Citizens! Nothing can bring you closer to the unknowable truths that comprise the Emperor of Enticement – YOUR TFD! – than the fact that I am a huge Sinophile, having studied both Chinese history in college and Chinese gastronomy my entire adult life!
As such, I am fully cognizant that the Mid-Autumn Festival, 中秋節, is arriving on Friday the 13th this year – thankfully, TFD does not suffer from triskaidekophobia! The gastronomic centerpiece of this glorious occasion in Taiwan is undoubtedly their world-acclaimed Chinese pineapple cakes (鳳梨酥, pronounced Feng Li Su)
and this is what we shall discuss today!
Pineapples became a critical component of Taiwan’s economy during the Japanese era, during which Japanese industrialists imported a wide variety of pineapple cultivars and established numerous processing plants.
By the late 1930s, Taiwan had become the third-largest exporter of pineapples in the world. However, when production in Taiwan shifted toward domestic sales and use of fresh pineapple, local bakeries sought to use this surplus in pastries. While pineapple cakes had historically been produced as a ceremonial food, a combination of governmental promotion and globalization popularized the pineapple cake. As such, they have become one of the top-selling souvenirs in Taiwan.
Since 2005, the Taipei City Government has run an annual Taipei Pineapple Cake Cultural Festival to foster the growth the local tourism industry and promote sales of the pineapple cake. In 2013, the revenue from Taiwan’s pineapple cake bakeries totaled NT$40 billion (US$1.2 billion), and sales of pineapple cakes have also bolstered agricultural economies in rural parts of the country.
In the Taiwanese Hokkien dialect, “pineapple” (王梨; ông-lâi) sounds similar to a phrase meaning “to come forth, prosperous and thriving” (旺來; ōng-lâi). This phrase conveys the hope that many children will be born to the family. As a result, pineapple cakes are often given as engagement gifts, or simply as well-wishing presents in an everyday context.
Contemporary bakeries have created variations on the traditional pineapple cake. The filling may also incorporate preserved egg yolks or other dried fruits such as cranberries or strawberries. TFD eschews these mutants, personally – I like tradition, as exemplified by the traditional recipe for Taiwanese turkey rice!
Bakeries may also add winter melon to the pineapple jam. This practice was initially an effort to make the tart pineapple filling more palatable. However, in contemporary bakeries, adding winter melon to the filling may be seen as an indicator of lower quality.
The annual Taipei Pineapple Cake Cultural Festival often features a contest in which bakeries compete to create cakes that incorporate unconventional ingredients, such as rice or Taiwanese tea.
As noted in an article on vice.com:
A traditional Taiwanese pineapple cake is nothing like the sticky, sweet, over-indulgence that is the American upside-down pineapple cake. It’s more tart than cake—similar to a Fig Newton but far superior.
It’s a rustic pastry, consisting of flour, butter, egg, sugar, and of course, the ultimate reward of sweetened pineapple jam inside. Traditionally, the cakes were presented as wedding gifts, but now they are usually served with tea to visiting guests, who eat them right out of the package, in generally just two bites, with no silverware required.
The SunnyHills cake (link via TFD) is better than most because it uses actual pineapple, as opposed to many Taiwanese brands, which cut it with a large dose of cheaper winter melon. Also known as a “wax gourd” (which is an unfortunately appropriate nod to its flavor), the winter melon is a large, relatively bland fruit, that absorbs the flavor of whatever it is cooked with.
Basically, the winter melon is like the Prius of the fruit world—functional and efficient, but not exciting in any way. And the mark of an inferior pineapple cake.
The SunnyHills pineapples themselves—Cayenne No. 2 variety—are grown in the hills around Bagua Mountain, which gets year-round sun. It’s all part of SunnyHills’s efforts to promote Taiwanese farming and revitalize the broken Taiwanese pineapple industry. The farmers are well paid compared to industry standards, and factory jobs for these handmade pastries have revitalized the economy of the area.
For first-timers, SunnyHills pineapple cake is a revelation. It is made from 100 percent caramelized pineapple, New Zealand butter, their own organic, antibiotic-free eggs, and Japanese flour.
Since each batch is made from locally-sourced pineapple, the flavor of SunnyHills pineapple cakes varies from season to season, becoming sweeter in the summertime due to the intensity of the sun. And you have to eat them seasonally—although prepackaged, the cakes are made without preservatives and don’t last more than a month.
Citizens, as previously noted, the key to a successful pineapple cake is to think…Fig Newtons! Yes, they should have a similarly tender, soft pastry wrapping and a sweet interior redolent of the namesake fruit. My version hews closely to tradition, but does deviate in 3 key areas, all related to the filling. First, I add some Chinese five spice to add some flavor complexity – you can buy it here.
Second, I call for some lavender honey in addition to the maltose (buy that here) to lighten it up a bit – my preferred brand is here. Lastly, I make a small shout out to the Japanese influences on this pastry by putting in a bit of green tea powder to the filling – again, to cut back on the sweetness and add some flavor complexity beyond just sweet. My preferred brand – by far – is here. The molds to make these tasty delights may be purchased on Amazon here.
Citizens, I wish you 中秋節快樂!!!
Battle on – the GeneralssimoPrint
- Pineapple Jam Filling:
- 1 pineapple
- 30g (2 Tbsp.) maltose
- 30g (2 Tbsp.) Lavender honey (TFD change – original recipe is all maltose, replace with that for authenticity)
- 30g (2 Tbsp.) sugar
- 10g (2 tsp.) lemon juice
- 10g (2 tsp.) unsalted butter
- 10g (2 tsp.) matcha powder (TFD addition – omit for classic recipe)
- 5g (1 tsp.) five spice powder (TFD addition – omit for classic recipe)
- 200g unsalted butter
- 60g sugar
- ½ tsp. salt
- 2 egg yolks
- 50g milk powder
- 200g cake flour
- 40g cornstarch
- Slice off the crown and bottom of the pineapple and trim off the thick fibrous skin, then cut out the eyes. Remove the core of the remaining pineapple and discard.
- Place the cleaned fruit into the food processor and blend it into very small pieces, basically a mince. Do not puree it.
- Cook the pineapple mince over high heat initially, so that the pineapple juice will reduce quickly. When the pineapple mince is about to dry, reduce to low heat, and continue to simmer.
- Now add the sugar, honey, lemon juice, and maltose.
- Add all other filling ingredients, stir and cook down until the filling is ready – when it becomes thick like jam.
- Refrigerate for an hour until it becomes slightly hardened.
- Prepare the pastry:
- Add the sugar to the butter. Cream the butter and sugar until it becomes light and fluffy, which resemble soft ice cream. Next, add the beaten egg and continue mixing until homogenous.
- Sieve the flour, cornstarch, milk powder, and salt, and add to the buttercream mixture. Mix until all the ingredients are combined.
- Keep it in the refrigerator for two hours, or until it is hardened.
- Wrapping the filling:
- Transfer some of the filling to the center of the pastry.
- Fold the pastry to encase the filling inside.
- Place the pineapple dough in the mold and light press the top so that the pastry take the shape of the mold.
- Preheat the oven by adjusting the top and bottom temperature to 165°C/330°F.
- Place the molded pineapple cakes on a tray, line with baking paper. Leave some space in between each of them to allow efficient heating in the oven.
- Bake the cakes for ten minutes at middle rack. Remove and turn the cake over with a pair of tongs.
- Bake for another five to ten minutes, or until golden brown.
- Category: Recipes
- Calories: 913.92 kcal
- Sugar: 56.13 g
- Sodium: 353.54 mg
- Fat: 48.53 g
- Saturated Fat: 29.82 g
- Trans Fat: 1.72 g
- Carbohydrates: 114.12 g
- Fiber: 4.61 g
- Protein: 10.76 g
- Cholesterol: 198.06 mg
Citizens, please note that I can no longer afford to absorb the nearly $1000 per month it costs to keep the site running smoothly, including marketing expenses, etc.
You can make a difference!
Please consider making a one-time donation to help keep the site live and the posts coming – click here to PayPal Me a tip!
You can also show your support by listening to our podcasts, liking them, and sharing as you see fit – try them out here.
We are sorry that this post was not useful for you!
Let us improve this post!
Tell us how we can improve this post?