Taiwanese/Chinese Pineapple Cakes
Chinese pineapple cakes (鳳梨酥, pronounced Feng Li Su) are a famous pastry in Taiwan. Usually square-shaped, it has a buttery, shortbread-like casing with a pineapple filling similar to a very thick jam. It is often served and gifted around Lunar New Year and for years I’ve been wanting to attempt to make my own.
A lot of research went into perfecting these treats. Wasted hours, failed trials, curse words, vows to never make them again all occurred these last several days. But the end result was wonderful. I could barely contain my excitement when this batch was done and bit into one before it had even cooled. There really is nothing quite as satisfying as eating something you made yourself, especially when you finally got it right. This post includes very detailed step by step photos and instructions so that hopefully you won’t go through the same frustrations I did.
When I visit Taiwan, I always bring home pineapple cakes. You can find them at every bakery, but not every place makes a good version. In fact, most versions I’ve had are quite poor, especially the offerings in the US. My favorite brand, if you’re ever visiting Taiwan, is Chia Te. People line up everyday at their bakery to buy these treats. Pineapple cakes are also surprisingly pricey, usually more than $1 each for these small, two-bite tarts. The key is the exterior. It needs to be buttery, soft, yet also malleable and sturdy enough to hold its form. Most versions I’ve had are extremely pale, too dry, too soft, or too hard.
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My journey to making these pineapple cakes started three and a half years ago. It went something like this:
Year 1. I found a few pineapple cake recipes and they didn’t seem that difficult. I announced I would make them for Lunar New Year. I then went to my local Asian grocery stores in search of pre-made pineapple jam filling which all the recipes called for, but could not find any.
Year 2. I vowed again to make my own pineapple cakes, even if it meant I would have to make the jam myself. I bought myself a few cans of pineapples and found a recipe for the filling. The cans of pineapples sat in my pantry for several months past New Year’s and I eventually just opened and ate them.
Year 3. A few months ago, my good friend invited me over to make pineapple cakes. Of course I said yes. She has the most gorgeous kitchen. I’m not even exaggerating when I tell you that her kitchen looks like something out of a magazine spread. Her kitchen island is enormous and a beautiful shade of black and white granite. Everything you photograph on that kitchen counter comes out looking lovely. I could live in her kitchen.
Anyhow, we followed a very popular recipe and set about making the cakes. With two people, everything went by much faster and it didn’t seem that hard at all. The only problem was, we were not happy with the recipe we found. The dough was very hard to work with and the jam consistency was far too watery and tart. We didn’t love the recipe, but with a few tweaks, we figured we could get it to work. I vowed to continue researching, but of course, never got around to it.
And that takes us to the present. The process ended up taking far longer than I expected, but that is mainly because I was trying to figure out the best recipe, the best method, etc. Hopefully, with this recipe in hand, it won’t take you nearly as long to do.
A few notes:
- The pineapple jam filling is pure pineapple. Many store-bought pineapple cakes are made partly with winter melon which is a cheaper substitute and uses maltose as a thickener. I think the real pineapple filling is even better. I also did not use maltose because I know it’s not a common ingredient to locate. This jam isn’t quite as thick without the maltose, but it does hold up pretty well and tastes much fresher.
- I actually found two versions of the crust I liked. First, I made a crust following a recipe I found. The dough was soft and easy to work with. The problem was when I tried to stuff the dough into the square pastry molds, they immediately started to crack. Once the dough cracks, that’s how it will remain even after it is baked so you want the dough to be as smooth as possible. I baked a few this way and I really loved how the crust tasted but I hated all the imperfections. So I then tried again, adding egg yolks. The egg yolks did the trick. It kept the dough from cracking, but it does also add a slightly firmer texture to the crust. You can try the recipe both ways, with the egg yolk or without and see which you prefer.
- Pineapple cakes need a special square pastry mold which they are baked it. It’s quite hard to find. I finally purchased these on Amazon*. Actually, I purchased the square ones which they no longer carry, but they carry the rectangle ones which are the same size. The set of 10 was perfect. I was worried when they arrived because they seemed to be the right length and width but not enough height. However, once they were filled and baked, they puff up a little above the molds, which made them just the right thickness as traditional pineapple cakes.
*Some of the links contained in this post are affiliate links. Much like referral codes, this means I earn a small commission if you purchase a product I referred (at no extra charge to you).
- 2 (20-oz) cans crushed pineapples, drained
- 1 cup granulated sugar
- 1/2 cup corn syrup
- 1/4 cup honey
- 2 tbsp all-purpose flour
- 250 grams cake flour
- 60 grams icing sugar
- 1/4 cup fat free milk powder can be found in the baking aisle of most grocery stores and on Amazon
- 1/4 cup custard powder
- 180 grams cold unsalted butter cut into small pieces
- 2 egg yolks
In a medium, nonstick saucepan, add drained crushed pineapples. Bring to a simmer on the stove and cook, uncovered, for about 20 minutes or until most of the excess liquid evaporates and mixture thickens.
Stir in sugar, corn syrup, and honey. Cook mixture at a low simmer for about 40 minutes, until it becomes quite thick, with very little liquid. Stir occasionally. You may also want to taste it a few minutes after everything is mixed together to see if the filling is sweet enough. If not, you can add a little more sugar. Stir in the flour and cook for an additional 15 minutes. Pour filling into a glass bowl, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least one hour. You can leave it for several hours or even make it the day before. You want the filling to be completely cooled when you work with it.
To make the pastry, add all ingredients except egg yolks into a food processor. Turn on and let it mix for about 2 minutes or until it becomes little balls of dough. See photo above; they look like dippin dots. At first the dough will turn very crumbly as your food processor breaks down the butter, but it will eventually turn soft into the little dough balls. If you want to try the recipe without egg yolks (as discussed in my notes), you can just squeeze these dough balls together to form one big ball of dough. Otherwise, add egg yolks in and pulse for about 1 minute, until smooth dough forms (shown in photo above).
Scoop out 1.5 tbsp dough balls and shape between palms to form round balls. Continue until all dough is used up. Set aside.
Take pineapple filling from the fridge. Scoop out 1 tbsp of filling and compress between palms. Filling will be sticky and wet to work with. Gently roll between palms to shape into balls. Make enough filling balls to match the dough balls.
Lightly grease the inside of your square molds, by brushing them with oil.
Take a sheet of plastic wrap and stretch over a flat surface, keeping it as smooth as possible. I found that plastic wrap really helped to make these cakes pretty. You want the plastic wrap to be smooth because your dough will have creases if your plastic wrap has creases. Take one of your dough balls and place it on top of the plastic wrap. Press down with your palm until it spreads out to a thin round. You want the round to be just big enough that it will wrap over the filling. It may take a few tries to determine the best length to stretch your To make to. The round should be thin because the pastry is supposed to be only a thin layer of crust. However, keep the middle section of your round slightly thicker and thin out more on the edges. This way, when you bunch all the edges together to seal your pastry, the bunched edges won't become too thick, which would make one side of your cake uneven.
Place a pineapple filling ball in the middle of your round. Lift one side of plastic wrap and peel the round from that side. You should be able to easily peel it off and the bottom side of the round should be completely smooth. Lift round completely from plastic wrap and then cover your pineapple filling with the dough, sealing the edges on top, attempting to smooth them as much as possible.
Place your square mold on top of the plastic wrap. Place your dough ball inside the square, with the bunch up ends side facing up, smooth side facing down. Carefully push and spread your ball until it spreads out completely across the square mold. It may take a few tries to get the hang of it. The dough should fit completely inside the mold. Try to smooth the surface of the dough as much as possible. Flip over. The underside of your dough should look nearly completely smooth and should fill the entire square mold. One of the photos above show both the finished smooth side and the side with the bunched edges.
Place mold, with the smooth side facing up, on a baking sheet lined with silicone mats or parchment paper. Preheat your oven to 350°F. While your oven is heating up, finish making the rest of your pineapple cakes.
Bake for about 25 minutes or until the tops turn a light golden brown. Remove from oven and let cool a few minutes. After about 15 minutes, gently push the cakes out the molds. You can eat immediately or wait for them to finish cooling. Store any uneaten ones in an airtight container at room temperate. Because these have a fruit filling, do not store for too many days.
All images and content are © Kirbie's Cravings.
- I'm sorry I didn't have a chance to convert all these measurements into cups. However, if you do a google search, you should be able to find the conversions you need if you don't have a kitchen scale.
- Recipe adapted from Suzie Sweet Tooth and My Bare Cupboard