The egg custard tart, a tale in 3 (or more) parts

Ever since a trip to Hong Kong 10 years ago, I’ve been meaning to make egg custard tarts.  Each year I am reminded of the idea in the immediate lead up to the Lunar New Year.  Inevitably, I miss the “holiday deadline,” vow to do better the next year and then forget until early January of the year following when I am once again reminded that its once again too late (heaven forbid I consider making these treats any other time of the year).

This year I was ahead of the game for a couple of reasons.  First, the Lunar New Year falls late in 2021 (not until February 12th) giving me a little extra time after the rush of the holiday baking season to rebuild my baking fortitude.  Second, 2021 is the year of the ox, my own Chinese zodiac sign.  So, I find myself a little more motivated than if it was, say, just the year of the rooster.  [As an aside my Western astrological sign is taurus, the bull (well, sometimes I’m a Gemini, but I identify more as a taurus).  What do you get when doubled up on bovine astrology?  One stubborn human.  Also, likes salads.]

But, back to the tarts.  During my visit to Hong Kong, I remember hearing about the egg custard tart rivalry between Hong Kong and Macau.  As such, I thought it would be fun to make both types.

And then I started to do the research.

What I thought was a friendly pastry duel born of colonization has turned out to be a mystery as philosophically deep as the chicken and egg question.  Though in this case, the question is, which came first, the dan tat (Hong Kong/ Chinese style)?  Or the po tat (Macau style)? OR the pasteis de data?

I’m still not completely sure.  All I know is that at this writing, I’ve tried three different versions.

But, I’ve got to start somewhere or another 10 years will pass, so let us begin with the least technically difficult of the three: the Hong Kong style egg custard tart.

Made with a short crust (think slightly sweet pie dough), the tiny tart has origins in the English custard tart.  Hong Kong was colonized by England in the early 1840s and while it’s presumed that the influence of European style pastry came along with colonization, legend has it that the Hong Kong style egg custard tart specifically was born of competition between department stores some time between he 1920s-1940s.  While the contemporary recipes I’ve found use butter, lard or shortening was used in the early 21st century due to dairy shortages (and likely, the cheaper price point).

After World War II, the bite sized pastries became popular in the casual tea restaurants and by all accounts, have been a run away hit ever since.  In addition to the short crust,  this version uses evaporated milk (again, I’m guessing due to shortages with fresh dairy) and an interesting method whereby you make a sugar syrup to add to the custard.

Baked in tiny fluted tins (muffin tins will do just fine in a pinch), the Hong Kong tarts are associated more with breakfast and dim sum than dessert.

With a ratio of pastry to custard that about even, they’re best served warm and are a perfect pairing with milk tea (so I’ve read).

You could easily make the dough a day or two before (pop it in the fridge) and have these warm, light tarts ready just in time for brunch.

Next week, what I thought was the Macau tart but might really just be a version of the pasteis de nata…which is really the Macau tart.  Maybe.

Hong Kong Style Egg Custard Tarts

makes 12,  3 inch tarts


For short crust shell

  • 1/2 C (1 stick) of very soft unsalted butter
  • 1/3 C confectioner’s sugar
  • 1 egg at room temp
  • 1 1/2 C sifted flour

For custard

  • 1/4 C sugar
  • 1/2 C hot water
  • 1 egg + 3 egg yolks
  • 1/3 C evaporated milk
  • 1 tsp vanilla


  1. To make the dough, whip the butter using a hand mixer until light and fluffy.
  2. Sift-in confectioner’s sugar.  Beat to combine.  Add-in egg, beat to combine.
  3. With beaters on low, add in first 1/2 cup of flour.  Mix until just combined.  Add in second 1/2 cup and repeat.  When ready to add 3rd 1/2 cup, set aside mixer and fold in final 1/2 cup by hand.  Fold dough until it comes together.
  4. Turn dough out onto a lightly floured surface.  Knead a couple of times to bring dough together and form into a disk.  Wrap dough in plastic wrap and chill in fridge of at least an hour.  This step can be done a couple of days in advance.  Just be sure to pull out dough when you begin making the custard.
  5. To make custard, place oven rack in center of oven and preheat oven to 400 degrees
  6. In a smallish bowl, stir sugar into hot water.  Stir until sugar is completely dissolved and then set aside the syrup until cooled completely.
  7. Roll your dough to about 1/8inch thickness.  If you are using tart pans,  measure diameter (traditional seems to be about 2.75 inches, or 7 centimeters).  Either draw a template or find a cutter (I used a mug) with a 3 1/2 inch (9 cm) diameter. Working gently and trying not to stretch your dough, fit each dough disk into the individual tart tins.  Level-off the top with your fingers or a knife.  Gather scraps and roll-out again until you get 12 tart shells.  Put shells in fridge while you finish the custard.
  8. Whisk egg and yolks one at a time into cooled sugar syrup.  Whisk in milk and vanilla.  Strain custard mixture into a 2 cup measuring cup if you have it (easier to pour into tarts).
  9. Remove tarts from fridge.  Please on a baking sheet.  Fill each tart shell to about 90%.
  10. Bake in preheated oven for 24 minutes.  Reduce heat to 350 degrees and bake for another 8 minutes, or until the centers don’t jiggle (mine needed a couple of extra minutes).
  11. Let cool for 10-15 minutes and tarts will easily slide right out of the tins.  Best enjoyed warm.  [note, while this is probably true, I found them to be incredibly satisfying right out of the fridge the next morning].

To reheat, pop into a preheated to 350 degree oven for about 7 minutes.





Perfect for your Pik-a-nic Basquete

See what I did there?  No?  You will.

My mom came out to visit (and escape the interminable Montana winter) in late March.  We had lots of adventures and general shenanigans.  As someone who gets up even earlier than I do (an impossible feat according to TD), she spent some quality time perusing my little cookbook collection.

One of the recipes she pulled was for a gateau Basque out of Dorie Greenspan’s Around My French Table.  Sadly, this was during our “oven transition” and so my mom had to wait until her return to the Big Sky to try out this cookie-cake-pie recipe.

“You’ve got to make this” she said some weeks later.

“Sure mom, okay” was my reply and then, like most negligent children, I immediately forgot.

“Did you try out the sour cherry tart?” was her question the next time we spoke.

“Err…uhm…just waiting for the new oven to be installed,”  my excuse.

And so it came to pass that after a batch of French macarons and some chocolate chip cookies for TD, gateau Basque was the third item baked in the oven.

Have I ever mentioned that while probably the nicest lady on the planet, my mom is also the most evil?   This is a good example.  Under the pretext of encouraging baking experimentation, she bullied me into bringing this…this…temptation into my house.  Don’t let its simplicity fool you like it did me.  I got all the way to photographing this disk of sin without tasting its rich–soft–toothsome–tartness.  People find this hard to believe, but I generally am not all that interested in eating the things I make.  Baking and cooking for me is about short-term gratification in the creation and experimentation categories.

But in this case?  I was like Eve to the apple (or whatever you’d like to argue the parable referred to).  One bite.  And then another.  And, before I knew it, I’d eaten the entire wedge and found myself eyeing the remaining six (TD ate one too).  While significantly more sophisticated and elegant, there is also something about the gateau Basque that reminds me of the Hostess pies my brother and I coveted as children.   Which I think got me thinking this would be a perfect picnic dessert.  Transport it uncut and then serve up the wedges to be eaten by hand.

Original sin and evil parents aside, according to Dorie, this is the pastry in the Pays Basque region of France (and probably Spain).  There is even a museum dedicated to it (do I hear research junket?).  As if this lovely pastry isn’t enough to create drool-worthy geography, you can visit the region virtually through my talented friend Ann Mah.

While it is traditionally made with sour cherry jam (I found mine at Trader Joes) or pastry cream, I think it would be fantastic with everything from lemon curd to Nutella (which would certainly elevate this seductress from Old Testament to Dante’s Inferno).

A design note.  The top of the tart is traditionally etched with two interlocking scroll, or “S” designs.  Since Dorie said she likes a cross-hatch pattern, I tried that.  Sadly I did not make the pattern deep enough and it baked out.  I guess this means I’ll have to try again.  Darn.

Gateau Basque

Dorie Greenspan, Around My French Table


  • 2 C all purpose flour
  • 3/4 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 10 TBS (1 1/4 sticks) unsalted butter at room temp.
  • 1/4 C light brown sugar
  • 1/4 C sugar
  • 1 large egg, at room temp.
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 3/4-1 C thick cherry jam (or cream anglais or lemon curd or….ohhh…Nutella)
  • 1 egg beaten w/ splash of water for glazing


  1. Whisk together the flour, baking powder and salt, set aside.
  2. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle (or hand mixer), beat the butter and sugars together on medium for about 3 minutes.
  3. Add the egg, beat for another 2 minutes scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed.  The mixture may look curdled and that’s okay.
  4. Reduce mixer to low, add-in vanilla.  Then add-in dry ingredients in 2-3 additions mixing in between until just combined.
  5. Place a large sheet of plastic wrap, wax paper or parchment on your work surface.  Put half of the dough (it will be sticky) in the middle and shape into  a disk (get it as round and flat as possible…maybe…4-5 inches).  Repeat with second half of dough.
  6. Refrigerate for at least 3 hours (overnight is always good).
  7. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Generously butter an 8X2 round cake pan.
  8. Remove rounds of dough from fridge and let them rest for a couple of minutes.  Then, roll each out into an 8 inch rounds (to avoid adding flour, I like to layer the dough between sheets of parchment and then roll).  If the dough breaks or cracks, not to worry, just piece it back together like you would pie dough.
  9. Fit one round into the bottom of the dough.  If it rides up the sides a little, this is good and will help to seal the top layer.
  10. Spoon 3/4 C of your preferred filling onto dough.  Start at the center and spread until you have about a 1-inch margin.
  11. Moisten the bare ring of dough (around the jam) with water.
  12. Add the second piece of dough, pressing around the edges to seal it.  Dorie says that no matter how tightly you press the dough, a little of the filling is bound to escape during baking.  This will give your gateau some character.
  13. Brush the top of the dough with egg wash.  Using the tines of a fork or a sharp pairing knife etch a cross-hatch pattern into the top (in the one pictured above I did not press deeply enough and the patten baked-out).
  14. Bake for 40-45 minutes or until the top is golden brown.  Transfer to a cooling rack, let cool for 5 minutes.
  15. Carefully run a blunt (dinner) knife around the edge of the cake. Turn the cake over onto the cooling rack and then quickly flip it right-side-up so that it can cool to room temp.
  16. I think this is best enjoyed within the first day or two.  While the taste isn’t compromised, the pastry looses some of its crispness the next day.



Tart (if you don’t eat the citrus first)

I began looking for them in January.  Every trip to the market I’d cruise through the citrus section on the hunt for the smallish sunset-colored fruit.

It wasn’t until Valentines Day that I first spotted some in a high-end grocery store.  I paid a king’s ransom for half a dozen.  And then we promptly ate them.

A couple of weeks later they began to appear in the farmer’s markets.  I bought another bag.  We ate that one too.

It wasn’t until a couple of weeks ago that I finally took the time to buy (and not promptly eat) a dozen or so blood oranges and make them into a tart.

Rustic and simple, this recipe made a lovely dessert for a Sunday dinner.

If you like this you might also like these

Blood Orange Cheesecake

Salty Screw

Blood Orange Tart

Zoe Nathan for Food and Wine


  • 1 C all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting
  • 1/4 C plus 2 TBS granulated sugar
  • 1/4 tsp baking powder
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1 stick plus 1 tablespoon unsalted butter, the stick cut into 1/2-inch pieces and chilled
  • 3 TBS ice water
  • 8 to 10 blood oranges (about 5 ounces each)
  • 1 large egg yolk mixed with 2 tablespoons of water


  1. In a food processor, pulse the  flour with 2 tablespoons of the sugar and the baking powder and salt. Add the stick of cold butter and pulse several times, just until it is the size of peas. Sprinkle the dough with the ice water and pulse just until moistened crumbs form. Turn the crumbs out onto a work surface, knead once or twice and pat the pastry into a disk. Wrap the pastry in plastic and chill for 30 minutes (can be chilled overnight).
  2. On a floured work surface, roll out the pastry to an 11-inch round, about 1/4 inch thick. Transfer the pastry to a parchment paper–lined flat cookie sheet and refrigerate for 15 minutes, or until chilled.
  3. Meanwhile, peel the blood oranges, removing all of the bitter white pith. Thinly slice 2 of the oranges crosswise; remove the pits. Transfer the orange slices to a plate. Working over a sieve set over a bowl, cut in between the membranes of the remaining oranges, releasing the sections into the sieve. Remove the pits and gently shake out as much juice as possible without mashing the sections; you will need 1 cup of sections. Reserve the orange juice for another use.
  4. Arrange the orange sections on the pastry, leaving a 2-inch border all around. Sprinkle 2 tablespoons of the sugar over the oranges. Using a paring knife, thinly slice the remaining 1 tablespoon of butter over the oranges. Fold up the pastry over the oranges, leaving most of the oranges uncovered. Brush the pastry with the egg wash and sprinkle lightly with 1 tablespoon of the sugar. Arrange the orange slices on top, leaving a 1-inch border of pastry all around. Sprinkle the remaining 1 tablespoon of sugar on top. Freeze the tart until solid, at least 4 hours or preferably overnight.
  5. Preheat the oven to 375° and position a rack in the center. Place a baking sheet on the rack below to catch any drips. Bake the tart directly from the freezer for 1 hour and 15 minutes, until the fruit is bubbling and the pastry is deeply browned. Transfer the cookie sheet to a rack and let the tart cool for 30 minutes. Carefully slide the parchment paper onto the rack and let the tart cool completely.