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August 14th, 2017

The short and somewhat tedious Tart Saga

After learning rather recently that the spouse loves pineapple, and knowing that I only eat pineapple in jam form, preferably on jam tarts, I have resolved to make pineapple tarts at some point before the end of the year. Pineapple tarts are a staple festive biscuit in Malaysia during Aidilfitri. It's kind of like love letters for Chinese New Year and muruku for Deepavali. My mother makes amazing pineapple tarts, which she sometimes sold. The delicate, buttery biscuit dough goes amazingly well with a fruit that makes your tongue feel as scratchy as a cat's -- a trait magically tempered by cooking pineapple and blending it to a mush. (Just cooking cut pineapple pieces doesn't seem to help as much -- though it does make for painfully tart curry, which is great if you're say, cooking a particularly strong-tasting fish.)

Mom shaped her tarts two ways -- the traditional shape, which is a flat, round piece of dough with an indentation in the centre for the jam, and wrapping the jam in a circle of dough, snipping "scales" into its top side and painting on a crown so that it looks like a mini-pineapple. Suffice to say, the traditional tart shape is faster to make, especially if you have a tart tamper to knock out the dough en masse. When I was a kid, I remember my mother using a purpose-built tart stamp, which was a plastic tube with the stamp face on one end and a syringe handle on the other. The idea was that you stamped out individual tarts from a suitably rolled piece of dough. The problem is, I've not actually seen one of these devices since I was maybe nine. I wasn't even sure if it was something only available in Malaysia. A cursory search online, once I figured out the right keywords, brings back a cookie cutter with a similar idea. Unsurprisingly, most shops online ship it from Malaysia.

When I have made jam tarts before, it typically involved either cutting out circles of dough and pushing an indentation in the center with a smaller item, or just rolling the dough into balls and sticking my thumb into them. I much prefer the latter, seeing as how I am lazy and would like cookies faster. This is possibly the same reason I thought a gadget or mould would be nice.

So I wandered down to Sur la Table, because it has everything from plastic ice cream sandwich shapers to autumn leaf-shaped tart stamps no one could ever need, thinking someone out there must have invented something of a rough approximation. I knew they had tart tampers, which are basically a wooden tool handle without the tool head and flattened ends. I have resisted getting these before because it still involves cutting out circles of dough manually and seriously, why am I paying $12 for a wooden tool handle without the tool head?

Shop assistants are Sur la Table have their hearts in the right place -- they're always trying to help. The first person I asked about tart moulds led me to their shelf of fluted tart pans. This was simply a vocabulary error on my part. In American, tarts are firstly a sort of really flat pie. Once I explained that these were jam tarts, the nice lady then offered I could just use my thumb to make a dent in the dough. I carefully explained that I'd already tried this, and what I was looking for a gadget that would shape the dough. She then asked if I wanted a cookie cutter. I was about to explain it was a tart cutter, not a cookie cutter, and had to stop myself halfway because again, an American tart is a very flat pie, and all their biscuits and tarts are technically cookies. So, okay, a cookie cutter. Cookie cutters in America are honestly what they say they are, fancy pattern stamps and cutters shaped like Christmas trees. We tried, but there didn't seem anything that would fit. She did show me their autumn leaf tart stamps, which I admit I was tempted by because they're super pretty, but had to be honest with myself about how often I would actually use one of these guys.

Eventually, we flag a more senior assistant at the store, who first asked why didn't I just used my thumb to make an indentation. I was starting to feel slightly stupid, I mean, why didn't I just continue using my goddamn thumb? He did make a great suggestion of using the back of a measuring spoon, which I thanked him for because that's a smashing idea and I feel like I was dumb for wanting a fancy gadget. It's only a step up from rolling dough into balls and using my thumb, and I really got to respect these guys -- they didn't immediately recommend product, even though they could have, and tried to help me find a product when I insisted on one. Thumbs up! (I will now cease to use the word "thumb".)

Sur la Table is basically a sort of elaborate Afi trap. It's almost as effective an Afi trap as a random and unexpected cat belly in my path. They were having some sort of up to 75% sale. I'm lucky I only came out of it with a cake slice server for myself instead of something loony like a medium sized La Creuset dutch oven. What would I do with a dutch oven? Bake a chicken in the oven. Other than that, I don't exactly know. Maybe talk the spouse into making his treacly baked beans. I was genuinely tempted by the non-stick, dishwasher safe porcelain skillets, because I have always wanted a replacement skillet for our worn out non-stick pan I could roll omelets and crepes in. Moral of the story, question everything I want to buy at Sur la Table (that's most of the store), and think creatively about how to make stuff, because gadgets are mostly for the weak. As I type this out, I'm already seeing that cutting out squares or circles of dough, folding up the sides and fluting it all around with a fork could technically create something like what I'm after. Maybe someday, I will even have the patience to make those mini pineapples.