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Indonesian-style pineapple tarts for Chinese New Year

In Chineses households it's believed that eating these sweet cookies will bring good fortune as well as sweetness in the upcoming year. Celebrate the Year of Snake with a batch of homemade pineapple tarts.

By The Asian Grandmothers Cookbook / February 15, 2013

Baked with a jam-like pineapple filling, you can top these pineapple tarts with a whole clove or sprinkle them with shredded cheese.

The Asian Grandmothers Cookbook

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The snake may not be my favorite animal but I just learned a very interesting factoid about the Year of the Snake which began Sunday, Feb. 10. Just as a snake sheds its skin, this is a good year for making dramatic transformations, whether it’s changing jobs, pursuing a lifelong dream, or discarding destructive relationships and negative influences in our lives.

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Guest Blogger

Born in Indonesia and raised in Singapore, Patricia Tanumihardja writes about food, travel, and lifestyle through a multicultural lens and has been published in numerous national and regional publications. Pat is also the creator of the “Asian Ingredients 101” iPhone and Android app, a glossary on-the-go that’s the perfect companion on a trip to the Asian market. Her first book, "The Asian Grandmothers Cookbook: Home Cooking from Asian American Kitchens," will be available in paperback in September 2012.

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Now, I actually have a new appreciation for this slithery reptile.

I don’t have any earth shattering changes in my life to share (although I did promise myself that this is the year I find direction for my writing), however, I will tell you about my favorite new year treat – pineapple tarts!

Pineapple tarts and cookies are popular in Singapore, Malaysia, and Indonesia. And even Taiwan lays claim to a similar pineapple cake. They come in different shapes and sizes, flower shapes being favored in Singapore and Malaysia, whereas simple golf ball-shaped cookies are preferred in Indonesia.Taiwanese cakes, on the other hand, are square or rectangular. Unfortunately, these Asian-style pineapple tarts are not quite de rigueur in the United States but that might change!

Like all other popular new year foods, there’s a reason why pineapple tarts are served in most Chinese households (in the above regions) during the “visiting” season, the first 15 days of the new year when it’s customary to visit family and friends.

The Mandarin word for pineapple is feng li (鳳梨) which means “phoenix pear,” or more commonly, huang li (黃梨), wong lai in Cantonese and ong lai in Hokkien (also Fukien). This means “yellow pear” and phonetically sounds like “good luck comes.” So eating this sweet cookie will bring good luck as well as sweetness in the upcoming year.

Since moving to the US, I haven’t  indulged in pineapple tarts too often. But a few weeks ago, my mum offered me some kue nastar (the Indonesian name for them) her friend Linda had made. Oh … my! Tante (Indonesian for auntie) Linda’s kue nastar are seriously the best I’ve tasted in a really long time – each cookie is a ball of soft, crumbly pastry encasing a golden orb of pineapple jam that achieves its mellow sweetness from good quality pineapples slow-cooked with just enough sugar.

I asked my mum if Tante Linda would teach me how to make them. Mum made a quick phone call to her and I had an appointment in her kitchen the next week!

Tante Linda is from Jambi (it’s both the name of the province and town) on the Indonesian island of Sumatra. She’s proud to say that Jambi pineapples are the sweetest and most flavorful she’s ever tasted. Tante Linda loves her hometown pineapples so much that every time she goes home, she asks her sister to make and pack containers-full of pineapple filling for her to bring back to the US. Making these pineapple cookies with the Jambi pineapple filling gives her a nostalgic taste of family and home.

I must warn you that Tante Linda didn’t do much measuring when I baked with her, instead relying on her many years of experience and her sense of touch and feel. The recipe below comes from her sister, who Tante Linda claims is the better baker.

I’ll be darned if her sister can bake pineapple cookies any lovelier than these!

Indonesian pineapple cookies (Kue Nastar)

Tante Linda takes quite a few liberties with this recipe but it’s the recipe she learned from, adding her own flourishes along the way. If you’d like to dress up these little beauties, you can push in a whole clove for a hat (they’ll look like tangerines!), or shower them with shredded cheese.

Makes: about 100 cookies
Time: 1-1/2 hours

500 grams margarine (2 cups, Tante Linda uses Imperial brand)

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