I grew to love egg tarts last summer when I was in Hong Kong. It seemed like everywhere I went, I was able to find a bakery with freshly baked egg tarts being warmed in a tray near the front, begging to be enjoyed. With the summer sun and Hong Kong humidity, it might have been wiser to opt for a cooler dessert, but egg tarts quickly became my go-to snack when I was walking around and exploring the city.
As far as vices go, this was a relatively cheap one to have – the bakeries just outside of my apartment in Kennedy Town sold egg tarts for 3-4 HKD, which came out to about .50 USD. The most expensive egg tarts I found on the island came from Tai Cheong Bakery in Central, and only cost 7 HKD. Here in Philly, I’d pay an arm and a leg to get my hands on a quality Hong Kong dan tat.
I ate egg tarts occasionally in Philly before last summer, but had never had the pleasure of eating them fresh out of the oven. Let me tell you, it’s hard to go back to the refrigerated pre-packaged egg tarts from my local Chinese grocery store when I’ve experienced the joy of warm gooey custard and the fragrance of freshly baked pastry. I decided to take matters into my own hands and starting looking through my Mom’s cookbook collection, and came across a recipe I wanted to try out in Dim Sum: The Delicious Secrets of Home Cooked Chinese Tea Lunch, by Rhoda Yee.
According to the inscription on the title page, this book was gifted to my mom by one of her childhood friends back in 1979. He was a friend from the Chinese church my family was part of in DC, and wrote “Tell me when I can come over for Dim Sum” in red ink. If it’s not too late to take him up on the offer, I’d like to test out some more of the recipes in this book throughout the summer and would happily host yum cha here at my place.
Some aspects of this book are a little outdated – accepted Romanizations of Cantonese foods have changed, and the descriptions of some of these recipes definitely hints that the author was writing at a time when many aspects of Chinese cuisine was still foreign to the white American palate. For example, glutinous rice wrapped in lotus leaf (粽子, or zongzi), is referred to as “Chinese Tamales”. Some parts of this book are timeless, like this pun in the first page dedication. Perfect.
I made this recipe yesterday evening with some minor tweaking to the original. It’s still absolutely heavenly, and the closest that I’ll be getting to Hong Kong style snacking for a little while. 🙂 I’m copying the instructions below!
Egg Tart (Dan Tat) Recipe
- ¼ cup butter
- ¼ cup lard
- 1 egg
- 6 tbsp sugar
- 2 cups sifted all-purpose flour
- 2 whole extra large eggs
- 3 extra large egg yolks
- 1 cup whole milk
- ½ cup half and half
- 1 cup sugar
To make pastry: cream butter with lard. Add egg and sugar. Beat well. Add flour, 1 cup at a time. The dough will be mealy. Work quickly with your hands to gather dough into a ball. Knead lightly so the mixture adheres. You may chill it at this point while making the filling.
To make filling: Be sure all ingredients are at room temperature. Beat whole eggs with egg yolks well. Beat at low speed. (Do not over beat.) Add sugar, then milk, half and half. Let mixture rest for 10-15 minutes. Skim off all the foam from mixture.
Assembling: Separate dough into 24 balls. Press each into a 2 ½ inch (measured across top) tart shell to an even layer across the bottom and all the way up the side. Fill tart sell with filling almost to the top.
Baking: Preheat oven at 300*. Place tarts on cookie sheet and bake for 45 minutes. Cool for 10-15 minutes. Loosen slightly by inserting a toothpick along the sides. The tart shell will unmold easily.
Do ahead notes: Custards can be made no more than ½ day ahead.
Comments: It is important that the ingredients for the filling be at room temperature and beaten over a warm bowl of water. Cold ingredients will cause filling to separate during baking. By skimming off the foam from the custard filling after beating, the custard will have a golden, creamy appearance with a velvety smooth texture, a most unique and delightful gastronomic treat! Do not bake up on high heat; this would cause the custard to bubble up like a balloon and later collapse. Each oven is different, so you’ll have to try a batch to find out what works for you. The crust should be a light beige to golden on the side and slightly more tan on the bottom side. There should be no browning at all of the custard.
Changes and substitutions: I used ¼ cup vegetable shortening in lieu of lard, and ½ cup evaporated whole milk in lieu of half and half. I also added 1 tsp of vanilla extract to the filling, which gave it a slightly more caramel color and fragrance. My custard didn’t foam excessively while I was beating it, so there wasn’t a lot to skim off when it came time to do so. Also, because it was summer, I didn’t try to combine the custard ingredients over a warm bowl of water. Perhaps if I was cooking in winter, or in a colder kitchen, this would be a more serious consideration.
The original recipe says that it makes 24 small egg tarts in 2.5 inch tins. When I made a batch of these, I only had 4.5 inch tins on hand, which meant that the recipe only yielded 8 extra-large pastries. (Not saying that I complained about this, to be honest.) I did have to adjust the cook time a bit to accommodate for the larger tins and allow the custard to set, which was closer to an hour and fifteen minutes. I might hunt around and see if I can buy a couple of smaller tins just to keep on hand for a more bite-sized version of this treat, but it seems excessive to stock-pile two dozen of these tins at home.
Because I had to leave these tarts in the oven for a little longer, they did brown in a couple of places, so they might look a little bit more like the Macanese style egg tarts, which tend to get a brûlée treatment before being served. Both Cantonese and Macanese egg tarts came as a product of European colonialism in southern China, Macao, and Hong Kong. If I had the opportunity to do some investigating on the subject, I’d love to learn more about how egg tarts and other commonly prepared foods emerged from colonial cuisines and how transnational post-colonial influences continue to shape local foodways. (AKA I wanna taste test everything and call it research work.) 😉 Until then, I’ll just be here nibbling on my tarts.