You must be familiar with the Hong Kong egg tarts (蛋挞) if you like Cantonese dim sum. Whilst the barbecue meat bun is the signature of the savory dim sum, the most lovable dessert will be none other than the Hong Kong egg tart. Hong Kong egg tarts are derived from the Portuguese pastel de nata from the times when the Portuguese arrived at Macau at the turn of the twentieth century. Since Macau is just a short boat ride from Hong Kong, the locals had modified the original Portuguese egg tarts and served them along with other Cantonese dim sum for breakfast. The Hong Kong and Macau egg tarts differ slightly. Macau’s version resembles the Portuguese tarts with a scorched caramelized exterior. The Hong Kong egg tarts are influenced by the British custards tart with custard as the feeling with a glossy smooth finish.
Type of Hong Kong Egg Tarts
There are two types of Hong Kong egg tarts. One is with shortcrust pastry and the other is by using the Chinese puff pastry. The best Hong Kong egg tarts are made from the Chinese puff pastry, which is slightly different from the western puff pastry. This pastry is less oily than the western version with a more floury flavor. Traditional pastry chefs used lard to make this pastry, but recently many bakery and dim sum makers have changed from lard to butter, which is healthier and has a universal flavor.
What is Chinese puff pastry?
“The flavor of the Chinese puff pastry (酥皮) is different from the western version. The most significant difference is that the Chinese version is less oily. It is the pastry of choice for many Chinese dim sum such as egg tarts, salted egg rolls and baked buns (烧包). It is a delectable surprise for people who have not tried it.”
It is easy to make the egg tarts at home- only if you know how!
The flavor of Hong Kong egg tarts fresh from the oven is simply amazing. Having them right out of the oven is a whole new experience against the lukewarm version you get from the store. Egg tart made with Chinese puff pastry is one of the best Chinese desserts among the dim sum spread in Cantonese cuisine. Many people wish to make it at home but finally give up because of the tedious process and the skills required. Some people settle for the second best (shortcrust pastry) which is easier to make. However, the essence of the egg tarts lies on the unreplaceable texture and flavor of the Chinese puff pastry. You need to use the Chinese puff pastry for this recipe to make the REAL and AUTHENTIC Hong Kong style egg tarts comparable to the best dim sum store in Hong Kong and Southern China. Making puff pastry is tedious, but it is highly rewarding when you enjoy the fruits of your labor. I have simplified the recipe without compromising the quality. Now is your turn to bake and enjoy eating this famous Hong Kong dim sum as much as I do. This video shows how to make the Hong Kong style egg tarts in detail. (5.55 minutes)
- Cut the chilled butter into small pieces.
- Put the butter and flour in an electric food processor. Use the pulse function to mix them until it forms bridges and strands.
- Remove it from the electric food processor, scoop out the oil dough with a metal spoon and place it on the water dough.
- Wrap it in cling film, place it in the chiller for 20 minutes or until it becomes firm.
Put the plain flour, egg and ice water in the electric food processor.
- Mix them until they combine and form a ball.
- Wrap it in cling film, place it in the chiller for 20 minutes or until it becomes firm.
- Spread a large piece of cling film on the table top, sprinkle with some plain four.
- Flatten the water dough and place another piece of cling film on top.
- Roll the water dough to form a large square.
- Remove the cling film on top of the water dough, place the oil dough in the center and fold the sides of the water dough over the oil dough. Make sure the water dough is fully covered by the oil dough. Flatten it with rolling pin.(Analogy: Now the dough looks like a sandwich, with the oil dough mirrors the filling of the sandwich, and the water dough mirrors the bread.)
- Wrap it in cling film and leave it in the chiller for twenty minutes or until it hardens.
- Remove it from the chiller Flatten it with rolling pin to about 3cm thick. Fold both ends of the dough toward the center like closing a book. (Analogy: Now it resembles a multilayered sandwich.) Place it into the chiller again for 20 minutes.
- Repeat the folding process (step 6) for three more times.
- After the last repetition, flatten the dough to about 3mm thickness. Use a cookies cutter or bowl to cut out pieces of round pastry which are slightly larger than the area of the mold.
- Put the cut pastry into a mold. Lightly press the pastry onto the surface of the mold.
- Trim the sides with a fork or a blunt knife.
- Melt the sugar with water to make a simple syrup. Let it cool.
- Beat the eggs for a minute.
- Add the milk and syrup to the egg. Mixed well.
- Filter the milk liquid twice to remove impurities.
- Fill each empty pastry shell up to 70%.
- Bake it at 200 degrees C/ 390 degrees F for 15 minutes, then reduce to 180 degrees C / 356 degrees F for another 10 minutes. Leave the oven door ajar for five minutes then remove the egg tarts.
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6 Important tips to make the best Chinese egg tarts
Take a moment to read through these tips before attempting the recipe. (If you are new to egg tarts.)
- When you mold the pastry pieces into the tart molds, press the pastry towards the sides and bottom of the mold. Pierce a few holes in the bottom with a fork to prevent the bottom of the pastry from rising. Do not squeeze the pastry as it can damage the delicate layer of the pastry.
- Use a larger cookie cutter to cut the pastry so that you have ample pastry to fit into the mold. Use a round knife or the side of a fork to trim off extra pastry. The upper side of the pastry will be evenly trimmed and the perforated layer will be clearly visible after baking. Keep the tart base in the fridge before filling in the egg liquid. It helps to keep the butter from melting and the rapid rise in temperature in the oven creates distinct layers of the pastry.
- When you prepare the egg filling, cool the syrup then pour it into the egg. The egg will be partially cooked by the hot syrup and forms small lumps which are unsightly. Filter the egg mixture twice through a fine mesh strainer to obtain a clean smooth egg liquid before pouring into the tart base. Filtering the egg mixture will also remove all bubbles from whisking of the eggs. It is important to ensure that no bubbles are visible on the surface to achieve a smooth custard surface.
- Once the tart bases are filled with egg filling, bake immediately in a preheated oven at 200 degrees C/390 degrees F for 15 minutes, followed by 180 degrees C / 356 degrees F for another 10 minutes. The initial high temperature will cause the pastry to rise up rapidly, and form a multi-layer structure, whilst the lower heat will finish the cooking subsequently. Leave the oven door ajar for five minutes then remove the egg tarts to let them cool down slowly.
- Fill the tart shell up to 70%. Do not overfill as the custard will expand and spill over when baking.
- Once the egg tarts cool down, the sugar syrup will form a shiny layer on the surface of the custard. Do not reduce the sugar quantity in the ingredients of the filling if you want to get the shiny surface.
Strain the egg mixture and fill up the mold to 70% full
The difference between Chinese and Western puff pastry
Chinese puff pastry is very similar to the western puff pastry except for the oil (butter, lard or shortening) is mixed with flour before wrapped with the water dough. Therefore, the texture and taste are different from the western puff pastry.
Before and after mixing of water dough
Before and after mixing of oil dough
5 Useful tips to be successful in rolling and folding the pastry (Note: This is important!)
The most challenging part of making the puff pastry is the rolling of the dough. Many people encounter the tearing of the water dough, which causes the oil layer in the middle oozing out to the surface. The dough becomes oily, sticky, messy and unmanageable. When you are troubled with the oil leaking from the dough, most people will reach out to the flour container with both hands full of sticky oil mixture. While you patch up the leaking dough with flour frantically, the butter is getting softer too. So more flour is required, and eventually, the dough will turn into a lump of sticky mass. This section is written specially to minimize this problem.
- Don’t be greedy.
The pastry is flakier if you use more oil dough. However, the water dough can only hold a certain volume of oil dough without tearing. You can reduce the volume of oil dough in the recipe if you prefer a more easy-to-handle recipe. It will be close to the original formula albeit less flaky.
- A clean way to fold the dough by using the second cling film method.
The cleanest way to roll and fold the dough is to use two cling films, one at the bottom and another on top of the dough. It is far better than just sprinkle flour to prevent the pastry from sticking to the surface.
Place a large piece of cling film on the surface of the chiller top or a stainless steel table. Sprinkle flour on the cling film liberally. Put the water dough on the cling film. Cover the water dough with another cling film. The second piece of the cling film prevents the dough from sticking to the rolling pin when you roll out the dough.
- Place the oil dough on one side of the water dough.
The oil dough will stick to any surface. Therefore, I like to remove it from the electric mixer directly onto the water dough. You can use two stainless steel spoons to transfer it quickly. There will be some remain in the mixer bowl no matter how thorough you scoop it. It is not worth to spend the time to remove (and potentially messy) any small amount from there, as there will be no significant impact on the final result.
The cling film prevents the dough from sticking to the rolling pin. How to find the optimum softness of the dough before rolling it out. Chill it until it is slightly firmer than I want. After placing the dough on the table, I will put my palms on top of the dough (with a cling film protected) to let my body heat to soften it. The softness is just right when I can use my palms to stretch the dough a little thinner by lightly pressing on it.
- Roll gently.
Always roll the pastry gently with short strokes. Long strokes can break the layers of the dough.
Use the cling wrap to fold the dough.
Fold the dough like closing a book when the dough is thin enough.
Remove the top layer of the cling wrap.Hold the corners of the cling wrap to fold the dough toward the center. This method is clean and tidy as your hands are not touching the dough.
Repeat the rolling and folding steps of three times.
- Be patient.
You must resist the temptation to roll out the pastry when it is too soft. Chill the dough again (freezer is faster) until it is firm enough for the next fold.
It may take at least twenty minutes for a small dough but much longer for the bigger one. The time required depends on the temperature of the chiller or freezer.
You can also leave the dough in the refrigerator overnight to continue the next day.
More tips to ensure you making the best egg tarts ever
I know this is a LONG recipe post but read through it before you start 🙂 .
- Keep the butter cold at all times. The most frustrating thing when making puff pastry is when the butter starts to melt and leak through the layers of the dough. The layers of the pastry will be poorly defined and the butter will stick to the rolling pins and the table. The common solution is to quickly cover the broken area of the pastry with plenty of flour, hoping that the flour will absorb the butter and prevent further leakage. This does not always work because the longer you delay, the more butter will melt and it becomes messier. The best way is to place the pastry quickly in the freezer to let the butter harden before resuming the folding and rolling process.
- Use an electric food processor to blend the dough. It saves you time.
- Rest the pastry before molding. I normally do not stretch the pastry further during molding. I usually cut a piece of pastry big enough to cover the entire inner surface of the mold with some extra for trimming. Since puff pastry will shrink after rolling, it is best to rest it for a few minutes then trim the excess. This will ensure a perfect shape of the tarts.
- The optimum thickness of the pastry is 3 mm. The layers can break if you roll it too thin. On the contrary, too little egg liquid can be poured in if the pastry is too thick.
- Use butter, not margarine or shortening. Traditional Hong Kong egg tarts are made with lard, but the trend has shifted towards butter. I use butter in this recipe because this is the flavor I like. Shortening and margarine are easier to handle than butter at room temperature but do not taste as good as butter.
- If you are using unsalted butter for the pastry, add one percent of salt to the recipe. For example, if the recipe calls for 100 g of butter, then 1g of salt should be added.
- Make a large batch. You can keep Chinese puff pastry in the freezer for a few months. If you have cut the pastry, separate pieces of pastry with a piece of plastic sheet to prevent them from sticking together.
The process of folding the pastry
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