Making a Taiwanese Pastry: Pineapple Cake – by Megan Beckerich. The North Star Reports: Global Citizenship and Digital Literacy, at NorthStarReports.org and facebook.com/NorthStarReports

Making a Taiwanese Pastry: Pineapple Cake – by Megan Beckerich. The North Star Reports: Global Citizenship and Digital Literacy, at NorthStarReports.org and facebook.com/NorthStarReports

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Most everyone who tries it agrees: Taiwanese food is delicious. I am not someone partial to hyperbole, but I truly believe Taiwan has the best of sweet, sour, savory, and every flavor in-between. Among these, one treat rises above as a symbol of Taiwan: pineapple cake (fengli su). Ubiquitous throughout Taiwanese gift shops, sweet shops, and convenience stores, pineapple cake is a beloved (and delicious) snack. As the name suggests, it’s a small shortbread cake filled with pineapple jam, more akin to a cookie than a cake. Traditionally served with tea, it’s also a very popular souvenir gift.

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To provide a brief history: pineapple cakes were used as wedding gifts, going as far back as 1,700 years ago. This is because the Taiwanese Hokkien (a prominent dialect within Taiwan, different from Mandarin Chinese) word for pineapple, ong lai, is pronounced the same as a phrase related to a prosperous future. Pineapple cakes continued to be popular for their tastiness, and in recent decades experienced a surge in popularity due to the inclusion of winter melon in pineapple jam for a different flavor (and to use up less expensive, surplus winter melon fruit). More recently, it is popular for the cakes to not include any artificial flavors or additives, so eating a traditional pineapple cake is fairly healthy, at least compared to other sweets.

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While studying in Taipei, my classmates and I had the opportunity to try our hands at making our own pineapple cakes. They are not horribly difficult to bake, but the quality of the cake depends on the quality of ingredients. All cakes are basically flour, butter, egg yolk, and sugar, with the necessary pineapple jam. The first steps involve mixing the dough for the shortbread. After that, roll, then separate the dough into individual lumps. The next step is to add the jam. The jam is baked in advance so it is not as sticky as one may imagine, making it easy to roll into the dough. We were given little molds to use, making sure to give the cakes a uniform rectangle shape. Before baking, we were given the option to decorate the tops with engravings—the shortbread crust is quite hard, making it easy to add cute designs or names (also making it easier to tell everyone’s cakes apart when they came out of the oven! At least in theory). After baking, we were given paper to wrap our cakes individually, like in the sets you would buy in a store; finally, we boxed the cakes up, making picture perfect pineapple cake sets. If you ever have the chance to try Taiwanese food, I definitely encourage trying pineapple cakes: whether store bought or homemade, they make for a delightful experience.

Megan Beckerich is a student at Northern Kentucky University.

Please contact Professor Liang if you wish to write for The North Star Reports — HLIANG (at) css.edu

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The North Star Reports: Global Citizenship and Digital Literacy (http://NorthStarReports.org) is a student edited and student authored open access publication centered around the themes of global and historical connections. Our abiding philosophy is that those of us who are fortunate enough to receive an education and to travel our planet are ethically bound to share our knowledge with those who cannot afford to do so. Therefore, creating virtual and actual communities of learning between college and K-12 classes are integral to our mission. In three years we have published over 250 articles covering all habitable continents and a variety of topics ranging from history and politics, food and popular culture, to global inequities to complex identities. These articles are read by K-12 and college students. Our student editors and writers come from all parts of the campus, from Nursing to Biology, Physical Therapy to Business, and remarkably, many of our student editors and writers have long graduated from college. We also have writers and editors from other colleges and universities. In addition to our main site, we also curate a Facebook page dedicated to annotated news articles selected by our student editors (http://www.facebook.com/NorthStarReports). This is done by an all volunteer staff. We have a frugal cash budget, and we donate much of our time and talent to this project. The North Star Reports is sponsored and published by Professor Hong-Ming Liang, NSR Student Editors and Writers, The Department of History and Politics of The College of St. Scholastica, and the scholarly Middle Ground Journal. For a brief summary, please see the American Historical Association’s Perspectives on History, at: http://www.historians.org/perspectives/issues/2013/1305/Opening-The-Middle-Ground-Journal.cfm

Hong-Ming Liang, Ph.D., Editor-in-Chief and Publisher, The North Star Reports; Chief Editor, The Middle Ground Journal; Associate Professor of History and Politics, The College of St. Scholastica. Kathryn Marquis Hirsch, Managing Editor, The North Star Reports.

(c) 2012-present The North Star Reports: Global Citizenship and Digital Literacy http://NorthStarReports.org ISSN: 2377-908X The NSR is sponsored and published by Professor Hong-Ming Liang, NSR Student Editors and Writers, with generous support from The Department of History and Politics of The College of St. Scholastica, and the scholarly Middle Ground Journal. See Masthead for our not-for-profit educational open- access policy. K-12 teachers, if you are using these reports for your classes, please contact editor-in-chief Professor Liang at HLIANG (at) css.edu

14 Comments

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14 responses to “Making a Taiwanese Pastry: Pineapple Cake – by Megan Beckerich. The North Star Reports: Global Citizenship and Digital Literacy, at NorthStarReports.org and facebook.com/NorthStarReports

  1. Sofia Pineda

    Whenever I go somewhere new what makes me the happiest and what I am excited to do the most is try different foods. It is very cool to understand the story behind a dish , it adds more meaning to it. Also, when you have the opportunity to make a dish yourself you gain more respect for people who prepare it normally because you realize that the process is not as easy as you may imagine. I was wondering, are there any other fruits used, besides the pineapple and melon, to make this type of pastry? Is it more common for people to bake their own or to buy them at as store?

  2. Ellery Bruns

    Learning how to cook different things is greatly fascinating to me. When I was in fifth grade, I wanted to be a pastry chef, and even though that dream isn’t for me today, I still love to bake. Because of my love for baking, I would like to try out this recipe. I have found that while making dishes with special connections to culture makes the actual food seem more symbolic and beautiful. Every Christmas and Thanksgiving, my mom and I make Sweedish and Norwegian meatballs and sausage, a bunch of lefsa, and jars pf pickled herring usually show up somewhere. I always feel more connected to my Sweedish and Norwegian heritage and family afterward. It seems like making food with family brings us together, and I think that is really beautiful.

  3. McKenna Holman

    I really like that they use really fruits in these cakes rather than the unhealthy artificial flavors! I’m sure the real fruit makes it taste much better. How neat that these were used as wedding gifts but have also continued to be extremely popular in Taiwan! It’s also really incredible that you got the opportunity to learn how to make these! If there’s one skill to pick up while abroad I believe that learning the importance of food tona culture and learning how to make it is important. Do they make any other cakes like this with other fruits, or is it typically pineapple?

  4. Abigail DeLisle

    Your story makes me want to try some pineapple cake! I find it interesting that the cakes are used as wedding gifts and that they are held so high, being that it is a food. The link between food and culture is unique and very fun to experience. I am intrigued that the pineapple cakes have stuck with their roots and are made with natural and wholesome ingredients. I hope you can take this experience and continue to appreciate the food and culture of Taiwan!

  5. Michaela Campbell

    I think that actively engaging in a culture is a great way to understand it, and being able to bake/cook authentic food is a great way to do that. The history of pineapple cake is interesting since it holds a long-standing history in Taiwan as being a gift. I also liked how you mentioned the recent trend of it being the pineapple cake as taking a healthier route by having a lack of artificial flavors, etc. This makes the cake even more appealing in some respects. I wish when I had traveled abroad that I had looked more into the types of food into the region I had traveled. I am curious as to how long it takes to bake these cakes? Either way, as the pictures show, they look delicious!

  6. Dylan Brovick

    Pineapple cake sounds delicious and not that hard to make. I really enjoyed the reason that it is given as a wedding gift, that is something I would have never known with out reading this. Food is such a large part of peoples cultures and is something I don’t usually think of as such a big deal. Through these articles I’ve learned that many cultures have their own foods and also the foods have a special meaning to that culture or a unique background. Being able to experience first hand how to make one of the cakes must have been really cool and a good way to learn even more about the Taiwanese culture and customs. Lastly, it is nice that the cakes don’t have any artificial flavors or additives making it a bit healthier than some cakes or other tasty desserts.

  7. Cassie Mahlberg

    It is awesome that you were able to experience the process of creating these cakes with your classmates. Cooking is a huge part of culture and is often overlooked when people travel to new places. Eating the foods in a new culture is one piece, certainly, but really joining in on the act of making sets it apart. Generally, one cannot take the goods they learned to make back home with them, but they can take the recipe and ideas if they are allowed by the natives in the culture. That’s probably the one thing I wish I had done when I traveled abroad- ask for more of the recipes my host family used when they cooked meals for or with me. Making it at home would be different, but it would serve as a good reminder of your experience.

  8. Thomas Landgren

    Thank you for sharing your experience! I find it awesome that you got to learn how to bake such a prominent sweet in Taiwan. It’s always interesting learning about a country from the type of food they enjoy. The little history behind the pastry is also a huge part of understanding the culture around the food. How popular are pineapple cakes? Would I be able to find an authentic Taiwanese pineapple cake in the US? Great Article!

  9. Andrew Bailey

    Megan, I always find it very fascinating to learn about new foods from different cultures. I have never tried Taiwanese food, but your vivid description makes me want to get out and try some. I also think it is really cool that people of different cultures hold certain foods to be almost sacred, and the pride they have when sharing their food with others is indescribable. Not because they are prideful, but because the food they are sharing is deeply routed in their culture and is most likely considered a delicacy. My family is originally from Northern Maine, and two foods that are well known in the region are ployes (thin pancakes) and fiddleheads. When my family hosts big gatherings, ployes are always on the menu for breakfast, and fiddleheads as a side dish for dinner. We enjoy sharing these foods with people who are unfamiliar with them because they are part of our family’s custom and diet. It also seems like a very intricate process to make the Pineapple Cake, but a process that is simple if the basic steps are followed. Another thing I find so cool about food, is anyone of any culture can make it (if following the proper steps).

  10. Der Yang

    As an Asian myself, I honestly was expecting to read this essay and connect to it immediately. However, I proved myself wrong when I finished reading because I did not seem to find a certain Hmong treat that was identical to Taiwan’s Pineapple Cake. I am amazed how much taste can be in a little and simple treat. I personally have never tried Taiwanese food before so I do not have a clue about their style of seasoning or taste. Also, cooking or baking have never been an activity of my specialty. Therefore, my experience and relations on preparing goods are quite low.

  11. I definitely have a big sweet tooth for tasty treats. This pineapple cake sounds like something I will have to try at some point in the future. My family loves to become more cultured regarding food especially. I am no baker, but a cake of my favorite fruit could be worth the try. Going to new places and trying foods that are foreign to me is something I love to do.

  12. Francesca Do

    Wow! The Taiwanese pastry looks so yummy! I have never tried a Taiwanese pastry before, but I would love to try it. This article reminds of the day my mom told me why she named me Thom meaning pineapple in Vietnamese. The reason was when she was pregnant with me she craved the flavor of pineapple, so she would eat anything that tasted like pineapple. But Thom also has a second meaning, meaning smells good… I think my grandma corporate with my mom in naming me because I always smelled good when my grandma held me. My mom still loves pineapple and has made me obsessed with it too! So I really want to try Pineapple Cake!

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