How CNY ‘balik kampung’ time in Melaka reintroduced me to Hong Kong-style egg tarts
KUALA LUMPUR, Jan 28 — Some of us are back to the big city and back to work. Some of us are still spending time with loved ones in our hometowns.
And some of us have brought back more than memories with us: boxes and bottles of buttery cookies, pineapple tarts, keropok and other Chinese New Year goodies our mothers wouldn’t let us leave without.
The really wise ones among us return with treasured recipes to try on our own, trying to replicate the flavours of our childhoods.
One of my most recent pastry pleasures was the charcoal mochi egg tarts at PJ’s Noon Viennoiserie. Though these were decidedly a fancier affair with their jet-black crusts and a sticky, chewy mochi heart, they reminded me of the old-school egg tarts my mother used to make when I was growing up.
Sift the flour before using.
For while the egg tarts most of us are familiar with these days are the Macanese variety or Portuguese egg tarts, the ones from my childhood in Melaka were in the Hong Kong style.
This meant that, instead of the caramelised and overly sweet filling of the Portuguese-inspired pastel de nata, the British-influenced egg tarts had a smoother, creamier custard.
Also, rather than a flaky crust, Hong Kong style egg tarts use a short crust pastry — more crumbly and far more buttery.
It’s decidedly unfashionable yet made with so much love. Isn’t that what balik kampung time is about, after all, quality time with our loved ones and bringing all manner of goodies and memories back with us?
CLASSIC HONG KONG STYLE EGG TARTS
While Hong Kong-style egg tarts traditionally call for a short crust pastry, you may replace this with puff pastry if you prefer a flaky over crumbly texture. (In such a case, store-bought puff pastry will be a more efficient option — no need to keep the cubes of butter cold while kneading the dough.)
The custard filling will work beautifully with either type of pastry.
Whole eggs are used in Hong Kong-style egg tarts.
Many custard recipes call for vanilla extract, which is a safe baking staple for so many of my mother’s cake recipes. However, for a touch of something special, we use a pinch of freshly ground nutmeg here.
Since only a smidgen is used, there is no danger of it being overpowering. Instead, this aromatic spice adds a warm, comforting note to the custard, almost clove-like without any of the intensity.
A pinch of salt is added to both the pastry and the custard filling. Yes, this is a dessert recipe but salt in tiny quantities accentuates the sweetness of the egg tarts.
150g unsalted butter, slightly softened
2 tablespoons icing sugar
3 large eggs, at room temperature
300g all purpose flour
A pinch of salt
A little extra softened butter for greasing the moulds
200g castor sugar
200ml warm water
300ml evaporated milk
4 whole large eggs
A pinch of freshly ground nutmeg
A pinch of salt
Using a stand mixer, beat the softened butter with the icing sugar and eggs till well creamed. Pour in the flour and salt. Continue to mix until well combined.
Remove from the mixing bowl and transfer to a flat surface dusted with flour. Knead by hand for a few minutes until a smooth dough is formed.
Cover the dough with cling wrap and chill in the fridge for half an hour to allow it to firm up before handling it further.
Lining the moulds with the tart dough before pouring the custard mixture.
In the meantime prepare the tart moulds. Using a little extra softened butter (leftover from the butter wrapper is perfectly fine for this purpose), grease the insides of the moulds evenly.
Remove the pastry dough from the fridge and divide into about 10-12 portions (depending on the size of your moulds). Place each piece onto the mould, pressing it out to line the mould till the edges.
Return the pastry dough (now lining the moulds) to the fridge till ready to use. You may now preheat the oven to 180°C.
For the custard, add the castor sugar into the warm water. Stir until the sugar has fully dissolved. Allow to cool to room temperature before continuing to use.
Crumbly, buttery crusts.
Whisk the evaporated milk, eggs, nutmeg and salt together. Add the sugar water and continue to whisk till well combined.
Using a fine meshed strainer, sieve the custard mixture into a clean bowl or measuring jug. Depending on how smooth the custard mixture is, you might want to sieve a second time to remove any lumps or impurities.
Remove the lined tart moulds from the fridge. Using a ladle or the measuring jug, pour the custard mixture into each mould.
Bake tarts for 25-30 minutes until the custard is barely set. Remove from the oven and set aside to cool (the custard will continue to set from the residual heat of the moulds).
Empty moulds after a productive morning of baking.
Once the egg tarts have completely cooled, you may unmould them and serve.
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