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A Chinese New Year Recipe Translates to the Thanksgiving Table

The pineapple tarts of Cheryl Lu-Lien Tan are from her grandmother's recipe.

The pineapple tarts of Cheryl Lu-Lien Tan are from her grandmother's recipe. Courtesy Cheryl Lu-Lien Tan

Cheryl Lu-Lien Tan is famous for her tarts, specifically: her late grandmother’s pineapple tarts. Preparing the dessert, she says, is about more than just enjoying the food.

“It really gives me that warm and fuzzy, feeling of love of my grandmother,” Tan said.

It also inspired her first book “A Tiger in the Kitchen: a Memoir of Food and Family.”

Her second project, Singapore Noir, an anthology of stories inspired by her place of origin, was released in June. Tan is currently working on a third book, a novel, also involving Singapore, but not about food.

For Tan, her grandmother's tarts are perfect for any occasion that involves for heavy eating. Her grandmother, she recalls, made them for Chinese New Year celebrations. Now for Tan, they make sense as a light dessert after a big Thanksgiving meal.

”They’re bright, tart, and the taste of pineapple can brighten you up after a heavy meal,” Tan said.

She only rediscovered her love of the dessert when she started baking as an adult. With her aunties guiding her, Tan said she felt reconnected to her late grandmother. “The experience of learning how to make them," she said, "I felt I really got to know her."

The writer, Cheryl Lu-Lien Tien, in her kitchen.
The writer, Cheryl Lu-Lien Tien, in her kitchen. Courtesy Cheryl Lu-Lien Tien

Cheryl Tan's Pineapple Tarts

Yields about 100 tarts

Pineapple Jam:

  • 4 pineapples
  • at least ½ kilogram sugar (at least 2 ½ cups, depending on desired sweetness)
  • 2 to 3 pandan leaves - knotted together
  • 1 long cinnamon stick, broken in two
  • Peel the pineapples, dig out the eyes and chop into chunks. Run the chunks through a juicer. Place the pulp in a large wokor pot with a large surface area and heat on the stove. Add the juice until the mixture has the consistency of porridge or grits; add the knotted pandan leaves and cinnamon stick. Bring to a boil and keep itthere for a total of three hours, stirring often. Halfway through,taste the jam, and add sugar by the half cup until it is as sweet asyou desire. (Note: The amount of sugar needed will vary greatlydepending on how ripe the pineapples are.)
  • The jam is done when the pineapple mixture has changed color from bright yellow to brownish ochre and most of the liquid has evaporated, leaving a dense but moist jam.

Pastry:

  • 375 grams salted butter (3 sticks plus 2 ½ Tablespoons) at room temperature
  • 600 grams flour (about 4 ¾ cups)
  • 4 egg yolks, plus 1 yolk for brushing onto pastry
  • With a mixer on low speed, combine the butter, flour and four egg yolks, mixing for 3 to 5 minutes.
  • Place dough in a cookie press fitted with a disc featuring a circle of diamonds. Press cookies out onto greased baking sheets. Form small balls of dough and press each one into the hollow of a cookie, forming the base of the tart.
  • Beat the remaining egg yolk with ½ teaspoon of water. Brush the rim of each tart generously. Take a scant teaspoon of pineapple jam (more or less, as desired) and form a ball, then press into the hollow of each tart. Pat the sides of the jamto create a small dome.
  • Bake for 15 to 20 minutes at 350 degrees, until golden brown. Remove cookies from sheets and cool on a rack.
The pineapple tarts of Cheryl Lu-Lien Tan are from her grandmother's recipe.
The pineapple tarts of Cheryl Lu-Lien Tan are from her grandmother's recipe. Courtesy Cheryl Lu-Lien Tan