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What Is an Egg Tart?

By Angela Farrer
Updated May 16, 2024
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An egg tart is a small pastry dessert considered a staple in a few global cuisines, including Portugal and China. One well-known type of egg custard tart is known as the dan tat, which is usually made with a filling mixture of egg yolk, milk, and sugar, as well as varied flavorings. This type of custard tart can be found in many Chinese bakeries, as well as in dim sum restaurants. Portuguese-style baking has a somewhat different take on the egg tart. This version is called a pastel de nata, and it is typically made with a different custard-mixing method and slightly longer cooking time.

Many egg tart recipes can be traced to mid 20th-century Chinese adaptations of some European tarts. Frequent trade contact between Hong Kong and Britain and Portugal led to the exchange of cuisine ideas. Some Hong Kong bakers began opening western-style pastry shops to attract visiting European customers. Many added both their own flavorings to the traditional meringue filling. Bakers experimented with green tea extract and pieces of the salivary nests of the swiftlet bird that are considered a Chinese delicacy.

The crust of the dan tat Chinese egg tart is usually made from puff pastry mixed from lard instead of other kinds of shortening. Some home cooks who want to make this recipe without the high fat content use butter or margarine as an alternative. Other versions of egg tarts are made with shortcrust pastry dough that the baker forms by first rolling equal amounts of shortening and all-purpose flour together before adding cold water as a binding agent. These tarts do not rise and expand when baked as is the case with puff pastry, and they are often not quite as popular with Chinese bakery customers who prefer a lighter crust.

Portuguese pastel de nata egg tarts are usually characterized by their browned and sugar-crusted tops that are sometimes similar in appearance to creme brulee. Bakers typically use powered sugar and ground cinnamon as a finish for these tarts. Some also use a different method of preparing the egg tart filling by mixing the ingredients in a boiling water bath container known as a bain marie. This kind of cooking pot often allows for a greater amount of control over the cooking temperature and can yield custard filling with a more curdled texture.

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Discussion Comments
By Chmander — On Sep 07, 2014

Does anyone know where I can buy egg tarts? It's mentioned that they can be found in many Chinese bakeries. However, considering how I live in America, I guess that's not really an option. Although they might be available at Chinatown...

By Hazali — On Sep 06, 2014

@Krunchyman - You make some very good points about Chinese desserts not being that sweet, as I certainly agree with you. As an American, I have been to several Chinese buffets before. While I did enjoy the food, on the other hand, I felt that desserts left a lot to be desired. I thought most of them lacked flavor, especially the fortune cookie. Though its point is for one to see to future, the cookie is still edible, and not surprisingly, doesn't have much of a taste.

However, after reading this article, I realize more that Chinese desserts are unique in the sense that although many Americans don't like them, it doesn't mean that they're bland or inedible. It's just that their culture is much more different than us. Many Americans like desserts that are sweet, rich and fat (myself included). Going off of this, it's easy to see why it's hard adjusting to Chinese desserts. However, it all comes down to personal preference. On another note though, I do wonder what the Chinese think of our sweet cuisines.

By Krunchyman — On Sep 06, 2014

The Chinese have some very interesting delicacies, and the egg tart is no exception. I have never tried the dish before, but I have heard that it is very good. One thing I like about it though, is that it's not exactly a "traditional" dish, especially when compared to what most people are used to. For the most part, it's healthier than most desserts.

While it's true that eggs are high in cholesterol (especially the yolk), they can be very healthy as well. Eggs are often drank during workout exercises, and especially in those cases, you can just drink the egg white if you're too concerned about the fat content. While Chinese desserts might not be that rich as when compared to what most others are used to, they do provide more benefits than say, chocolate cake or pecan pie.

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