Saturday, January 24, 2009

Not Kueh Tart

Nostalgia is the most powerful seasoning of all.

Memory is a funny thing, sometimes capable of embroidering fact beyond truth. This is possibly the reason why so very often eating something that one has cherished memories of is a rather anti-climactic experience. To put it simply, it is just not as good as you remember.

To stack the odds against poor said thing, you are probably recalling the best possible specimen you'd ever tasted, lost in a reverie of misty-eyed sentiment - it's a tide of emotion against which poor said thing, frankly speaking, never stood a chance to begin with.

The object of my unreal expectations? Kueh tart, or pineapple tarts, that very Singaporean treat that's ubiquitous come Lunar New Year. I daresay I will never eat another kueh tart in this lifetime and be able to proclaim it to be as good as my granny's. Close, perhaps, but not as good as, such is the power of my cinnamon-scented childhood memory of her stirring vast vats of hand-grated pineapple and crimping the edges of hundreds of dainty pastry cases. And I daresay you probably feel the same way about your mother's or grandmother's or favourite aunt's signature dish, whatever it may be.

While my octogenarian granny, a formidable cook and as far as I'm concerned, the best cook I know, is still very much the queen bee in her kitchen, she had, a long time ago, baked her last batch of kueh tart. A woman who's made of sterner stuff, unflinching in her approach to food and innately suspicious of any shortcuts or modern gadgetry, she'd decided if she couldn't do it her way, the proper way, she wouldn't do it at all. I will not go into detail as to what exactly the proper way entails, but suffice to say painstakingly laborious does not begin to descibe it. Well into the winter of life, she'd finally - and reluctantly, I might add - retired that article from her repertoire.

As a consequence, kueh tart has always been - and I suspect, will always be - the elusive Everest I cannot and will not surmount. And I am happy to let it be. Sometimes the journey is more important than the destination, and I am happy to have a memory that is impossible to live up to, or the memory would not quite be the same, no?

Here, a pineapple tart that is a tribute to yet makes no pretensions to being the inimitable kueh tart of my granny's kitchen, a sepia-tinted memory I would like to preserve that way. Nonetheless, this, served this time of the year, makes a suitably festive dessert.

A layer of pineapple jam, infused with the perfume of vanilla bean and dark rum, nestles at the bottom of a buttery shortcrust pastry case. In turn, this is blanketed by a sticky gooey chewy butterscotch custard studded with toasted macadamia nuts. Topped with a scoop of dark chocolate cream, accompanied by wedges of roast pineapple bathed in spiced caramel syrup, and finished with a wafer-thin slice of oven-dried pineapple, it's, to me, a nod to tradition without trying to surmount the insurmountable.

To everyone who's celebrating and looking forward to reunion dinner tomorrow, Happy Lunar New Year!


Blogger saer said...

I have never heard of Kueh before but it sounds so tasty...will have to check it out.

Showed you some love on my blog..


3:57 pm, January 24, 2009  
Blogger Jo said...

hi jocelyn, glad to have you posting and looking forward to your classes for 2009. Gong Xi Fatt Chai to you and your family.

4:37 pm, January 24, 2009  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Happy Lunar New Year!


10:26 pm, January 24, 2009  
Blogger Amara said...

I've been looking around online for a recipe since seeing this, and I must say that your version (or your grandmother's I should say)blows the others out of the water. I'll have to just try to recreate it based on your descriptions instead of using a recipe. Some dried pineapple cookie things aren't going to cut it after seeing this!

1:11 am, January 25, 2009  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

J, just promise me one thing, please. Please learn how to make your granny's spicy bean paste. Nothing out there comes close to it. I now can't accept putting any store-bought pale equivalent into my dishes. Her's is spectacular. I can't even find a decent base recipe anywhere out there to work from in the hopes of replicating her magic. Happy Chinese New Year!

4:26 pm, January 25, 2009  
Blogger Sara LeeAnn said...

Oh my sweet lord and sound positively divine, and what stunning images you've captured!

My "Elusive Everest" is a rustic Portuguese stew (sopas) made with stale bread, beef, cabbage and crushed mint. It doesn't matter what I do - never tastes like my Gram's. Doesn't stop me from trying, though. ;-)

12:59 am, January 26, 2009  
Blogger boo_licious said...

Gong Xi Fa Cai to you and your family. Enjoy the holidays and the festive reunions.

6:46 pm, January 26, 2009  
Blogger Babe_KL said...

May the year of Ox bring you all the happiness, good fortune, health and prosperity you wish for.

5:17 pm, January 28, 2009  
Blogger Claudia said...

Happy New Year to you too!



7:11 am, January 29, 2009  
Blogger Annette Tan said...

Hey there stranger, Happy Lunar New Year. I hope all is well with you and your family. As always, this looks positively delish and your amazing prose is a joy to read.

12:45 am, January 31, 2009  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Looks so good that presentation is great.

5:35 am, February 06, 2009  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi !
I am sakura from Tokyo , Japan .
I LOVE your blog, everything is so fantastic !
As a reader of your blog, I must tell you how much I enjoy it.
You're on my daily list!
Thanks for giving me so much inspiration!

10:20 am, February 06, 2009  

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