Chinese-style Egg Tarts

This recipe was inspired by Jean Kwok’s novel, Searching for Sylvie Lee.

Book reference, p.5: Amy speaking, in reference to Sylvie being able to eat whatever she wants. “Like me, Sylvie adores all sweets, but unlike me, she never gains an ounce. I have watched her eat one egg tart after another without any effect on her elegant hips, as if the sheer intensity of her will burns the calories, consuming everything she touches.”

Creamy, custardy tarts are a nice, light way to end a meal. They’re also great with a cup of tea, for a mid-morning break. When doing some research, I was not aware that there was a Chinese version of custard tarts. Granted, the versions I looked at included sweetened condensed milk, but I wanted to keep the sweetness down in mine. After some testing, I see an advantage to having the tarts in individual, loose-bottom tins. With the individual tins, there’s more assurance that the tart will come away cleanly from the base.

The pastry crust is flaky and buttery and rolls out very easily. I like this filling with the addition of vanilla which adds a bit of sweetness to the depth of flavour. With less sugar in the filling, this custard may not follow the rules of a traditional Chinese tart, but it does tick the boxes for a delicate creamy tart. I sided mine with fresh blueberries. Whatever fruit is in season in your neck of the woods, will do perfectly fine!
Top tip: Make sure the warmed milk is not too hot when you pour it over the egg yolks. Be really careful with this. If it’s too hot, you’ll begin to scramble the eggs!

Cooking Time: 25-30 minutes

Prep Time: 30-60 minutes

Total Time: 60-90 minutes

Serves: 12

Ingredients for the Pastry

  • 200g (1-¾ cups) plain flour, plus extra for dusting
  • 110g (½ cup) unsalted butter, chilled and cut into pieces
  • 55g (¼ cup, plus 1 Tbsp) white sugar
  • 1 egg

Ingredients for the Custard Filling

  • 700ml (3 cups) full fat, whole milk
  • 8 egg yolks
  • 1 tsp pure vanilla extract
  • 90g (½ cup) white sugar
  • freshly ground nutmeg

Directions for the Pastry

Measure the flour into a large mixing bowl, and add the butter. Use a pastry cutter to get the blending started, then use your hands to bring the texture to a state that looks like breadcrumbs. Now add the sugar and stir to combine, break in the egg and use your hands to combine the mixture so it forms a soft dough. If you find your dough is too sticky, add a bit more flour. The flour in The Netherlands tends to be much finer than that in North America, and sometimes, a little extra needs to be added, or reduced, as the case may be.

Tip the dough onto a work surface dusted lightly with flour and shape the dough into a ball. Then form it into a disk, wrap it in cling film and put this in the fridge to chill for 30 minutes.

Heat the oven to 200C/400F

Roll out the pastry onto a lightly floured counter to about a 4mm thickness. Using an 11cm (4-1/4 inch) round cutter, cut out 12 discs to line individual tart tins. (I used tins with removable bottoms, that were 10cms (4 inches) across the top.) The pastry can overlap, so you can tidy it up and finish off the edge by taking away the excess pastry. Place the individual tart shells onto a baking sheet. This will help you have an easier time of pouring in the custard and transferring the tarts into the oven.

Directions for the Custard Filling

Warm the milk in a medium sized saucepan over low heat. Test it with your baby finger to make sure it is not so hot that it will cook the eggs. When it is a lukewarm temperature, remove it from the heat to sit and cool for a minute.

In a separate bowl, beat the egg yolks and sugar until pale and creamy. Pour the lukewarm milk onto the egg mixture, and stir well. When combined, pour the custard into a measuring cup with a pouring spout, and fill up each tart case very close to the top. Finish these off with a grating of fresh nutmeg.

Place the baking sheet with the tarts, in the oven. Bake for 15 minutes and check their progress. If you see that they are starting to brown on top, turn down the heat to 180C/350F for the final few minutes. You will be able to tell if the tarts are cooked if there is a slight dome forming on top of the custard.

When the tarts are cooked, remove the tray from the oven and allow to cool for 30 minutes before removing them from the moulds. Fingers crossed, the tarts will be baked through, and no soggy bottoms!

Serve the tart as is, or with some fresh fruit on the side.

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