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These small bite-size gluten-free pineapple tarts are a traditional sweet cookie served at Chinese New Year as an auspicious offering. The homemade pineapple jam sings out in these cookies with festive flavours from the infused cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves and star anise. This golden, sticky jam is then topped in the centre of a flower-shaped butter cookie and baked together.
Why are pineapple tarts special during Chinese New Year?
It is believed that the pineapple brings good luck and fortune. In some Chinese dialects, pineapple is called Ong Lai which in direct translation means “fortune comes”. During the build-up to Chinese New Year, these pineapple tarts are sold in attractive gift boxes and jars at a hefty price, especially in Singapore and Malaysia. Along with many other treats, pineapple tarts are one of the most popular edible gifts exchanged or as a welcome offering to guests.
image source: Ding Bakery
Why are they called tarts?
Despite their appearance, these small cookies look nothing like a regular tart, but over time, they have evolved into either a pineapple jam topped cookie or stuffed in the centre as a cookie ball. A popular design is to take tiny strands of pastry and mimic a lattice design over the jam, giving it an appearance of a tart covering.
The cookie cutter
I bought my small 3.5cm flower-shaped cookie cutter in Singapore. It is used specifically to make pineapple tarts as it forms a hollow circle in the centre for the jam to sit in. A similar design can be achieved by using a regular flower shape cookie cutter and forming an indentation in the centre with your finger. Ideally, the cookie-cutter size should be bite-size.
The pineapple jam is made slowly by reducing and caramelising pureed fresh pineapple together with spices and sugar until it reaches a thick, gooey consistency that can hold its own shape. This is important as the jam needs to sit on top of the cookie without oozing or dripping off the cookie while baking.
Which cooking method is best to make the pineapple jam?
I have given instructions on the recipe card for the following three cooking methods used:
Slow Cooking Method
In my opinion, slow cooking is best, but takes much longer than over the stove or when using the Thermomix. The taste develops gracefully plus the colour is more golden. This cooking method results in the most authentic pineapple jam.
If you are strapped for time and are in possession of a Thermomix, this cooking method will produce a doable pineapple jam in under 30 minutes. On the negative side, the colour is not as golden and the flavour not as spice-infused.
This method requires standing by the stove to stir and check the jam, but it will give good and reasonably fast results. Turning up the heat slightly will produce a faster jam, but you need to watch it like a hawk as the jam can easily catch and burn at the bottom.
The Gluten-Free Butter Pastry
The influence of western cooking was introduced to Singapore and Malaysia during colonial times. Dairy products were usually imported and expensive, so baking butter pastry was seen as a sign of wealth during these times.
This pastry is all about the butter. Gently rubbing cold pieces of good quality butter into the flour is key to the “melt-in-your-mouth” texture.
As the pineapple jam is very sweet, the pastry only requires a small amount of icing sugar, which gives the pastry a smoother finish.
Using gluten-free flour in this pastry requires more wet ingredients compared to a gluten recipe to achieve a workable dough. It is essential to chill the dough for at least one hour before gently rolling it out between baking paper. If it still is too soft or sticky, add the bare minimum of flour as too much will result in a dry floury tasting cookie. It helps to roll out the pastry in small portions. If necessary, especially during warm weather, return the dough back to the refrigerator to refresh the texture.
The bottom line is that these cookies are to die for and deserve more applause for their unique and addictive flavours. Although I may have an acquired taste for certain Singaporean foods after growing up there, I know that many newcomers fall in love with these adorable cookies. I hope you will too!
Gluten-Free Pineapple Tarts
- 400 g fresh pineapple
- 60 g caster sugar
- 20 g palm or brown sugar
- 2 whole cloves
- 1 whole star-anise
- 1 small cinnamon stick
- 1 whole nutmeg
- a pinch of sea salt
Gluten-Free Butter Pastry
- 1 egg yolk
- 1 tbsp milk
MAKING THE PINEAPPLE JAM
- Remove the rind and the core from the pineapple. Cut into rough chunks.
- Process the pineapple in either a food processor or smoothie maker.
- Strain any liquid from the pineapple pulp.
COOKING THE PINEAPPLE JAM
Slow Cooker Method (5+ hours)
- Turn the slow cooker on High and add the strained pureed pineapple and the sugar, all the spices and salt.
- Slow cook the pineapple for 3 hours, stirring every now and then. The jam should appear slightly brown, but quite watery.
- Take the lid off, place it partially covered on the slow cooker and turn the heat down to Low. Leave to simmer for a couple of hours to evaporate some of the juices, so that the jam becomes thicker and sticky.
- Alternatively, to speed up the evaporation step, transfer the jam to a saucepan and reduce the jam to a thicker consistency. This should take about 30 mins and will depend on the quantity you have selected to make.
Thermomix Method (25 mins)
- Cook the jam ingredients for 25 mins at Varoma temperature on speed 1.
- Remove the whole spices. Push the jam down from the sides and pulse several times.
Stove-Top Method (2.5 hours)
- Over a low heat, cook the pineapple and spices for one hour covered.
- Add the sugar and salt. Continue to cook for another hour with the lid slightly on.
- Remove the spices and continue to cook for 30 mins, stirring often without the lid on.
CHILLING THE JAM
- Transfer the jam to a glass or ceramic bowl, cover and chill for several hours or overnight before adding them to the cookies.
MAKING THE GLUTEN-FREE BUTTER PASTRY
- Whisk the flours and xanthan gum together. Rub in the cold butter pieces until it resembles breadcrumbs.
- Mix the whole egg and egg yolk together in a small bowl.
- Add the icing sugar, salt and mixed eggs. Mix well.
- Gradually add the ice-cold water until the mixture comes together and is soft, but not sticky. Don't be tempted to add more flour if it feels too soft, otherwise, the pastry will taste too dry.
- Chill the dough for one hour.
- Preheat the oven to 170°C/335°F.
- Divide the dough into four and one at a time, place one portion of the dough on to baking paper. Roll out to a thickness of ½ cm. Use another sheet of baking paper on top of the dough to prevent it from sticking to the rolling pin.
- Press the cookie cutter (mine measures 3.5 cm wide) into the rolled-out dough, occasionally dipping the cookie cutter in some tapioca flour to make it less sticky.
- Transfer the cut-out shape to a lined baking tray.
- If your cookie cutter doesn’t make an indentation in the middle, make one by pressing with your finger into the middle of the cookie to later fill it up with the pineapple jam.
- Mix the egg yolk and milk to make an egg wash. Brush this over the entire surface of the cookie.
- Place ¼ teaspoon of pineapple jam into the middle of each cookie.
- Roll out a small portion of dough and cut out small, even strips of dough to top each jam-filled cookie before baking.
- Brush the tops of the pastry with the egg wash before baking.
- Bake for 15 mins. If baking two trays at once, swap the trays around on the baking shelves halfway through baking.
- Leave to cool completely on a wire rack before storing.
- The cookies keep for 3 days in a cookie tin or sealed glass container at room temperature.
- Can be stored in the refrigerator to keep longer for up to one week.
- Any leftover pineapple jam can be transferred to a sterilised jar and chilled for one month. This jam goes well on toast or scones.