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Saturday, April 12, 2014

Baking Adventure: Taiwanese Pineapple Cakes (鳳梨酥)

One of my favorite Asian sweets is Taiwanese Pineapple Cakes (鳳梨酥). For those of you who don't know, Taiwanese Pineapple Cakes are nothing like the traditional cakes we see in America. Instead, they're more like a thick, rectangular (or square) cookie with a shortbread crust enclosing a pineapple paste/jam filling.
Taiwanese Pineapple Cakes
For the longest time, I wanted to make them from scratch but could never track down the metal pineapple cake molds/rings in America. Fortunately for me, my former college roommate went to Taiwan to teach English right after graduation. Before she returned home, she asked if there was anything I wanted from Taiwan. I knew it was a long shot, but I asked if she could get me some pineapple cake molds and she totally pulled through! This adventure is dedicated to her because she made this possible! <3
Unbaked Pineapple Cakes in Their Molds
Now if you don't have the metal molds/rings, don't despair! You can still make these pineapple cakes and just go for a more rustic, free-form look or use strips of aluminum foil instead.

After extensively researching different Taiwanese Pineapple Cake recipes, I selected Sandra Wu's recipe from Zester Daily because her recipe used winter melon to get the appropriate filling texture and mellow out the pineapple flavor. Although it's time-consuming making the pineapple paste/jam and shortbread crust and then forming every cake in the molds, the end result was worth it! They just taste so much better than store-bought versions! Sweet butter crust... tart pineapple filling... mMmm... The fresh taste just can't be beat!
Taiwanese Pineapple Cakes
TAIWANESE PINEAPPLE CAKES
Inspired by Sandra Wu's recipe from Zester Daily
Makes about 32 pineapple cakes
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PINEAPPLE PASTE RECIPE
Makes 2 ½ cups pineapple paste
Ingredients
1 ½ pounds peeled, cored pineapple (from 1 fresh pineapple)
2 ¼ pounds peeled, seeded winter melon
¾ cup granulated sugar (adjust according to your pineapple's sweetness)
½ cup light corn syrup

Directions
  1. Grate winter melon using the small-hole shredder of a box grater and place in a colander to drain excess water.
  2. Grate pineapple using the large-hole shredder of a box grater. Be sure to save the pineapple juice.
  3. Transfer grated winter melon, grated pineapple, and pineapple juice to a heavy bottom pot.
  4. Cook the combined mixture over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally, until most of the liquid has evaporated and the winter melon turns translucent, about 30 minutes.
  5. Reduce heat to medium, add sugar, and cook until the mixture has thickened, about 15 minutes.
  6. Stir in corn syrup and cook, stirring constantly, until mixture is very thick, sticky, and uniformly light amber in color, about 25-30 minutes.
  7. Transfer mixture to a shallow bowl and refrigerate until cool.
Note: If a milder pineapple flavor is desired, reduce the amount of pineapple and increase the amount of winter melon by the same amount. Winter melon can be found in most large Asian markets.
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PINEAPPLE CAKE CRUST RECIPE
Makes two 10-inch logs 
(See ::Important Note:: below about making one and a half batches of this crust recipe.)

Ingredients
2 ½ cups cake flour
⅛ teaspoon baking powder
⅛ teaspoon baking soda
6 Tablespoons nonfat milk powder
12 Tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature, cut into -inch pieces
¼ cup shortening
½ cup confectioners' sugar
2 egg yolks

Directions
  1. Whisk cake flour, baking powder, baking soda, and milk powder together in a medium bowl; set aside.
  2. Cream together butter, shortening, and confectioners' sugar in a large bowl until light and fluffy.
  3. Add egg yolks one at a time into the butter mixture. Be sure the first yolk is fully incorporated before adding the second yolk.
  4. Add half the flour mixture and mix until most of the flour is incorporated.
  5. Add remaining flour mixture and mix until all the flour has been absorbed.
  6. Divide the dough into 2 even pieces and roll each piece into a 10-inch log.
  7. Wrap each log tightly with plastic wrap and refrigerate until firm (about 1 hour but I refrigerated the dough overnight.)
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ASSEMBLY AND BAKING DIRECTIONS
  1. Preheat oven to 325°F. Line baking sheet with parchment paper. 
  2. Divide Pineapple Cake Crust dough logs into evenly-sized 1-tablespoon balls. (I ended up with approximately 32 balls.)
  3. Divide the Pineapple Paste into evenly-sized balls that are slightly smaller than 1 tablespoon. (You'll only need to use about 2 cups of pineapple paste to make 32 balls. See ::Important Note:: below.)
  4. Place a dough ball between 2 sheets of plastic wrap and use a bench scraper to flatten it to about ⅛-inch thick.
  5. Place a pineapple paste ball in the center of the dough disk, bring the edges up together, and pinch shut.
  6. Roll the ball between the palms of your hands until the seams are no longer visible.
  7. Press the ball into a pineapple cake mold or gently shape into a rectangle by hand.
  8. Repeat Steps 4-7 with remaining dough and pineapple paste balls. If you are using pineapple cake molds, you may need to work in batches.
  9. Place the assembled pineapple cakes 1 inch apart on the prepared baking sheet and bake until golden brown, about 16-17 minutes, carefully turning the cakes over once and rotating the baking sheet halfway through baking.
  10. Place the baking sheet on a wire rack to cool for 10 minutes before transferring the cakes to the racks to cool completely.
::Important Note::
If you follow both the Pineapple Paste and Pineapple Cake Crust recipes as written, you'll have about  ½ a cup of leftover pineapple paste. To remedy this, make an additional half batch of the Pineapple Cake Crust recipe. Alternatively, you can use the extra pineapple paste in oatmeal or on top of toast. If you end up with extra crust dough, you can always turn them into cookies, which you'll see in next week's post.

Although I absolutely adored these pineapple cakes, there were some challenges.
  • The biggest challenge was that the crust was extremely crumbly so flipping the cakes over halfway through baking was really difficult. I ruined a fair share of my pineapple cakes during the flipping process. Because of this, I'm going to test out other crust recipes in the future and see how those go. If you have any crust recipe recommendations, please leave a comment below! 
  • Grating the winter melon and pineapple by hand was really time-consuming, but I wanted the fibrous texture in my final paste/jam. If you want to save time, you can blend it all in a blender or food processor instead. 
  • The final challenge was simply figuring out the right ratio of pineapple paste and crust dough for my metal cake molds/rings. For mine, they had a 2 tablespoon capacity, but you may need to adjust the amounts for your particular molds/rings.
Other than that, these pineapple cakes store wonderfully! I wrapped each one individually in plastic wrap and they stayed fresh for a few weeks at room temperature. (With summer around the corner, you may want to store them in the fridge though.) I even carefully packed some and shipped them to my former college roommate and they arrived intact! Overall, I'm really pleased and can't wait to bake them again!

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