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How to make Chinese Egg Tarts perfect for breakfast and tea

You must be familiar with the Hong Kong egg tarts 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 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 sums for breakfast. The Hong Kong and Macau egg tarts differ slightly. Macau’s version resembles the Portuguese tarts with a scorched caramelized exterior. The British custard tart influences the Hong Kong egg tarts with custard as the feeling with a glossy smooth finish.

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Gorgeous Hong Kong style egg tarts.
Gorgeous Hong Kong style egg tarts.

Type of Hong Kong Egg Tarts (蛋挞)

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 bakeries 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 sums 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.

egg tart Hong Kong sltyle

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

Chinese egg tarts filling
egg tarts

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

egg tarts
egg tarts

Before and after mixing of oil dough

egg tarts
egg tarts

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.
egg tart with cling film

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.
puff pastry

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.
egg tart

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.

Chinese egg tarts
Hong Kong egg tart at its best, flaky pastry

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

folding patry
folding patry
folding pastry
folding pastry

Update May 2020 (New Information)

I conducted a thorough review of this post in May 2020, and have made certain amendments to the recipe and include some additional information as below :

Additional information (May 2020)

  • Since the pastry needs higher heat than the egg filling in the oven, the lowest rack is the best position to bake the egg tarts. This position will avoid the egg filling being heated too quickly, while the pastry is still underbaked. 
  • The baking duration is about twenty minutes. The egg filling will tend to swell and form a dome. If that happens, reduce the top temperature by ten degrees Celsius, and keep the oven door ajar for a few seconds to reduce the temperature. The egg custard will collapse after cool if the filling puffed up too high in the oven. 
  • Roll out the water dough large enough. The volume of the oil dough is big, so please roll the water dough thinly. Otherwise, you can run into a situation that the roll out water dough is too small to wrap up the oil dough. 
  • Keep the work tidy by using a metal spoon and silicone spatula to transfer the oil dough. 
  • The best way to trim the excess pastry. Roll out the pastry bigger than you think. Place it in the tart mold and make sure it is big enough to have excess from the edge. Trim off the excess pastry by pressing the side of the tart mold with the dough cutter or any flat object. The pattern of the pie crust will look neat and tidy. 
How to trim the excess pastry for egg tart
  • Roll the pastry on a non-slip silicone pastry mat. I use to roll out the pastry on a piece of cling film to avoid the pastry from sticking to the work surface. I find that the pastry mat is better as I need only a small amount of flour to prevent the pastry from sticking to it. 
  • Do not overbake the egg tart. The surface will not be smooth once it is overbaked. The custard s cooked if you pierce a toothpick on it, and it can stand on its own. 
  • Can I reuse the pastry? Yes. Stack up the leftover of the leftover pastry and roll it out again. The quality is almost the same as the fresh one.
  • Can I blind bake the pastry? It does not work for me. The pastry puffs up too much unless you add some beads in the pastry shell. Anyway, you don’t need to blind bake it and still get a good result. 

Amendments

Reduce the quantity of the egg filling in the recipe. The amount is adjusted based on the feedback that there is an excess.

Yield: 16 tartlets

Egg Tart Recipe With Chinese Puff Pastry

egg tart 15 2021 thumbnail

Chinese egg tarts ( 蛋挞 ) is one of the most popular Chinese dim sum. Try this traditional egg tart recipe.

Prep Time 4 hours
Cook Time 25 minutes
Total Time 4 hours 25 minutes

Ingredients

Oil dough

Water dough

Filling:

Instructions

Water dough

  1. Put the plain flour, egg, and ice water in the electric food processor.
  2. Mix them until they combine and form a ball.water dough for chinese puff pastry


Oil dough

  1. Cut the chilled butter into small pieces.
  2. Put the butter and flour in an electric food processor. Use the pulse function to mix them until it forms bridges and strands.Oil dough for chinese puff pastry

Prepare the pastry

  1. Spread a large piece of cling film on the tabletop, sprinkle with some plain flour.
  2. Flatten the water dough and place another piece of cling film on top.
  3. Roll the water dough to form a large square.
  4. 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 oil dough is fully covered by the water dough. Flatten it with a 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.)Pastry for egg tarts
  5. Wrap it in cling film and leave it in the chiller for twenty minutes or until it hardens.
  6. Remove it from the chiller Flatten it with a 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.
  7. Repeat the folding process (step 6) three more times.
  8. After the last repetition, flatten the dough to about 3mm thickness. Use a cookie cutter or bowl to cut out pieces of round pastry that are slightly larger than the area of the mold.
  9. Put the cut pastry into a mold. Lightly press the pastry onto the surface of the mold.
  10. Trim the sides with a fork or a blunt knife.

Filling

  1. Melt the sugar with water to make a simple syrup. Let it cool.
  2. Beat the eggs for a minute.
  3. Add the milk and syrup to the egg. Mixed well.
  4. Filter the milk liquid twice to remove impurities.
  5. Fill each empty pastry shell up to 70%.

Baking

  1. 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.

Nutrition Information:

Yield:

12

Serving Size:

1

Amount Per Serving: Calories: 406Total Fat: 24gSaturated Fat: 14gTrans Fat: 1gUnsaturated Fat: 8gCholesterol: 159mgSodium: 302mgCarbohydrates: 39gFiber: 1gSugar: 8gProtein: 8g

This data was provided and calculated by Nutritionix on 1/19/2019

test

Jase

Thursday 2nd of September 2021

200C is too high. Mine was burnt.

Jocelyn

Monday 30th of August 2021

Hi In the recommended products, you showed a picture of a box of cake flour. But your recipe calls for plain flour. Which is the correct one?

KP Kwan

Tuesday 31st of August 2021

You can use either one of them as there is no difference in the outcome.

Desmond

Wednesday 25th of August 2021

Thank you SO MUCh KP! I tried it the first time and all my friends loved the tarts!

But I need help now! So I am doing this the second time and this time round I got completely stuck at the water dough part. My water dough is turning out to be so STICKy that it will stick to the cling films!

What should I do differently / what have I done wrongly ? It is puzzling because I toss away the first round of water dough and remade a second round only to get the same result! I never had this difficulty during my first attempt!

Help! :(

KP Kwan

Wednesday 1st of September 2021

Hi Desmond, It took me a few days to answer because I just made a small batch yesterday to ensure the recipe is correct. I have a few suggestions after the testing, which hopefully will solve the problem: - Some cling films can cause stickiness depends on the quality. So I found a better way, i.e., cut open a transparent, colorless plastic bag and use it instead of cling film. It is less sticky and easier to handle. - Dust more flour on the cling film (or plastic sheet), especially for the first and second folding. Do not worry the amount is too much, as there is plenty of butter in the oil dough. - You will find the dough will become less and less sticky after the first and second folding. After that, it is virtually non-sticky and does not need any more flour for the third and fourth fold. - Alternatively, you can purchase a silicone pastry mat and forget about the cling film. Instead, dust the mat heavily and roll out the water dough directly on the mat. Again, after the second folding, the texture will gradually change and become non-sticky I hope this info is helpful. Best regards, KP Kwan

Kathleen

Monday 15th of March 2021

Hi

The instructions are not clear. You say " Remove it from the electric food processor, scoop out the oil dough with a metal spoon and place it on the water dough." but in this first step I have not made the water dough yet so how do I place the oil dough on the water dough. Am I making the water dough first and putting the refrigerator and then making the oil dough and chilling it and then once both have been chilled flatten the water dough and put oil dough on top and lightly roll out.

KP Kwan

Wednesday 17th of March 2021

Hi Kathleen, Thank you for pointing out the mistake, which I have made the amendment. There are some lines of instruction that should not be there, which have been removed. Just make both water dough and oil dough and it does not matter which one first. The oil dough must be wrapped inside the water dough. KP Kwan

Heather

Friday 5th of February 2021

HI, Can you freeze the dough before putting it into the molds? If so then how should I work with it when I'm ready to use it? Thank you for posting this, I'm so excited to try it.

KP Kwan

Saturday 6th of February 2021

Hi Heather, You can freeze the dough. Let it soften a bit *either at room temperature or keep in the refrigerator overnight) so that you can roll it out and putting it in the mold. Thanks, KP Kwan

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