The Humpty Dumpty Dessert

Hong Kong egg tarts are a feast for the eyes and the mouth. Here’s how to make some.

Published: 17th February 2013 12:00 AM  |   Last Updated: 15th February 2013 11:46 AM   |  A+A-

14des

If you’ve ever eaten a Hong Kong-style egg custard tart, then you’d know why CNN listed it as number 16 among the ‘World’s Most Delicious Foods’. This delicious, silken soft, golden yellow centered dessert is somewhere between a delicate crème brûlée and a rich creamy egg custard, surrounded by a flaky pastry. This creamy, eggy custard when combined with the flaky, buttery pastry creates a delightful contrast of textures.

In all the years that I lived there, there wasn’t a time when I would walk past a local bakery, that had a fresh batch of these warm tarts on the shelf and I wouldn’t buy one. Whilst there, I sampled many unique and wonderful dishes from their local cuisine, but egg tarts were one of those culinary opportunities I couldn’t pass up. One thing I love about the city is there are little bakeries in every nook and corner. It’s a city that makes you walk, and while you walk you’re building up an appetite to eat, and the lovely fragrances from these bakeries do nothing but lure you intotemptation of sampling their goodies.

Egg tarts are smallish, they fit in the middle of your palm. I’ve even tried small bite sized ones, of which one could easily polish off a dozen. They have usually a flakey pie crust but there are also short crust pastry versions available at some places. The delicate custard inside has a slight golden hue, and the surface of the egg tart is usually a richer yellow, a result from the cooking process. They are not too sweet and almost always served warm, although they’re just as delicious at room temperature or chilled.

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Hong Kong Egg Tarts

For the short crust:

• 225 gm plain flour

• 125 gm butter

• 55 gm icing sugar

• 1 egg, whisked

• A dash of vanilla extract

Cream the butter and sugar with an electric mixer over medium speed until the mixture is smooth, fluffy and light in colour. Add in whisked egg, half at a time, beat over low speed. Add vanilla extract, mix well.

Sift in flour in two batches, scraping down the sides of the bowl between additions with a spatula, and make sure all ingredients combine well. Knead into a soft dough.

Roll out the dough to a 1/2 cm thickness. Cut dough with a cookie cutter that is just a bit smaller than your tart tin in size. Line dough in the middle of tart tins. Lightly press the dough with your thumbs, starting from the bottom then up to the sides. While pressing the dough, turn the tart tin clockwise/anti-clockwise in order to make an even tart shell. Trim away any excess dough.

For the custard:

• 3 eggs

• 110 gm caster sugar

• 225 gm hot water

• 85 gm evaporated milk

• 1/2 tsp vanilla extract

Add sugar into hot water, mix until completely dissolved. Whisk egg with evaporated milk. Pour in sugar water. Mix well. Sift egg mixture to get rid of any foam. Carefully pour egg mixture into each tart shell.

Baking the tarts:

Preheat oven to 200º C. Position rack in lower third of oven. Bake tarts for 10 to 15 minutes until the edges are lightly brown.
Lower the heat to 180º C. Keep an eye on them. Once you see the custard being puffed up a bit, pull the oven door open about 2 to 3 inches. Bake for another 10 to 15 minutes until the custard is cooked through. Just insert a toothpick into the custard. If it stands on its own, it’s done.

Extra baking tips:

• Placing tarts on the lower rack in the oven cooks the crusts easily and prevents the custard from heating up too quickly.

• At the very last stage, pull the oven door open a few inches. This is to avoid the custard from being puffed up too high. The custard will collapse once they are cooled down and you want to prevent this from happening.

• To check if the custard is set, stick a toothpick in the custard when it’s almost ready and if the toothpick stands on its own, the custard is set.

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