凤梨酥 [Feng Li Su] is a Taiwanese pineapple cake made of a buttery shortbread-like pastry and a decadently rich pineapple jam filling. I’ve always loved this cake. My friends from Taiwan used to bring over fresh ones, and if you didn’t stick them in the fridge, they would go bad. You can buy all sorts of pineapple cakes in any Asian grocery store, but trust me, the fresh ones are always better. The pastry melts in your mouth and almost crumbles in your hands. I made the mistake of grabbing one fresh out of the oven, and it literally crumbled out and plopped onto the floor, much to my dog’s delight.
The first time I made this, the pastry was too dry – still super melt in your mouth, but I had trouble forming the shapes. As you can see in the below photo, there were a lot of cracks still present. I also did not include winter melon in the first batch. The jam was still delicious, but it wasn’t as thick and gooey as I wanted it to be. The second batch was very satisfactory. The dough was much easier to handle, it smoothed out nicely, and the jam was super thick and sticky!!!
After the changes, the cakes turned out much smoother (although still not perfectly square shaped, but what can I do?)
The jam includes fresh pineapple, maltose syrup, raw sugar, and winter melon. Winter melon is something often used in Chinese cooking – my mother loves to use it in soups, hot pot base, or steamed with edamame. I’ve never handled it personally, so when I went to the Chinese supermarket in Boston, I had no idea what it looked like. I had to hunt down a helpful store associate and ask in rusty Chinese where I could find winter melon (冬瓜). It turns out this melon is sold in quarters, because it is HUGE. about a foot long and 8″ wide. I bought a quarter of it and it was the perfect one pound i needed. Isn’t it such a gorgeous white melon?
The jam may seem like a lot of work, but you can do other things while it cooks down. To give you a sense, the beginning puree of winter melon and pineapple filled this entire skillet. See the rim around the perimeter? The puree went up to that line. However, after cooking it down and evaporating the liquid, the puree slowly began to form a jam. The winter melon and maltose syrup helps give it its structure as well as its yummy caramelized flavor.
^ watch out for crumbles.
In the week I was back home visiting my family, I visited my favorite breakfast spot in my hometown. I went with my husband in yoga pants, a vest, and a denim shirt, not expecting to see anyone this early on Boxing Day. We were headed for a hike at Big Sur but craved a bagel sandwich. We walked in, and I noticed some classmates from high school. I smiled and looked away, staring at the menu as if trying to decipher its meaning. We were not friends, but that’s not to say that I disliked them. I simply did not feel the need to pretend to catch up. For me, recognition was enough. I felt a tap on my shoulder. Small talk. More small talk, and finally, he leaves. To my surprise, the initial annoyance I’d felt at that tap had melted away. Instead, I felt content. Reconnecting doesn’t always mean becoming bosom buddies and spilling one’s darkest secrets. It could be as simple as a tap and the exchange of superficial pleasantries. I can now think back on it, and remember that while recognition may suffice, acknowledgement is better. So, thank you, high school classmate, for that.
Filling (make first)
1 lb fresh pineapple
½ cup raw sugar
1 lb winter melon
½ cup maltose syrup
1| Drain slices and squeeze to remove excess juice. Using a food processor, blend pineapples until mushy. Blend winter melon
2| In a dutch oven or saucepan, add pineapple mush and winter melon. Cook until liquid has reduced (20minutes) and winter melon is translucent. Reduce heat to medium and Add in sugar and cook until mush becomes a deep golden color (another 10 minutes). Continue to stir with a wooden spoon and add in maltose, stirring. Should be very thick and sticky.
3| Chill in the fridge in a shallow bowl (spreading out the jam gives more surface area = cools quicker).
400 g flour
1/3 cup condensed milk
3 sticks butter, at room temperature
2 egg yolks, at room temperature
2 tbsp confectioner’s sugar
2 tbsp cornstarch
1| Using a stand mixture, cream together butter and condensed milk until light and fluffy (7-8 minutes). Trust me on this timing.
2| Add in egg yolks one at a time and beat until fully incorporated.
3| Mix in flour, confectioner’s sugar, cornstarch until incorporated. The texture of the dough should be super soft but not sticky. If it is too crumbly, add some more butter at room temperature. Refrigerate for at least 30 minutes.
4| Assemble: Divide the dough into balls of about 2 tbsp and flatten with a rolling pin. Take one scoop of pineapple filling mixture and place it in the middle. Bring edges up around the filling and seal. Roll around in your palm to make a ball.
5| Press into square mold, and place on a parchment lined baking sheet. Bake at 350F for 10 minutes, then turn sheet around and bake another10-15 minutes, or until light brown.