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Sweet and fragrant, impressively sized and flamboyant-looking, pineapples carry connotations of royalty in Western culture. Yet in tropical climates where they grow prolifically, people have to get inventive about ways to use them all up. This is certainly the case in Taiwan, where pineapples are sometimes fermented into vinegars and sauces, and crushed up in a variety of drinks and desserts. The "king" of pineapple treats in Taiwan is hands-down this delectable pastry.
Taiwanese pineapple cakes (fung li su) are more like an encased pineapple tart, with a thick, jammy filling and a buttery crust. They're beloved throughout Taiwan, and a nice box of them are a requisite souvenir from friends and family traveling back from the island. In fact, they're such a ubiquitous gift in Taiwan—wrapped individually in fancy packaging—that most Taiwanese today wouldn't think to make their own pineapple cakes at home. For good reason, too: their iconic rectangular shape isn't easily wrought, and many households don't use ovens. But, having gone through the considerable effort, you might find that a warm, freshly baked fung li su outstrips the glamor and prestige of the finest manufacturer's version.
Homemade pineapple cakes are a little rustic and homey compared to the picture-perfect bites sold in Taiwan. But if you focus more on taste than appearances, you can make the best one yet. My favorite pineapple cakes have an ultra-reduced, reddish-tinted, very flavorful pineapple filling, which comes from hours of simmering. No shortcuts and no food additives to thicken it will do a better job than time and an occasional stir. This filling uses just fresh pineapple, sugar, and water, and takes a few hours, but it's well worth it. Wrap it up yourself to make dainty gifts, or serve it alongside your holiday cookie spread.
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