Sweet, flaky, delicate Chinese egg tarts

Marian Liu

THE WASHINGTON POST – Baking has always been my source of stress relief, especially now when I’m stuck at home due to the pandemic.

Instead of taking it out on a punching bag, I find myself mixing everything by hand, working it out with the dough. I also use that time to find recipes to reconnect to my roots, evoking memories of childhood, like egg tarts.

I’ve used quarantine time to figure out how to make them at home. It’s not easy, especially for a pastry newbie like me, but it’s definitely worth the time and effort.

It took me six batches to get it right. For the first try, I used a pie tin, which I don’t recommend. As a full-size pie, the egg tart simply had too much filling. I like to take my time eating an egg tart, nibbling around the crust before devouring down the middle.

After testing multiple batches of egg tarts, here are mistakes to avoid.

First off, invest in three-inch wide, fluted metal – not disposable – tart tins. The ruffled edges give you crispy, pretty finish. Lightly grease the tins with cooking spray.

Chinese egg tarts. PHOTO: THE WASHINGTON POST

Second, make sure to work out the large lumps of butter in the dough. Small chunks are okay, but bigger ones will result in a crust that sticks to the tins.

Third, don’t skip the multiple kneading, folding and refrigeration steps. Although extremely tedious, following through will ensure the crust will be easier to handle and super flaky.

One more tip, while the tarts are heavenly fresh out of the oven, they do not keep well past a day.

If your household can’t eat a dozen, you can bake them in batches.

Place the dough in the tart tins, cover them tightly in plastic wrap, and refrigerate them overnight or freeze them for up to a month.

The filling can be mixed and refrigerated for up to two days.

That way, you can bake a half-dozen at a time and make the happiness last longer.

CHINESE EGG TARTS

Writer Marian Liu makes her egg tarts the traditional way, with a multistep, homemade pastry dough that turns the process into a weekend baking project.

If you want to cut the preparation time, you can use a flaky pie crust, a press-in cookie dough recipe, or store-bought puff pastry dough, which will get your closest to Liu’s homemade dough.

One nine-and-a-half-by-10-inch sheet of puff pastry works, but you may need to re-roll scraps for a few of the tart tins. You will need tins that are about three inches wide by about one-inch deep. You also need a three-and-a-quarter-inch cookie cutter.

These tarts taste best fresh from the oven. If you do not plan to serve all 12 at once, make the filling and press the dough into the tart moulds.

Then refrigerate the filling and the tart tins, tightly covered, for up to two days. Then, fill and bake the tarts as needed.

INGREDIENTS

For the filling

50 grammes granulated sugar

120 millilitres hot water

One large egg, room temperature

60 millilitres evaporated milk

Quarter teaspoon vanilla extract

For the butter dough

113 grammes cold unsalted butter

30 grammes all-purpose flour

Pinch of salt

For the egg dough

85 grammes all-purpose flour, plus more as needed

One large egg, room temperature

One tablespoon water

Pinch of salt

Cooking spray or vegetable oil, for greasing the tins

DIRECTIONS

Make the filling

In a medium bowl, dissolve the sugar in the hot water, then refrigerate until the syrup is cool to the touch, 30 to 45 minutes.

In another medium bowl, whisk the egg with the evaporated milk and vanilla until combined. Whisk in the cooled syrup until combined. Using a fine-mesh strainer, pass the filling through several times, so it is completely smooth. Refrigerate until well chilled, 20 minutes.

Make the butter dough

In the bowl of a food processor, combine the butter, flour and salt and pulse until it clumps into a ball. (Alternatively, you can work the butter into the flour by hand until it becomes a ball.) Turn the dough out onto a piece of plastic wrap, shape into 2.5-centimetre thick rectangle, wrap tightly and refrigerate until cold, at least one hour and up to one day.

Make the egg dough

When the butter dough is sufficiently cold, in a medium bowl, combine the flour, egg, water and salt and mix until not overly sticky to the touch. Dust the counter with additional flour and roll out the dough to about three millimetres thickness. If the dough sticks to the counter, use a thin spatula or bench scraper to release it and add more flour to the surface.

Unwrap the butter dough and place it in the middle of the egg dough. Wrap the butter dough in the egg dough – first folding top and bottom and then right and left – as if wrapping a present.

Generously flour your work surface and dust your rolling pin and the dough with the flour.

Roll out the dough to a large, quarter-inch-thick rectangle; you may need to rotate the dough a quarter-turn every now and then and dust with a little more flour as you go.

Fold the dough into thirds, like a letter, and then fold the shorter side in half, creating a compact rectangle. Wrap the dough in plastic wrap and refrigerate until firm, about one hour.

Repeat rolling out, folding and chilling of the dough two more times. Try to keep the dough in a neat rectangle as you roll and re-roll it.

Once the dough has chilled for the last hour, position a rack in the lower third of the oven and preheat to 400 degrees.

On a generously floured counter, roll out the dough to about two-millimetre thickness. Using a three-and-a-quarter-inch round cookie cutter, cut out circles for the crust. You can re-roll the dough scraps twice, as needed.

Lightly grease each tin with cooking spray or oil and place a circle of dough into each tin. Press the dough into the bottom and up the sides of the tin and, using a fork, prick the bottom and sides of the crusts. Chill the crusts for at least 30 minutes and up to
two hours.

Line a large, rimmed baking sheet with aluminum foil and place the tins on top. Fill each tin to about two-thirds of the way with the filling, about two tablespoons.

Bake the tarts for 15 minutes, then decrease the oven temperature to 350 degrees and bake for an additional seven to 10 minutes, or until the crust is light golden and a toothpick inserted in the centre of a tart can stand up on its own without falling over, or the centre is set, but still slightly jiggly.

Transfer the egg tart tins to a wire rack and let cool completely before serving, about 20 minutes. Remove the cooled tarts from the tins and serve at room temperature.