The egg tart experiment

The thought of making egg tarts (or dan tat), a baked pastry with egg custard, has never crossed my mind even though it’s one of my favourite Chinese pastries. I always thought it would be too difficult to make, that is until recently, when my friend sent me a recipe and said it wasn’t hard at all. But this was right before all the holiday craziness, so I glanced at the recipe briefly and it got temporary lost in my inbox…..

….until the other day, as I was eating the sausage rolls I made, the puff pastry reminded me of the crust of egg tarts. The scientist in me hypothesized that puff pastry can be a substitute for the pie crust that was called for in the recipe. If so, this would be a win win since I was out of sausage filling, but still had half a pack of puff pastry left which, according to the packaging, had to be used within 2-4 hours after thawing. And so began the egg tart experiment.

Prior to any good experiment, protocols are reviewed to understand the purpose of each step and the expected outcomes. The materials that are needed are gathered. During the experiment, the protocols are followed strictly and observations are made. And at the end of the experiment, all the data gathered during the experiment is compiled, reviewed and analyzed and conclusions are made.

For this particular experiment, the protocol or recipe (from Rasa Malaysia I think) is as follows:

Pie Crust

  • Buy mix or pre-made or find recipe to make from scratch

Filling

  • 4 egg yolks
  • 1/3 cup of sugar (or slightly less if you don’t like your Portuguese egg tarts too sweet)
  • 1/3 cup of heavy whipping cream
  • 1/3 cup of milk
  • 3 drops of vanilla extract
  1. Preheat oven to 400 F.
  2. Butter the muffin pan.
  3. Follow pie crust instructions then roll the dough and cut or roll to form 12 balls.
  4. Use an electronic hand beater to beat filling ingredients for about 3 minutes and strain the filling through a strainer. Set aside.
  5. Flatten the dough balls into small rounds and fit them well into the muffin pan by pressing firmly on bottom and side (do not over stretch).
  6. Fill the pie crust dough with the egg mixture (about 80% full).
  7. Bake the egg tarts at 400F for about 15-20 minutes or until the filling turn brown.

So how did it go? During the experiment, I created a lot of bubbles while mixing the filling on med-high speed and didn’t strain the filling because I didn’t have a strainer. I also omitted the greasing the muffin tin step, which I didn’t think was necessary based on my previous experience with puff pastry. As I was making the filling, I observed that it was very much like crème brûlée, with the same ingredients (egg yolk, whipping cream, sugar). I also made the filling first and then rolled out the dough. While the egg tarts were baking, I noticed that the filling expanded and then collapsed upon cooling. After the egg tarts came out of the oven, the filling was not the usual yellow colour of egg tarts, but was instead brown and a little burnt. What had gone wrong? Was it due to the bubbles and not straining?

In retrospect, I had made two critical errors. The first being not paying attention to the protocol closely, which said it was a recipe for Portuguese egg tarts, not Hong Kong style egg tarts, which are eggier, less creamy and made with shortcrust pastry. Portuguese egg tarts have a custard centre that is like crème brûlée in consistency and caramelizes during baking, which is consistent with my observations. The other critical error that I made is not doing my research or literature review prior to the experiment, to see if there’s already data out there to support or refute my hypothesis. Had I done this, I would have found out that this experiment has already been done. Portuguese egg tarts are commonly made with puff pastry. I’ve been scooped! I guess I wasn’t so clever after all.

So what is the conclusion? Was the experiment a success or did it fail? It depends on how you think about it. I didn’t discover a new way to make the crust for egg tarts, so I’m not going to become rich and famous and be able to quit my job. Gosh darnit! But the egg tarts were delicious, even though the recipe wasn’t followed to the T. I would like to say it was a success!

Now, what do I do with the leftover egg whites?

Notes and Tips:

I used Tenderflake puff pastry, which comes in 2 squares. I divided 1 square into 6 and rolled out each piece to make 6 egg tarts, but I found the resulting crust to be a bit on the thick side. I also halved the ingredients for the filling and I used skim milk. The packaging for the puff pastry said it had to be used within 2-4 hours after thawing, but I stored it overnight in the fridge after thawing before using and it turned out fine.

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28 thoughts on “The egg tart experiment

  1. I’m glad that you did the egg tart experiment…as the results look delicious. I think using store bought crust is perfectly fine, especially with puff pastry.

  2. Dan tat, ho mei ar! Whenever I’ve attempted to make some they always resemble Portugese style egg tarts, yours look delicious. (Also, thanks for the comment on my blog!)

  3. Your egg tarts look good to me. I’d never heard of them before. Your photos are great.
    I understand about your thoughts on the recipe. I think most of us have our own expectations of recipes and sometimes they don’t turn out like we expected but still taste great and sometimes not. :)

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