Little Chinese Pineapple Cakes and some serious thought
Although I’m not the biggest fan of traditional Chinese food, I definitely crave Chinese sweets. Chewy rice balls studded with white sesame seeds, sweet little buns filled with red bean paste, flaky egg tarts – I’m a sucker. Quality Chinese treats like this are usually reserved for when there’s a holiday, or if we visit relatives in Texas (unfortunately these two things usually coincide.) Unless we go to a restaurant, a lot of these sweets we buy from Chinese grocery stores end up tasting really processed. Like these little pineapple cakes. I craved them. So I made them.
When I told my friend C– that I’d baked, he asked what I’d made. When I told him, he was in complete shock. “You… made them??” He didn’t seem to realize that it was possible to make snacks like that at home. As he got more and more surprised, I realized something – I can make a lot of things. And even the things I haven’t tried, I know I have the ability to make them. Lately I’ve realized that baking doesn’t feel like a hobby anymore. It’s not something I think about when I have nothing to do, it’s something I think about all the time, every day. And so I’m finally starting to wonder about baking as a real career.
Of course, I don’t think I have any extraordinary talent. It’s just something I really enjoy. If I wanted to be really serious about it, I could get training. I’m still only 16 and so I have a lot to think about. Senior year I’m going to do two internships… and my heart is set on baking being one of them.
Anyway, back to the recipe. The term “cake” is used loosely, as I can’t think of a better word in English. The dough for these cakes is really buttery, flaky, and super crumbly, somewhat like a tart crust. The pineapple filling is thick and almost jelly-like, and sugary sweet. I always end up spilling crumbs everywhere when I eat these and my fingers get sticky from the pineapple. Maybe it’s one of those things you have to grow up with, but I love these! Generally these are very small, maybe 1.5″ rectangles. However, I had a bit of a hard time working with the dough and couldn’t make anything that small. I ended up using an unorthodox method of shaping these, just because it was easy to work with.
Little Chinese Pineapple Cakes
Adapted from Fresh from the Oven
Makes about twelve 2.5″ cakes
20 oz can crushed or chunked pineapple, drained
1/4 cup sugar
2 teaspoons cornstarch
375 g all purpose flour
50 g powdered sugar
1/4 tsp salt
2 tbsp cornstarch
220 g unsalted butter, room temperature
3 egg yolks, separated, room temperature
For filling: Heat pineapple and sugar in a small saucepan over low – medium, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon. Add more sugar to taste, the filling will be sweet. When most of the liquid is evaporated and the pineapple is thick and golden, stir in the cornstarch. Remove from heat and cool to room temperature.
For dough: Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Sift together the flour, powdered sugar, salt, and cornstarch. Separately, beat the butter with an electric mixer for several minutes until softened, then mix in 2 egg yolks until well combined. Slowly stir in the flour mixture.
The dough will be very crumbly. Turn out onto a cutting board and work gently until dough comes together. Roll out in two sheets. Put tablespoons of the pineapple filling on one sheet and cover with the second sheet. Use a cookie/biscuit cutter (or the rim of a drinking glass) to cut around each lump of filling. Brush the cakes with the remaining egg yolk and use a knife to gently cut slits on the tops. Bake cakes for 20 minutes or until bottoms are golden brown.
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