Egg tart also called egg custard tart, dan tat, dàn tǎ, dahn taht, dan that is a popular pastry in Hong Kong, as well as in Macau and mainland China.
What is a Hong Kong egg tart?
Egg tart is prepared with a pastry crust shell that is filled with an egg-based mixture. It is then baked to reach the consistency of custard or flan.
What is the origin of egg tart?
During the 1940s and throughout the 1950s, Hong Kong’s industrial development resulted in a large flow of immigrants from mainland China.
With this immigration, new types of food as well as cuisines were introduced to Hong Kong. With the island being a British colony for more than 100 years at the time, the primary cuisine had been Cantonese Chinese with Western cuisine influences.
Traditional Hong Kong cafes that sell this Western and Chinese fusion cuisine at low prices are part of Hong Kong’s identity. They are called cha chaan tengs. It is actually in these cafes that egg tarts were introduced to the British colony via the Portuguese colony of Macau, mostly to accompany afternoon tea. This is actually the best time to get those tarts, as bakeries make fresh hot batches in time for the afternoon tea tradition.
The Portuguese version of egg tart
In Portugal, similar egg tarts are called pasteis de nata. However, egg tart also shares its origins with the English custard tart. Hong Kong egg tarts are however filled with a rich custard that is much eggier and less creamy than English custard tarts. Also, dan tat is served piping hot and is not sprinkled with ground nutmeg or cinnamon before serving, like pastel de nata or English custard tart.
The Portuguese egg tart version, immortalized by Casa Pastéis de Belém which was the first pastry shop outside of the convent where they were created, to sell this pastry in 1837, has a very recognizable scorched top, very similar to a creme brulee. The Hong Kong style egg tart has a top that is more glassy and smooth. This is why pastéis de nata taste like slightly burnt sweet caramel and are more golden brown or sometimes scorched on top, where the Hong Kong tarts have more of a pure egg yolk taste.
The resulting Cantonese egg tart, also called dahn taht, has since become ubiquitous with Chinese bakeries as well as dim sum houses.
Famous bakery Tai Cheong Bakery in Hong Kong is now synonymous with the emblematic egg tart. The bakery that has been opened since 1954, sells more than 3,000 tarts everyday in each of their twelve locations.
In Hong Kong, there are really two main versions of these egg tarts: one with puff pastry (酥皮底), the other one with shortcrust pastry (牛油皮底). I decided to make the tart version with shortcrust pastry, as well as butter although a number of traditional recipes call for lard.
In Guangzhou (formerly known as Canton), egg tarts are now one of the most iconic dim sum dishes offered in dim sum houses. You can order 3 types of these tarts: dan tat (egg tart), pastel de nata (also called Portuguese tart), or coconut tart.
I prepared these egg custard tarts on a rainy afternoon in Los Angeles a few days after our New Year’s Eve feast. The kids and I enjoyed them with a glass of milk, as soon as they came out of the oven. Silky and smooth to perfection!
- 1½ cups all purpose flour
- A pinch of salt
- ½ cup sugar , diluted in 1 cup hot water
- 1 tablespoon sugar
- 14 tablespoons unsalted butter , at room temperature
- 2 tablespoons cold water
- 3 eggs , at room temperature
- ½ cup evaporated milk , at room temperature
- 1 teaspoon vanilla essence
In a large bowl, add the flour, salt, and 1 tablespoon of sugar. Mix in butter with a fork until it is in small crumbs. Add 2 tablespoons of cold water (or a little more) to bring the dough together. Cover the dough and refrigerate for 20 minutes.
Place the dough onto a lightly floured working surface. Slightly knead and roll the dough with a rolling pin to form an 8 x 20 inch rectangle.
Fold the top third of the dough down to the center, then the bottom third up and over the remaining dough to form a square. Give the dough a quarter turn and roll out the dough again to obtain a rectangle. Fold the same way as in the prior step. Cover, and refrigerate for 30 minutes.
Whisk the eggs and evaporated milk. Then incorporate the sugar water, vanilla and continue to whisk. Strain the mixture through a fine sieve.
Preheat oven to 400 F.
Roll out the dough to a thickness of about ¼ inch. Cut circles the size of your tart molds. Press the dough into the molds all the way up to the edges. Place the tart molds on a baking sheet.
Fill each empty pastry shell almost to the top. Transfer the baking sheet to the oven and bake for 15 minutes.
Then, reduce the temperature to 350 F and bake for another 12 minutes, until the custard is set. Leave the oven door ajar for 5 more minutes before removing the egg tarts from the oven.
Enjoy the egg tarts piping hot.