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
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.
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.
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.
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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.
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