Singapore Stories: Chinese Egg Tarts
You may not associate egg custard tarts with Singapore, but this sweet treat is everywhere here. Originally from England and Portugal, egg tarts traveled to Asia via colonialism, and were introduced to Hong Kong. When the Chinese emigrated to Singapore, they brought these tarts with them (it also helped that Singapore was a British colony at the time). These little pastries have settled the world far and wide, earning them many names: custard tart, Portuguese egg tart, Hong Kong egg tart, Chinese egg tart. Here in Singapore, egg tarts are sold in bake shops, kopitiams (coffee shops), hawker centers, and dim sum houses.
For an entire year I passed over these tarts. That may sound strange being that I'm so into desserts, but these simple egg tarts just didn't look exotic enough to me. I was busy enough trying all of the other unique sweets Singapore has to offer. Once I did try an egg custard tart, though, I fell in love, not because it was different, but because it was familiar. The beauty of these egg tarts lies in their simplicity—plain egg custard, just sweet enough and oh so creamy, fills a shortbread or puff pastry crust. They practically melt in your mouth.
The egg tarts in my recipe are made with a tender shortbread crust, or pâte sucrée. This dough is easy to mix and easy to work with. Just roll the dough into balls and press into the shells. I didn't have individual tart pans on hand, but found that a muffin pan worked great. The tart shells are not pre-baked, so to make sure the bottoms thoroughly bake and aren't doughy, set the pan on a pre-heated pizza stone or baking sheet. In the custard, a generous amount of egg yolks adds lots of richness and lends a beautiful lemon yellow hue. To help prevent the custard from curdling as it bakes, I add a touch of cornstarch to the mixture.
Both rustic and luxurious all in one, it's no wonder egg tarts have become a mainstay wherever they've landed.
About the author: Yvonne Ruperti is a food writer, recipe developer, former bakery owner, and author of the new cookbook One Bowl Baking: Simple From Scratch Recipes for Delicious Desserts (Running Press, October 2013), also available at Barnes & Noble, IndieBound, Powell's, and The Book Depository. Watch her culinary stylings on the America's Test Kitchen television show. Follow her Chocoholic, Chicken Dinners, Singapore Stories and Let Them Eat Cake columns on Serious Eats. Follow Yvonne on Twitter as she explores Singapore.