They were made famous by the last British governor, Chris Patten, who declared Tai Cheong Bakery’s tarts the best in the world. They’re usually made with short pastry, although some bakeries, such as the Honolulu Coffee Shop in Wan Chai, make them with puff pastry.
Considered to be a legacy of the Portuguese and British, these ubiquitous Cantonese custard tarts have been around since the 1940s.
- 225 g (8 oz) plain (all-purpose) flour, plus extra for dusting
- 50 g (1¾ oz) caster (superfine) sugar
- 110 g (3¾ oz) cold butter, cut into small cubes
- 120 g (4¼ oz) caster (superfine) sugar
- 2 eggs, lightly beaten
- 100 ml (3½ fl oz) evaporated milk
- ½ tsp vanilla essence
Oven temperatures are for conventional; if using fan-forced (convection), reduce the temperature by 20˚C. | We use Australian tablespoons and cups: 1 teaspoon equals 5 ml; 1 tablespoon equals 20 ml; 1 cup equals 250 ml. | All herbs are fresh (unless specified) and cups are lightly packed. | All vegetables are medium size and peeled, unless specified. | All eggs are 55-60 g, unless specified.
Refrigeration time: 20-30 minutes
To make the pastry, combine the flour, sugar and butter on a work surface and lightly rub with your fingers to partly combine. Make a well in the centre and add 2 tablespoons cold water. Using a pastry scraper, work the mixture into a buttery dough. Smear the dough away from you with the heel of your hand, then gather together and form it into a flat disc. Dust lightly with flour, wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate for 20–30 minutes to rest.
To make the custard, put the sugar and 225 ml (7¾ fl oz) water in a small saucepan. Bring to the boil, stirring until the sugar has dissolved, then set aside to cool. Combine the eggs, evaporated milk and vanilla essence in a bowl, stir in the cooled sugar syrup and mix well without creating bubbles. Strain the mixture through a fine sieve into a jug.
Preheat the oven to 200°C (400°F). Roll out the pastry on a lightly floured bench to a thickness of 5 mm (¼ inch). Using a fluted cookie cutter a little larger than your tart cases (see Note), cut the dough into rounds. Ease the pastry rounds into the buttered cases, transfer to the oven rack and pour the custard into the pastry cases.
Bake for 12–15 minutes or until the edges are lightly browned, then reduce the heat to 180°C (350°F) and carefully rotate the tray. Continue to bake for 10 minutes or until the custard is slightly puffed. Cool for 10 minutes before removing the tarts from their cases.
• I used 6 cm (2½ inch) pastry cases. Any leftover pastry can be frozen for up to a month.
Recipe and image from Hong Kong Food City by Tony Tan (Murdoch Books, hc, $49.99).