Happy Chinese New Year to all my family in Malaysia, Singapore, Hong Kong, Canada and wherever that I cannot remember. Yes, I have relatives all over the world and I am sure they celebrate Chinese New Year, regardless on a large or small scale. In the Chinese Lunar Calendar, every year is represented by an animal, with 12 animals in total, and rotating every 12 years. This year will be the Year of the Rabbit/Hare and for any babies born on February 3 or thereafter till the next Chinese New Year, together with those who will be 12, 24, 36, 48 and so on, you are all Human Bunnies! Basically it is Astrology in the Chinese sense, more superstitious I would say but fun to read about.
This year's New Year will fall on Thursday February 3 and we celebrate it for a total of 15 days, with emphasis on the Eve, 1st and 2nd days and the 15th day. Back in Malaysia and Hong Kong, offices and business organizations will be closed and relatives and friends will be visiting each other to send their well wishes. And the most important focus during this celebration is the food on the table, and starting from the Eve night, families gather around for dinner over a variety of dishes, specially prepared and auspiciously arranged and named to welcome a new and prosperous year. When I was young, I loved the mornings of the 1st and 2nd days as we all sat and ate a full meal complete with rice, meat, vegetable and soup for breakfast. Sadly though, my own kids are being raised here in USA, where we are so far apart from families and missing out on all the fun of gatherings and the spirit of the celebration. Fortunately we have friends around who are like myself, expatriate and simply hold this tradition of celebrating very important to remind ourselves and educate our kids of their Chinese origins and customs. Although we celebrate it on a really small way, I feel happy.
These pineapple cookies and tartlets are part of the New Year celebration. I am not very sure which Asian country nor group of the many Chinese ethnicity that started these cookies, but these days there are many versions of these cookies. Most Malaysians love the open faced shape where the pineapple jam filling is exposed and lodged on a slice of pastry while most of the others that I have seen in Hong Kong, Singapore and Taiwan are enclosed inside the pastry itself. I like both and my requirement is that the pineapple filling itself is the right sweetness with a hint of cinnamon. In the Chinese language, the sound of pineapple is synonymous with the meaning of 'Luck Coming'. As with their unique beliefs, Chinese people are very observant of their culture, words and way of life, and if they can relate to anything that is auspicious especially concerning fortune and wealth, they will adopt the idea. Hence, giving a container of these cookies to a host or serving to guests, the idea is to bring wishes of wealth to the receiver.
To make the pineapple jam and the pastry itself is not difficult at all. The hardwork comes when rolling the pastry dough and making the filled in cookies itself as the dough tends to be soft and can break easily when rolled with too much pressure and the amount of filling must be right so that the cookies can be wrapped up nicely. Frustration can mount after one or two attempts but you just have to work out on which is the best you can do. The open face shape poses no problem as long as the dough is rolled to about 1/4 inch thick, cut and stamped out with the proper mould. I used a mould to shape the pillow shape but round ones can be done with hands. I added vegetable shortening to the butter to get a more lighter and flakier pastry and this creates a steady and tender texture that doesn't crumble easily and gives a slight crunch when bite into. There are recipes using wholly butter which I believe provides a better structure for the filled in cookies, contrary to vegetable shortening which provides a more tender and lighter pastry.
650g canned pineapple chunks, juice drained
1 tsp cinnamon powder
How to Make it
1. Roughly cut the pineapple chunks smaller. Use a food processor if available but do not over process or mush but only roughly chop, leaving smaller chunks. Heat a saucepan and put in the pineapple and sugar and let it bubble over medium heat.
2. Once it reaches boiling stage, turn down the heat and stir. Let it cook for about 30 mins till the liquid is almost evaporated completely. Sprinkle in the cinnamon powder and stir to mix. When the jam starts to splatter, it is done and remove from heat and let cool completely or store in the refrigerator till ready for use.
180g cold and malleable butter
50g chilled vegetable shortening
1/4 tsp salt
400g All Purpose Flour
60 ml milk
1 egg, large
How to make It
1. Beat the butter and the vegetable shortening together till creamy. In another bowl, beat the egg and milk together.
2. Pour the egg mixture into the butter mixture and continue to mix for another 1 min.
3. Stir the flour, salt and sugar together. Add half of this mixture into the egg mixture and mix well. Add the remaining half in to make a soft dough.
4. Sprinkle work surface and hands with flour. Take 1/3 of the dough, shape into a ball and roll out to 1/4 inch think. Using a round cookie cutter, measuring about 2 inches in diameter, cut out circles from the dough.
5. Spoon 1 heap tsp of the pineapple jam and place in the center of the circle. Do not flatten it out but leave it like a small dome. Gather the edges of the dough gently and pinch to close to contain the filling. Turn the dough upside down with the pinch side down. Gently roll it on the working surface and lift it up and gently roll in your palm. Alternatively, make the open face shape and fill the middle with the pineapple filling. Continue with the rest of the dough and filling. Arrange all the cookie dough on a non stick baking pan.
6. Return to the fridge for 30 mins to chill. Preheat oven to 350F.
7. Remove from fridge and egg wash the cookie dough. Bake for a total of 20 to 25 mins, removing after 15 mins to egg wash again.
8. Remove from the baking pan immediately when done and let cool completely on cookie rack. Store in air tight container for 1 week.
Makes: 35 to 40 Filled cookies
60 Mini Tartlets