Pineapple cakes in Taiwan are like fruit cakes in the West.
They’re both ostentatiously packaged and often given as gifts. You rarely buy them to eat yourself, let alone make them.
But we did, at a cafe just outside of Taipei that specializes in a pineapple cake made with a local ingredient called maqaw.
Pineapple cake’s Chinese name, 凤梨酥 fenglisu, means “pastry of good fortune and happiness.” But in English, the word “cake” is a misnomer. It’s more like a tart made with a shortcake pastry dough.
Nonetheless, the dessert has become associated with Taiwan, particularly for its use of local pineapples for the filling.
(Read more: Hong Kong’s famous pineapple bun has no pineapple)
Flour is combined with butter, powdered sugar, powdered milk, powdered cheese, and egg to make the pastry dough. (The cafe we went to adds maqaw powder to the dough for a lemony ginger zest.)
The pineapple filling—made with chopped pineapples, sugar, flour, and butter—is folded in with the dough and placed in a mold.
The whole thing is baked for 10 to 15 minutes.
For the pastry dough
- 50 g all-purpose flour
- 150 g low-gluten flour
- 120 g unsalted butter
- 25 g cheese powder
- 20 g milk powder
- 25 g powdered sugar
- 1 egg
- 1 egg yolk
For the filling
- 300 g pineapple
- 1 tablespoon maltose sugar
- 10 g corn flour
- 60 g white sugar
- 30 g unsalted butter
- For the filling, cut the pineapple into small pieces. Add white sugar and cook slowly on low heat until it boils.
- Add the maltose sugar and butter, and continue boiling on low heat. Stir in corn flour.
- Turn off the heat, and let the mixture cool to room temperature.
- To make the dough, combine butter with powdered sugar. Then add cheese powder and milk powder. Mix until smooth.
- Add in a whole egg, mix, and then throw in the extra egg yolk.
- Add all-purpose flour and low-gluten flour until the texture is doughy. Cover with plastic wrap and wait for 40 minutes.
- Roll out the dough into even pieces, and then roll each portion into a ball. Flatten each ball.
- Add a pinch of the filling to each dough piece, covering the filling with the dough, and roll each portion into a smooth ball.
- Chill in fridge for 15 minutes.
- Bake in an oven preheated to 330 F for 10 to 15 minutes until the tops of the tarts turn slightly golden.
But how did pineapple cakes become associated with Taiwan?
Pineapples were first brought to the island from South America around 250 years ago. The industry flourished during the Japanese colonial period of the early 1900s.
(Read more: The colonial history of the egg tart)
By the 1970s, there was a surplus of pineapples, and the pineapple cake was born from that oversupply.
These days, most fillings are made with a combination of pineapple and winter melon.