat painstaking process, which is why many folks have resorted to buying ready made ones from supermarkets and bakery supply stores but trust me, it is so so so much more gratifying to make your own! One has ultimate control over everything, from texture to taste, to level of sweetness… For those who love micro-managing everything, homemade pineapple tart jam is definitely the way to go!
First up, selection of pineapples. We get a few varieties of pineapples here in Singapore. The de facto variety which most people use are Morris pineapples, aka Malaysian Pineapples over here in Singapore they are called. They are the cheapest around, or they used to be the cheapest rather. Nowadays they are about 1.50 a pop at NTUC or local fruit sellers. On the other end of the spectrum are the expensive ones from the Philippines like SW16 or Dole. They go around 2.80 for one fruit usually and if you are lucky, 2 for 3.99. I like to use the Thai honey pineapples like those you see in the photo above. They used to be more expensive but prices have gone down slightly to around 1.50 each too, making them a good option for making pineapple jam. Forget about those expensive gigantic ones going at more than 5 bucks from Cold Storage.
Prices aside, how do these pineapple taste when you make pineapple tart jam out of them? Morris are the most fibrous of the three and incidentally also the driest and least sweet. It is good for folks who like more sourish hues in their pineapple tarts. I prefer Thai honey pineapples because they are sweeter yet with a tangy edge. They are juicier, which means no water is needed in the cooking process as the pineapple pulp simmer in their own juices. And because they are sweeter, less sugar is needed in the cooking process. a lot less in fact. The pricey pinoy ones… well, those are better kept for eating. I won’t pulp them for pineapple tart jam making. But its your call entirely.
Next is to get the pineapple “slaughtered”. Yes that is what my folks would have said in Hokkien. We always do it at home on our own but getting the skins off can be a tad tricky for some folks who are not that confident with their knives. Some fruit sellers do offer pineapple skin cutting services. Some do it for free when you purchase a minimal number of fruits from them while others do it for a nominal fee. If all fails, get one of those pineapple corers, especially when you are really at your wits’ end to get the pineapples peeled. Carrefour, when it was still around in Singapore, used to have an electrical pineapple coring machine next to the pile of pineapple which my late mum would always exclaim ‘bodoh!’ quietly to us in a funny way whenever she saw someone buying a pineapple cored by the machine simply because it wastes so much good pulp. Oh well, bless her soul.
Recently, I gotten a neat tool for removing the pineapple “eyes” which made processing the fruits a breeze. Yes, a bit of a show off here but for many of us, a good paring knife is still the way to go…
After the pineapples are all peeled and “de-eyeed”, they are ready to be cut up. Then comes the question, how many pineapples to cook to get how much pulp. Firstly we need to know that the number of kilos of pineapple you buy isn’t gonna give you the same number of kilos of pineapple jam, like duh! Much of the attrition comes from the skin, crown, eyes and whatever other parts that are chomped off in the process. Next, we need to know that a large percentage of the fruit is essentially water, moisture, juices whatever… The juicier the fruit, the better they are for eating yes, but the longer they will take to cook down, and the less jam you will end up making. Get ready for the disappointment when you realised how little jam you will yield for what seemed like a neat pile of fresh pineapples. I usually don’t keep tabs until this year when I decide to write this post. Just for the records, for around 2 kg of good pineapple tart jam, I’d used nearly 11 Thai Honey pineapples. Yes “nearly” because I eat a little of each pineapple to know the level of sweetness of the fruit to help me gauge the amount of sugar I need to add during the cooking process. The glutton in me often eat more than I should of course! Each large fruit gave me between 600-650g of fresh pineapple chunks while the smaller ones may give only around 500-550g, after everything else unnecessary was removed but before cooking . It also depends on how good one’s processing skills are to minimise wastage. So yes, 2 kg of pineapple tart jam from 11 pineapples and that is even before adding the sugar. A quick round of math and one would be quick to realise that it doesn’t seem really economical to make your own pineapple tart jam. But beyond the logistics and tangible, the sense of satisfaction one gets from looking at a pot or wok or freshly homemade pineapple jam is beyond what those savings in dollars and cents can give. If you are making pineapple tarts for your loved ones like me, homemade jam seems so much more gratifying…
The fresh pineapple can now be cut into chunks. From here onwards, it is really a matter of preference. Those who prefer to go by the traditional method can grate their pineapples manually. Some folks may decide to go by the easier way out and blend the pineapples into a thick pulp. I’d done that before in previous years as well. The texture of the pineapple jam is finer and smoother which may be what some folks would prefer.
This is the core which is sliced away. Some folks would retain it in their pineapple jam making but I would remove it because it is a lot tougher than the pulp and would affect the texture of the jam. But don’t discard it. It can be blended into a pulp together with the rest of the skin and be used to clean brass moulds for kueh making. Otherwise, it can also be used to prepare “Kerabu Ong Lai Sim“, a Penang Peranakan dish.
This is what the pineapple pulp would look like if it had been blended and then brought to a boil. At this point, the pineapples are just cooking in their juices and nothing much needs to be done except for adding some cinnamon sticks for flavour enhancement, and also a small portion of sugar. Some folks add cloves to the cooking process but I don’t since my grandma didn’t either. I don’t add all the sugar right at the beginning of the cooking process but only enough to allow more juices to leach out from the cooking pulp. More will be added later during the last stages of cooking. Overcooking the sugars leads to caramelisation which may cause the pineapple jam to become too brown. It needs to be a shade lighter than what the final product would look like on the tarts as the baking of the tarts would darken the jam slightly as well.
Simmering to boil down the juices. It is important to give the pineapple jam an occasional stir at this point but other than that, nothing much needs to be done. Some folks sieve and strain away the excess juices from the grated pineapple or pulp but I think this is so wasteful and sacrilegous! Yes one would end up spending slightly more time stirring the pineapples in front of the stove but the resulting pineapple tart jam is gonna be packed with so much more flavour!
After sometime, when the pineapple jam has dried out considerably, it is important to stir the jam continually to prevent it from sticking to the base and charring. From now on, it is all about elbow grease, unless you have a Thermomix like me of course!
What the pineapple jam would look liked last year when it was almost ready. It should look considerably wetter while it is still very hot. Upon cooling, the jam would firm up a lot more. The jam needs to be spread out for it to cool evenly to room temperature before storage. I like to leave the cinnamon stick in it as well during storage.
And this year’s pineapple tart jam look like. So much more “chantek” isn’t it?! I decided to go by a different way of preparation and not to blend or grate the fresh pineapple but instead, cook them in chunks. Also, I’d cooked them over two days, allowing the flavours to develop overnight, finishing the process the next day with my Thermomix. The results are very gratifying as one can see from the photos above, long golden strands of pineapple jam which are still really fibrous with a lot of textures. This really reminds me of how my grandma’s pineapple tart filling was like when I was very young. I’m so ready to make this year’s pineapple tarts out of them now…
Homemade Pineapple Tart Jam Recipe
1.5-1.8 kg of fresh pineapple (net weight only from 3 Thai honey pineapples after removing skin, crown, eyes and core)
150 to 200g granulated sugar (depending on the degree of sourness one hopes for and how sweet the pineapples are to begin with)
2 cinnamon sticks (not cinnamon powder)
3-5 cloves (option because grandma never added this)
2 tbsp lemon juice (optional because grandma never added this, but some may prefer for a more pronounced tang)
1 tbsp butter (optional, to give the final jam a glossy appeal)
elbow grease (not optional!)
time and patience (not optional!)
Grate the fresh pineapple to form a thick and coarse pulp. For pineapple tart jam with more texture, simple cut the pineapple into small chunks and cook them as it is. The heat will break down the pulp over time but leave the fibres intact. The fastest way is of course to blitz everything in a blender. That is the lazy way to produce a really smooth pineapple jam without much textures in the end. Purists and traditionalists will frown at the last method of course, you have been warned…
To a large wok, add process pineapple pulp, cinnamon sticks and two tbsp of sugar. Bring everything to a boil before lower flame to medium. Stir occasionally to cook the jam more evenly.
When the jam’s liquids had been cooked down considerably, add remaining sugar, lemon juice and stir continuously until it dries up further. To check, push the jam to one side and tilt the wok, there should not be any liquids pooling on the lowered end.
Leave the cooked pineapple tart jam to cool down completely before storing for later use. It may help to spread out the jam over a baking dish to accelerate the cooling and drying process,
The final pineapple tart jam should still be glistening moist on the surface but not wet throughout. The fibres should look very apparent and the jam should break apart into clumps easily without oozing any liquids. One must really make sure that the jam is sufficient dry。 Otherwise, it may (1) ooze liquids onto the pastry during baking and affect the texture of the latter or even (2) result in the growth of mould during storage.