Kueh Tair – Making Peranakan Pineapple Tarts
My Facebook updates these few days are crawling with feeds and photos of friends who are out and about with their CNY baking. The festive mood seems to have really kicked in with many friends busy with churning out CNY goodies from their kitchens, for “a thousand and one reasons” as I was joking with a friend, be it for friends and family to snack on and enjoy, to really get into the festive mood, to sell and earn some pocket money, to polish one’s pastry making skills and most importantly, because one simply feels like making! In other words, there really isn’t a need for a proper impedus that gets one going with all the CNY cooking and baking. Just follow your heart.
As with many, one of the absolute quintessential Chinese New Year “kueh” which we definitely must have on the table are the pineapple tarts. I bake it every year and this year, I’d decided to make the Peranakan pineapple tarts aka “kueh tair” which is slightly more elaborated than the standard ones we get outside. It is quite laborious but I’m glad I did it. Lots more room for improvement for sure and I thank my Peranakan friends who had taught me some of the “tricks to the trade” and also given me much support and encouragement along the way. So here is my first batch of “kueh tair” for 2016.
Making “Kueh Tair” or the Peranakan pineapple tarts takes more than a day to accomplish from beginning till end. It involves cooking one’s own homemade pineapple tart jam which I did last week, and honestly a tedious task in its own right. And when that is done, one has to make the pastry dough for the tart base, press it out gingerly using a pineapple tart mould, crimpling the rim the old fashion way, cutting out the “tali” i.e. thin and narrow strips of dough for latticing the top for the tart, giving it a good layer of egg wash before sending it for baking. In short, they are really a labour of love, much like how many other Peranakan kueh and chuchi mulot are churned out.
One can of course opt for the easier way out and use the storebought pineapple tart moulds aka acuan kueh tair which already have imprints craved out on the ends, just like how many are now turning to ready made pineapple jam off the shelves of baking supply stores. Don’t get me wrong, for these are really convenient for modern folk like us, and I used them as well. But for the older Peranakans who wishes everything to be made “prim and proper” in the utmost delicate and elegant way, they would go that extra mile to cook their own pineapple tart jam, and also to crimp the edges of the pastry base, making them look like little wreaths. It takes quite a lot of practice to get it right, and I dare not say that I have mastered it as yet. It would probably take another few hundred more tarts before I could get something decent, and hopefully put on a smile on the bibiks’ faces with nods of approval. So let’s just keep making shall we?
The other nightmare for me in making kueh tair is to work out the latticing on top. Known in Peranakan terms as “tali‘ which means “rope or string”, it requires one to cut out very thin and narrow strips of pastry dough using a pastry cutter with undulated and wavy blade. I have two old pieces of these made of copper which do the trick but the one thing lacking now is adequate skills to get it really thin and “senonoh“, i.e. very delicate and refined. There are some really good examples of refined kueh tair making I can rely on to refer to , those made by Aunty Irene Ho, Nya Dot Wee, Nya Helen Choo and of course by my dear tachee Poh Lin’s Koh Ngah are all ranked high up on my list as well made kueh tair. The conventional number is four “tali” but some nyonyas with really nimble fingers can make up to six on each kueh tair. As I was joking with yet another friend, life in the past as a Peranakan must really be “a bitch”, i.e. very challenging as kueh making skills was just one of the very many “know hows” a nyonya must have under her “tali pinggang” alongside culinary prowess and kasot manek making dexterity amongst others, to be considered a “proper” lady with good upbringing and thus worthy of good marriage. We laughed heartily as we gossiped on how many modern young nyonyas nowadays would probably not be able to get married at all if they were to be faced with similar challenges fromthe yesteryears as few frequent the kitchen nowadays, let alone cook well. Then again, necessity is the mother of all inventions, so who knows right???
That said, many kueh tair I have seen and tasted are made with margarine. Despite margarine being cheaper and produces a pastry dough which is much easier to handle at room temperature, it is also a primary source of “trans fat” which is essentially carcinogenic. So I’m using butter as I always did as the latter produces, in my humble opinion, much better tasting kueh tair, especially with reputable brands like Golden Churn or the creamy European ones like Lurpak, Emborg, Elle & Vire and of course Echire. Since butter plays an important role in the kueh tair making, be sure to use a good brand.
The biggest challenge in making kueh tair made with butter as always is the handling of the dough which becomes too soft to be shaped rather quickly in our weather. So work in small batches and work fast with one batch of dough at any time while keeping the rest of it nicely chilled in the fridge. The recipe I’m sharing works quite well for me. So I hope it would be a good working recipe for you too.
Kueh Tair – Peranakan Pineapple Tarts Recipe
makes 48-50 large or 80-90 small open face tarts
320g plain flour *
200g cold salted or unsalted butter **, cut into small appro 1 cm cubes
1/4 tsp salt (omit of using salted butter)
2 egg yolks, cold and beaten, for pastry
30g icing sugar
2 egg yolks, beaten and mixed with 1 tsp water, for glaze
corn starch for dusting
pineapple jam, rolled into individual balls each 8-10g for big tarts and 5-6g for small tarts
(for homemade pineapple jam recipe, please click here)
Sift flour, icing sugar and salt into a mixing bowl and mix well.
Add cold butter cubes and rub the butter into the dry ingredient mixture with fork or pastry cutter until a cookie crumb like texture is obtained.
Add cold beaten egg yolks and carefully coax all the ingredients together until everything JUST forms a uniform ball of dough. Do not overwork the dough or the pastry would harden too much after baking.
Divide the dough into three or four portions, depending on ease of handling.
Roll each portion of dough into a 4-5 mm thin layer between layers of cling film.
Refrigerate the pastry layers for at least 30 min for the dough to firm up.
Take out one chilled pastry layer each time and dust lightly with a very thin layer of corn starch. This helps to prevent the dough from sticking onto the mould later.
Using a pineapple tart mould, press out the tart bases and lay them on a shallow baking tray lined with a piece of baking parchment.
If using, crimp out the rim of the tart bases with a serrated pastry crimpler diagonally to form a wreath-like motif. This is what makes the pineapple tarts look really special.
Place a ball of pineapple jam into the centre cavity of each tart base and press down gently to fill up the space.
Roll out the remaining dough even thinner, i.e. 1-2 mm and cut out very thin strips and carefully lay them over the top of the pineapple filling to form a criss-cross latticing.
Brush the edges of the tart as well as the latticing very carefully with a thin layer of egg wash.
Bake in a preheated convection oven at 170 °C for 10 min. Rotate the baking tray and continue to bake for another 10 min until the pastry turns golden brown.
Let the pineapple tarts cool down completely before storing into air-tight containers.
* for more crumbly and melt-in-the-mouth pastry, replace 10g of plain flour from the recipe with same amount of corn starch.
** for easier handling of dough, margarine can be used instead but beware of health-related issues margarine can bring.