Happy Chinese New Year! Rosemary & Vanilla infused Honey Pineapple Cakes

by Irvin on February 3, 2011 · 55 comments

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February is a special month for AJ and I. No, it’s not our anniversary month, and no it’s not because we love to celebrate Valentine’s Day. It’s because we take the entire month of February off from social obligations. That’s right, we get to actually use the word “No” for a little bit, something AJ and I need to learn to do more of. We call it our “social moratorium” month and we look forward to it every year. The insanity of the holiday season always spills over into January and by February we are burnt out. So we call it quits for a month, tell everyone that we can’t commit to anything for February and we’re so much happier for it. And what a better way to start our month long social sabbatical by celebrating Chinese New Year! That’s right, February 3rd is the Lunar New Year and I decided to dive deep into my heritage and make traditional Taiwanese Pineapple Cakes. Except I didn’t make them traditional, because let’s face it, I’m so not very traditional. Instead I made rosemary & vanilla infused honey pineapple cakes.

Pineapple Cakes

Now, in case you aren’t aware, us Asian folks aren’t super into desserts. Or maybe they are, but I’m just not super into Asian desserts. Having grown up on egg custard tarts, red bean soup and Chinese mooncakes, I craved the sugary white cakes and chocolate chip cookies that my white people friends always seem to have. But pineapple cakes are the exception to the rule. Soft and chewy, moist and sweet, they were like a richer, more luscious pineapple version of Fig Newtons, and we only really got them when someone was visiting from Taiwan, or had come back from Taiwan.

The Lin Family

Random gratuitous shot of my family. Note my kick ass blue vest. Also note that I still smile like that.

Which, now that I think about it, was pretty often. My parents always knew SOMEONE coming or visiting from Taiwan. Which meant we had pineapple cakes in the house fairly often.

As I got older I started to outgrow the sweet manufactured taste of pineapple cakes. So with the February social moratorium in place, and Chinese New Year right around the corner, I started to poke around the web to see how I could make them myself. And I discovered a few things. First, the pineapple filling in the cake is actually made from both pineapple and winter melon. Apparently an all pineapple pulp filling is way too sweet and the winter melon mellows it out. Second, there’s a reason why the pineapple cakes tasted so sweet and manufactured, the ingredients are pretty straightforward, not a lot of nuances. It’s just sweet pineapple paste and buttery pastry.

making pineapple paste

Making pineapple paste with moqua squash, a winter melon substitute.

I resolved to fix that. Rosemary helped elevate the floral notes that the pineapple already had. Vanilla rounded out the buttery rich pastry and played well with the pineapple. Honey gives the filling a depth and roundness as opposed to just a flat sweetness.

Moqua Squash

This is what moqua squash looks like.

Tracking down some winter melon proved to be a little harder for me, as the Asian grocery store I go to in the Mission was all out of it (they apparently never sell, so they only stock one wedge at a time if that at all – being located in the Mission, I guess the hipsters had no idea what to do with it). But I did score some moqua, which is a pretty good substitute for winter melon. Otherwise known as hairy melon or fuzzy gourd, moqua is a winter squash that is related to winter melon (and occasionally mistaken for winter melon, but they are different). If you can find winter melon, feel free to use it instead.

Holding the Pineapple Cakes before they go in the Oven

Right before I put the cakes into the oven. Note that I'm wearing a t-shirt with rabbits on it. It's the Year of the Rabbit. That was TOTALLY intentional.

In the meanwhile, AJ and I are going to kick back and relax for the month of February. It’s a short month, only 28 days and I know it’s going to fly by fast. But in the meanwhile, I’m eat some of these pineapple cakes and know that I have a few short weeks where the only thing I have to do is… nothing at all.

Pineapple Cakes

Gong xi fa cai! Xin nian kuai le! Happy Chinese New Year!

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{ 55 comments… read them below or add one }

Belinda @zomppa February 3, 2011 at 9:13 am

What a great idea to give yourselves “you” time! I love the photo (love the hair!) and these sweets look perfect. I wish you and AJ and all your families a happy, healthy new year!


Irvin February 3, 2011 at 6:48 pm

Thank you Belinda! I’m hoping the time off will recharge us. Happy New Year to you and your loved ones as well!


Sam February 3, 2011 at 9:25 am

You could probably pull off that very same outfit now and look pretty rad. Just sayin’.


Irvin February 3, 2011 at 6:49 pm

If I could find a similar blue vest now that fit me, I’d totally wear it.


Priyanka February 3, 2011 at 11:13 am

I just love ur recipes…they look yummy and innovative….
Please visit my blog an award is waiting for you ….. 🙂


Irvin February 3, 2011 at 10:07 pm

Awww! Thank you! That’s so sweet.


Lisa February 3, 2011 at 11:23 am

First, I love the fire extinguisher in the background of the photo. Reminds me to find mine….hidden somewhere not handy.

Second, I was totally reading the recipe and interpreting it into GF as I read. It might work. I might have to try it sometime.

And it looks fabulous, and love the hint of rosemary and vanilla – bet that makes a great background note.

Happy new year !


Irvin February 3, 2011 at 10:12 pm

It would actually be a pretty easy recipe to interpret gluten free. The all purpose flour is 375g, you just need to replace it with your favorite all purpose gluten free flour blend (I’d stick with white rice, brown rice, sorgham flour, glutinous rice, tapioca flour, arrowroot flour, corn starch because they all have fairly neutral tastes ) and maybe 1 tsp of xanthan or guar gum. If you are trying to be gum free, skip the gum and use an extra egg yolk.

Happy Chinese New Year!


Katie February 3, 2011 at 11:29 am

Cute little cakes/cookies…I love the flavors (I’m not super familiar with Asian desserts, but think I’ve written them off after a few unsatisfying encounters with them…but these cookies sound interesting). I love the idea of a social moratorium…do the two of you plan special things to do together alone or do you just let the month roll along, completely unplanned, staying in? Either way, it’s a great way to regroup after the holidays.


Irvin February 3, 2011 at 10:21 pm

Thanks! As I said in my post, I’m not super big on Asian desserts. Usually I find them bland or one dimensional. But I do like these. The homemade ones are much better than the dry ones you can find at the Asian grocery store.

As for the social moratorium. The way it works is that we do not commit or plan anything for the month of February. If someone asks us to do something, we explain to them our social moratorium, and nearly every single time we do, there’s always a look of wonder from the person and the exclamation “That is a GREAT idea! I need to do that!”

What we then tell the person is that if they want to call us on the DAY of the event and ask us, we might say yes. But we don’t make and solid plans. Everything is organic. That way we don’t look at our calendar and freak out by the fact that we have every single evening and weekend day planned out. We still do things, we just don’t make solid plans.

Obviously, there are some exceptions. Friends visiting from out of town, weddings, that sort of thing. This month we’re going skiing in the middle of the month with friends, so we actually broke our rules and made solid plans for that. But otherwise, no solid plans. Just hanging out!


Brian @ A Thought For Food February 3, 2011 at 12:05 pm

Not only was that a wonderful story, but this looks like a fantastic dessert. And thank you for demonstrating the whole process. That will come in handy when I try these out.


Irvin February 3, 2011 at 10:30 pm

Let me know how they turn out! I usually don’t do a lot of “process photos” but this one really merited me showing how to make the cakes. It was fun. I should do more of those.


merri February 3, 2011 at 12:16 pm

Ooh I have that same plasticy thing for my cookie sheet. Do you wash yours? It said not to wash it. These look good. But if it was that hard for you to find the melon, I am not optimistic that I could..


Irvin February 3, 2011 at 10:32 pm

The silpat? Really? I’m not suppose to wash them? I wash them all the time! Huh. I think any asian store here in SF has winter melon or moqua. I found the moqua over at Duc Loi Supermarket at 18th and Mission. I’m sure that the grocery stores in Chinatown or Sunset/Richmond would have them, but I rarely get out there.


merri February 3, 2011 at 11:19 pm

The directions on mine said not to wash it so I never have…it would ruin the finish, I suppose. And its true it used to burn the cookies but after a yr does not. At my old apt I lived in portola so there were only Asian everything but now I never go to such places as that or Richmond. I suppose I could go to mission…I am such a noe valley castro downtown Soma person lol.


Irvin February 3, 2011 at 11:40 pm

LOL! I rarely leave my neighborhood too. That’s why I bought the moqua. I didn’t want to trek out to the Richmond/Sunset/Chinatown to get winter melon!


Lil @ sweetsbysillianah February 3, 2011 at 12:21 pm

this post makes me smile and miss Taiwan at the same time… those pineapple cakes look amazing – and i’m not usually a big fan of them. but that’s slowly changed b/c my mom would bring back boxes of freshly made cakes from her cousins who bake in Taiwan and wow… they are in a totally different realm than store-bought ones. so i can imagine how wonderfully tasty yours are! come to think of it, i think i still have some in the freezer that i’ll have to break out for today! =)

wishing you and AJ a very happy sabbatical and Xin Nian Kuai Le!

btw, you’re the first fellow Taiwanese baker/blogger i’ve discovered and i’m so happy i found you! =)


Irvin February 3, 2011 at 11:06 pm

Fresh pineapple cake make all the difference! The store bought ones are totally dry and crumbly. Like buying cheap chocolate chip cookies and then buying fresh ones from a bakery. Worlds difference!

Happy new year to you! And I was going to mention Tiny Urban Kitchen but she actually doesn’t do a lot of baking. If you poke around my site you’ll find I actually don’t do a lot of Taiwanese/Asian style baking myself. But it’s something I might consider doing in the future…


Lil @ sweetsbysillianah February 4, 2011 at 10:59 am

lol, i thought about it afterwards and realized tiny urban kitchen isn’t about baking. =P just excited to find other Taiwanese bloggers who love food. i’m not much into Asian style sweets either, but i thought about asking my mom how to make Taiwanese mochi rolled in ground peanuts and sugar…good stuff!


Irvin February 4, 2011 at 11:53 am

Mmm. Taiwanese peanut mochi! I haven’t had that in ages. I’ve made mochi before, but I did it with an apple compote filling and caramel sauce.


Lil @ sweetsbysillianah February 3, 2011 at 12:24 pm

oh wait, i lied… i think jen @ tiny urban kitchen is also taiwanese. =P


amy February 3, 2011 at 12:42 pm

This is awesome. I never knew how to make these. I’ll have to give it a shot one of these days. Thanks for sharing : )


Irvin February 3, 2011 at 11:11 pm

And thank you for stopping by! If you do make these, let me know how they turn out!


Tina February 3, 2011 at 2:43 pm

Thanks for the construction sequence Irvin (and AJ, image wizard). I always love the family pics. They make me think of mine and I sigh knowing there is a little bit of polyester plaid in many, many families.


Irvin February 3, 2011 at 11:12 pm

Oh there is a lot of polyster in my family history. An insane amount. It’s actually a bit ridiculous…


Anna February 3, 2011 at 5:00 pm

Your take on pineapple cakes sounds fantastic! I added a bit of lemon to the filling and made it sweet and sour to try and deal with the crazy sweetness (kind of worked, but not there), but I’m going to try yours over the weekend. How does the crust hold up? I tried a number of recipes on the internet, and usually, the crust gets super crumbly the next day.

Also, I watched Top Chef yesterday and Trey went home because of risotto! The next round of Top Chefs best read your How-To before they compete.


Irvin February 3, 2011 at 11:15 pm

Lemon sounds good too! I like the idea of the sweet and sour. I actually like my crust. I did a version using less egg yolks and dry milk powder and I found the crust WAY too crumbly and dry. The extra egg and egg yolk and the abscence of the milk powder keep the cake part moist.

And I LOVE that Trey went home because of the risotto! Do they ever learn? Ha! I hope the wannabee contestants DO read it!


Shila February 3, 2011 at 5:51 pm

1. you’re family is so cute!
2. kinda awesome that you recreated and modernized a traditional dessert. I’d love to do that with Indian desserts–I normally refuse them because they’re so syrupy sweet, but I love the flavors and textures.
3. My friend michael designed a silly e-card for lunar new year celebrating sf’s mayor lee that I think you might appreciate. Check it out: http://mayorlee.com/ecard/


Irvin February 3, 2011 at 11:16 pm

1. Thank you!
2. You aren’t the first person to mention to me how they find Indian desserts super syrupy sweet. You should totally try adapting one to a less sweet palate. It’s what inspired me to adapt these!
3. I love it!


Filbert February 3, 2011 at 6:55 pm

Hey Irvin, it was good seeing you in DC at the wedding in the fall!

Anyway, I was really happy to see this recipe! I love these things… I’m assuming these are much better than the dry things at the asian grocery…


Irvin February 3, 2011 at 11:25 pm

Hey Fil! It was awesome to see you too! Yes, these are WAY better than the dry things you get at the Asian grocery store.


Kristen February 3, 2011 at 7:07 pm

I’m so jealous of your do nothing month… sounds wonderful!!


Irvin February 3, 2011 at 11:28 pm

You should do it! We plan it every year, so when people try to invite us ahead of time we just tell them “Nope. Can’t do it.” and then explain it to them. Inevitably they tell us how much they LOVE the idea and how they wish they could do it. It’s the perfect excuse!


Amy | She Wears Many Hats February 3, 2011 at 7:11 pm

What a fantastic idea for a social moratorium. We too feel the same way after the holidays, plus spending the whole month of January catching up and getting things back to normal. February is the perfect time to plant a big “NO” on the calendar for everything. Wonder if it’s too late to instate…

And your cakes are beautiful. I’m afraid mine would turn out looking like a blob, but they sound so divine I may have to try them anyway.


Irvin February 3, 2011 at 11:34 pm

It’s NEVER too late! Though it helps to plan it out a little bit, so that you aren’t pulling OUT of events that you committed to. But you could still do it. If people try to invite you to new events, just explain the social moratorium idea, and then say, “But call me the day of. We might still come.”

It’s a way to not have any social obligations, but to still allow for spontaneity!

And I’m sure you cakes will turn out lovely! Let me know if you make them, I’d love to hear your feedback!


Rita February 3, 2011 at 11:20 pm

Love the photos of you demonstrating each step. I’m going to try to get Damon to make these. He looooooves pineapple cakes.

Wow, that will be so amazing if he does. He’s so into this being “his” year, he just might!

Gong Xi Fa Cai!! Happy Year of the Rabbit!!


Irvin February 3, 2011 at 11:39 pm

Why do you have to get Damon to make them? Why can’t YOU make them?

Happy new year! Happy year of the rabbit!


Susan February 5, 2011 at 7:48 am

I do a CNY thing each year for my daughter’s class (she’s in 6th grade), and this will be the first year I will be able to take a dessert! THANK YOU so much for sharing the pineapple cakes recipe. It sounds delicious, and yet is clearly traditional. There are lots of Asian markets locally, but they are not particularly good for fresh produce. Can you suggest any readily obtainable substitutions if I am unable to find winter melon or moqua squash? Would summer squash or little zuchinnis be a totally ludicrous substitution? (Sorry, I don’t have much knowledge about melons and squash.) What about candied citron? (Wince.)


Irvin February 5, 2011 at 11:22 pm

You know, someone else asked me that exact same question on twitter and I was at at total loss, because the moqua was already a substitute for the winter melon which I couldn’t find!

You could TRY zucchini or summer squash or even cucumber but my fear is that they would get too mushy and liquidy in the end. You might have to really cook it down to evaporate the moisture. But since I’ve not tried it, I’m not sure if any of that would work. Maybe if you do start out with zucchini or summer squash or cucumber, give it head start and cook it by itself for 5 minutes or so, then add the pineapple. That way you aren’t overcooking the pineapple and caramelizing the sugars in the pineapple too much.

Another option might be chayote squash? It doesn’t turn to total mush the way zucchini does. Though I’m not sure if it’s any easier to find than moqua or winter melon.

If you do try a substitution, let me know how it turns out! I’d love to hear the results!


Sandie {A Bloggable Life | Inn Cuisine} February 5, 2011 at 2:32 pm

Ok. I have to admit I’m wildly intrigued by the sound of Honey Pineapple Cakes—and you make them look so easy! I’ve not seen moqua or winter melon in any of our local markets, but I’ll have to dig a little deeper and see if it’s available here in the Midwest. One would think so.


Irvin February 5, 2011 at 11:23 pm

You’ll have much better luck finding moqua or winter melon at an Asian grocery store than you would at the normal grocery store. I have vague memories of going to Asian grocery stores in St. Louis and coming across winter melon there, so you can probably find it Kansas City too. They have a pretty active Chinese American community there.


A little bit of everything February 5, 2011 at 9:40 pm

happy new year.
i love pineapple and your honey pineapple cookies sound tempting. I have to check at my local Asian store if they have those kind of melon, it’s teh first time I hear about them.
the rabbit t-shirt is so cool.

have a wonderful Sunday


Irvin February 5, 2011 at 11:25 pm

Thank you! I have a large collection of t-shirts so it’s funny that I ended up wearing that one while making Chinese New Year treats. Happy New year too you! Have a great rest of the weekend!


tofugirl February 6, 2011 at 4:56 pm

Ooh, homemade pineapple cakes! I admit, I’ve had so many of these (my parents also travel frequently to/from Taiwan and know other people who do, so I have like, an entire year’s supply of these in my freezer still) that I can’t even think about eating another one. But I like your non-traditional filling! (And the rabbit t-shirt).

Happy new year!


Irvin February 7, 2011 at 4:09 pm

Happy new year to you! I’ll say that these fresh made pineapple cakes have now spoiled me. I don’t think I can go back to eating the ones from Taiwan. Too dry and one dimensional now. BUt a year supply, that’s a lot of pineapple cakes!


Emmie February 6, 2011 at 9:36 pm

I don’t know about you, Irvin. You don’t like Asian desserts? This is the saddest thing I have ever heard. CHEWY RICE DESSERTS!!!!!! . . . no? sigh.

I am really surprised to hear about the wintermelon.

How did you get the idea to add rosemary? Very interesting!


Irvin February 7, 2011 at 4:12 pm

I do like mochi and chewy rice desserts. It’s mostly the red bean. I’m not a fan of adzuki bean. Maybe I should track some down and try it again.

And rosemary…there’s an awesome book called The Flavor Bible and has listings of different flavor combinations. Rosemary popped out when I read the pineapple one.


Brittany March 6, 2011 at 7:07 am

I just found your blog and it’s wonderful! My boyfriend and I have lived in Taichung, Taiwan for over 2 years now and we’re OBSESSED with pineapple cakes. During Moon Festival, I wince at the idea of biting into a salted egg yolk and hairy ham moon cake and smiling politely at my Taiwanese coworker who kindly bought them for me, but pineapple cakes are certainly different. My boyfriend has a blog called http://www.holdthesegreenballoons.com and he writes about his adventures and curiosities about pastry arts in Taiwan. I’m certain that he’ll try to make your recipe soon so thanks so much for this post.
– Brittany


Linhy March 14, 2011 at 5:08 pm

Interesting blog and thoughts you got going on there!! Check out my blog sometimes when you get a chance. If you like my writing and what’s on there become my follower!


aurélie March 20, 2011 at 11:33 am

YOU are sexy


Jenn DesAutels December 2, 2011 at 11:41 am

Thank you so much for reminding me of a pleasant memory of my childhood – funny how they generally involve some kind of food? I hope to share this delicious treat with my children, and what a great way to do it: with a homemade version! Goin’ shopping for dang gui now…


e December 6, 2011 at 10:58 pm

Irwin! Yet another reason I find you so cool!!! I just got back from a week in Taiwan – it had been almost 20 years since my last visit!! At the airport, I sampled some pineapple cake – I didn’t have time to buy some to take with me. So I spent the entire trip home thinking about pineapple cake. The first site that came up was yours! I can’t wait to try these!! Thank you!!! xoxo


Mrs. Lim December 7, 2011 at 3:52 pm

Hi Irvin!
I too have just returned from a trip to Taiwan where we bought wonderful pineapple cakes from a well known store( that’s ALL they sell!) and so-so cakes from various other places. I did not have the foresight to purchase a years supply, however, and came across your recipe while searching how to make them at home…will try!
Also, do you have any good dim sum recipes?(probably should have looked before I asked 🙂 ) I am a white girl married into a Chinese family and we love dim sum but our options are very limited ewhere we live. I did research and tried some recipes last Chinese New Year with our friends and it was successfully delicious. Since then I have been tweaking and trying! Mmmmmmm……ha gow, siu mai, bolo bao…. Excuse me while I wipe off my chin. One reoccurring problem is the “skins” on my xiao long bao always break and the lovely juices run out ….any suggestions anybody? Thanks!


Jellyfish January 17, 2013 at 12:25 am

Can you eat/cook the filling without the pastry?
Can i eat it raw or do i have to bake it?
Do you know how long it takes to bake the filling if there are no pastry?
Sorry for all the questions! This recipe seems promising, i’m sure my mother will appreciate me finally taking an interest in asian food…


Sachiko Ishida February 13, 2013 at 12:38 pm

I’ve just discovered your blog and am enjoying myself. I dabble in the kitchen. I thought I cooked till I read what you do, so I admit I dabble in comparison. I love the recipes I’ve read so far. However. Every recipe is so multifaceted that a mediocre cook like me feels overwhelmed to do anything beyond reading and drooling! sigh . . . I hope to either find an easy recipe of yours OR find a way to get invited to your table. Happy February ^_^


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