Pineapple tarts are probably the quintessential Chinese New Year snack. Pastry shops line their shelves with jars of these treats and each has their own take on the traditional cookie - open-faced ones, log-shaped ones, balls studded with little cloves and some come in esoteric flavours like charcoal powder, cheddar cheese etc.
The word tart is probably a misnomer since the shape plays no part in defining this “tart”; the only criteria is a buttery crust with a non-chewy crumb and a dollop of pineapple paste. Every year, my family makes our own pineapple tarts (mainly because selected members border on being obsessive about the qualities a good pineapple tart should possess).
We favour little bite-sized, ball-shaped pineapple tarts - open-faced ones are generally a no-go since the filling gets a little too dry and crusty in the process of baking; huge ones are a complete mess to eat and inevitably leaves a cloud of crumb in its wake.
The pineapple filling is made with a mixture of honey pineapples and the regular ones. The former breaks down into a paste upon cooking while the latter retains a slightly stringy/pithy texture which adds a little chew and tempers the sweetness with a sourish tang. The pineapples are grated and gently reduced over the stove till it reaches a jammy consistency. Brown sugar is then added to taste. Some people add spices like cinnamon and cloves to the paste but my mum thinks that aroma of the spices muddle the taste. The final consistency of the pineapple paste affects the keeping qualities of the cookie - we prefer a wetter paste since the moistness goes really well with the crumbly crust but the humidity has an adverse effect on how long the cookie stay fresh.
The crust, like good shortbread, is made with a ridiculous amount of butter so it crumbles and completely disintegrates in your mouth. We use a little milk powder in the dough for slightly more depth and nuance. Also, this is probably the only time where I use salted butter in my baking. The salt content is not enough to make you go “hmmm, savory cookie” but (and I know this probably sounds a little strange) the salt, together with the milk powder, has this gut-warming, nostalgic whiff which makes the pineapple tarts a little more addictive.