When people ask me what I miss about Taiwan, I say many things: the 7-Elevens, the bubble tea shops, all the different kinds of dumplings and buns, the mantou sandwiches that a friend and I would have for lunch but were actually meant for breakfast…you get the idea. I miss the food a lot. I should note that this is because over the years a lot of the people I met in Taiwan have left the island and not because I’m super obsessed with food.
When you get thrown into a different culture with a completely different view on cuisine (sweet beans, I’m looking at you), it’s very easy to stop yourself from trying new things. In my case, and just like my decision to go to Taiwan, I just didn’t think about it. It also helped that one of my first friends in Taiwan was from a similar cultural background (Chile) and already knew her way around the food. By trying food blindly I discovered my favorite soup of all time, 酸辣湯 (hot and sour soup) when I ordered every item on the menu (not all at once though) of this one shop back when I still couldn’t read Chinese that well.
If you Google Taiwanese food, you get tons of suggestions of stuff and places you should try, tons of videos and lists ranking the best foods, and best of all, you get something for everyone. Sweet, savory, spicy, stinky, non-stinky, hot, cold, you name it.
As far as sweet things go, pineapple cakes are very approachable. Even when I was at my most adventurous, I hardly ever tried red bean flavored stuff. Pineapple though…it was familiar (Honduras actually has its own version of pineapple cakes). Pineapple cakes are extremely popular, as gifts and as treats. There are so many famous shops, each with their own take on these pastries. Article after article claims that it is Taiwan’s most famous souvenir. I can definitely see why. Who wouldn’t appreciate a sweet yet tangy jam encased in golden, crumbly pastry? As much as I like them, though, I can’t really buy them as often as I’d like to. London’s Chinatown covers quite a bit of ground when it comes to all kinds of Asian products; Taiwanese stuff can be found if you look for it. However, considering how inexpensive they are to make I would rather save my pounds.
The recipe I chose to try was simple and quick, from Angel Wong’s Kitchen. The video tutorial was quite useful to get the pastry right, but that should have been the least of my worries. I spent more time fashioning my own molds out of cardboard and aluminum foil than mixing AND baking the actual cakes. Next time, I’m shaping them by hand.
The filling is pineapple and sugar with a bit of lemon juice, cooked to a jam consistency, which I almost let burn trying to multitask (those molds took time). It was smoking quite a bit, but it looked and tasted just fine.
Once done, I let the jam filling chill in the fridge while I mixed the pastry in the food processor. A bit like shortcrust pastry, but more forgiving. Must be the extra ingredients, like the egg and milk powder. Unlike shortcrust pastry though, it was quite sticky and needed some gentle kneading.
Shaping the cakes was straightforward, just rolling up small pieces of dough into balls to be flattened and then wrapped around spoonfuls of filling. Rolled up again and into my makeshift molds.
About halfway through the baking time, the cakes needed to be flipped, revealing a nice golden bottom.
Once fully baked, I removed them from the molds and, although the shapes were not perfect, they all had that nice golden tone.
The cakes were tasty and crumbly, fortunately. The final consistency of the filling was a bit too stringy for my liking and the flavor was slightly different to what I remembered, but that’s probably due to using only pineapple. In Taiwan pineapple cakes are sometimes made with winter melon together with pineapple, to keep costs down. The combination makes the filling more like a jam and obviously affects the taste.
I’m glad that now I know how to make these babies to satisfy any future cravings and remind me of Taiwan. I’ve been meaning to go back ever since I left 4 years ago. Hopefully a trip is in the cards, if only to do some field research.