The Cooking Chook does Chinese New Year – Flaky Egg Tarts
Chinese New Year, also known as Lunar New Year or Tết in Vietnamese, is coming up in a couple of weeks and it’s a huge event in The Cooking Chook calendar. It involves a lot of food, incense and little red envelopes containing ‘lucky’ money. For this year’s festivities, I thought I would have a crack at a couple of recipes and contribute to the feast that my Mum will be preparing. I figure there is no point in mucking around, so I might as well try something that scares the bejesus out of me – Flaky Egg Tarts. Why do Flaky Egg Tarts scare me so much? It’s the pastry making process. I’ve never made my own pastry before and store-bought pastry won’t do because the authentic pastry for these tarts use lard (pig fat) not butter. I could’ve taken the easy route and just used a butter pastry, but I needed to face my fear head on. For those who have never worked with lard before (like me), be aware that it doesn’t take much for it to melt (including the heat from your fingers) so leave it in the fridge until it is required, otherwise you’ll end up with a squishy, unworkable mess. The other thing I should mention is the smell of lard when it starts melting. Because it’s pig fat, it smells just like that; a bit piggy and a bit fatty. Not overly pleasant. I consulted three recipes, one for the ingredients and the other two for the method. I’ll include links to them in my notes section below. I didn’t quite manage to get the many layered effect in the pastry that you see these tarts have at Yum Cha restaurants. The pastry was flaky but I think I was a little too heavy handed when I was lining the tart tin, so the layers in the pastry weren’t as prominent as I would have hoped. They still tasted really good though! This recipe makes roughly 12 egg tarts.
Flaky Egg Tarts
¾ cup (110g) plain flour
3 tsp (10g) custard powder
¾ tbs of beaten egg
⅓ + ¼ cup (90g) plain flour
95ml hot water
3 tbs (60g) caster sugar
2 small eggs
25ml evaporated milk
1 tsp rum (I used Bacardi 8 dark, or you could use rum or vanilla essence)
Start off with dissolving the sugar in the hot water for the filling in a small jug. You need to do this before anything else to allow the sugar water enough time to cool completely before adding the egg, otherwise you’ll end up cooking the egg.
There are two ways you can make the water dough, by hand or use a food processor. I used a food processor, but I will also outline how to make it by hand for those who don’t have a food processor. For those who do have a food processor, chuck all ingredients for the water dough except the egg and water into the food processor bowl and pulse until it resembles breadcrumbs. Add the egg and water, and pulse again until it forms some sort of dough. Pull the dough out and lightly work it into a ball (don’t knead it), wrap it in cling wrap and whack it in the fridge to rest. If you don’t have a food processor; sift the flour and custard powder together in a bowl. Rub in the lard until it resembles breadcrumbs. Add the sugar and incorporate well. Add the egg and water, and incorporate using your hands until it forms a dough. Knead the dough lightly until it becomes smooth, wrap it in cling wrap and whack it in the fridge to rest.
To make the oil dough, place the flour into a bowl and rub the lard into the flour until it comes together to form a dough. Wrap the dough in cling wrap and whack it in the fridge to rest. This is the messy part of the recipe because the lard melts so easily. I recommend leaving the lard in the fridge until you are ready to make the dough, and running your hands under cold water for a minute or two to cool your hands. Make sure you dry your hands before making the dough!
You should let both doughs rest for 30 minutes before pulling them out again.
To prepare the pastry, dust your work surface with flour and roll out the water dough so that it’s big enough to wrap the oil dough in. Wrap the oil dough in the water dough and press the edges together to seal. Roll the dough out flat into a rectangle shape, being careful that none of the oil dough breaks through the water dough. Fold the top third of the dough 2/3 of the way down the rectangle.
Then fold the bottom third up over the top of the first fold.
Turn the dough 90 degrees and roll the dough out to form a rectangle and seal the folds. Repeat the folding and rolling 3 more times. Dust your work surface as needed if you’re finding your dough getting a bit sticky. Wrap the dough up again in cling wrap and whack it in the fridge to rest again for 30 minutes.
While the pastry dough is resting, get started on making the filling. Make sure the sugar water has completely cooled. Add the egg, evaporated milk and rum. Use a fork to lightly combine the ingredients, then sieve the mixture twice to remove the egg white that hasn’t incorporated. This step is really important to ensure that your filling isn’t lumpy and retains its yellow colour when baking.
Preheat the oven to 200°C.
After the pastry dough has sufficiently rested, pull it out of the fridge, dust your work surface again and roll out to a thickness of 3mm. Use a round cookie cutter that is slightly larger than your tart tin to cut the pastry dough out (mine was 7.5cm in diameter). Line the tart tins with the pastry dough and gently press in the bottom and the sides. Fill the tart shells 80% full and chuck the tart tins in the oven for 10 minutes, then turn the oven temperature down to 180°C and bake for a further 10-15 minutes or until the pastry is golden and the filling has set. In this last part of baking, you need to watch the tarts with a keen eye. If you see the filling start to puff up, pull the oven door open slightly to cool the oven down. You don’t want the filling to puff up too much, because when you pull the tarts out to cool, the filling will collapse in the middle. To test if the filling has set, insert a toothpick or skewer into the filling and if it comes out clean, it’s set. Pull the tarts out of the oven. Leave the tarts to cool in the tin for about 10 minutes, then pull out onto a wire rack to cool completely. I put the tarts in cupcake liners before serving.
Note: As I mentioned above, I consulted three different recipes. I used this one for the ingredients, this one for the method, and this one for the method as well. In regards to the eggs for the filling. I used large eggs (approximately 50g each) for this recipe, so I combined the left over egg from the water dough and added one extra egg for the filling to prevent wastage.