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up, down, all around

Recipe: chinese egg custard tarts

Last week was a roller coaster of sorts. It began with a dry cough which led to various cold symptoms including me sounding like Kathleen Turner. As my cold progressed from my throat to my nose, we noticed that Kaweah was limping again. She seemed quite down and depressed, so we made a followup appointment with the vet. Then on Wednesday, Boulder Glass came up to replace our cracked window. That’s when things went to hell in a big ass hand basket.

The individual who came up to replace the window dropped the cracked 3×6 foot double pane window from 8 feet up in our great room when a gust of wind blew. There was glass EVERYWHERE and dozens of deep gouges in our floors (because why would any professional think to lay protective covering under scaffolding when doing work like this? He was rather cavalier about everything…). Winter was blowing into our house for an hour until the majority of the big pieces could be cleared away and the replacement window was installed. The fellow kept offering to pick up a replacement blind for us, to come and fix our floors, on and on. No. Please, JUST GO AWAY. I never want to see you (Boulder Glass) again. EVER.

We’ve been spending the last four days clearing out slivers and specks of glass from every possible corner, rugs, book cases, couch cushions, to make it safe enough for Kaweah. We were both feeling very low Wednesday night because Kaweah wanted to come out of the office (the only place that was guaranteed free of glass on the main floor), but had to remain there all night while her nemesis, the vacuum, did its job.

Thursday, we took Kaweah to the vet who looked at her still-swollen toe. I try to be realistic, so I was bracing myself for the worst-case scenario at the vet. He carried her to the back for an x-ray to see if the bone was spongy or broken. We waited in the room while we heard him tell her, “Well, you’re being such a good girl. Just hold still for one second while we take your picture.” In five minutes, he brought us back to see the x-ray. It was neither broken nor cancer! Doc Newton prescribed a round of beef-flavored chewable antibiotics to help Kaweah’s toe heal and he gave her several extra treats.

kaweah’s pawpaws

Kaweah has been quite spunky ever since Thursday, with more energy and mobility than she’s had in a month. Sometimes I’m convinced that it’s not medications she needs, but a visit with Doc Newton and a handful of generic dog biscuits to buoy her health and well-being. Whatever it is, I’ll take it.

As my cold and the week wound down, I attempted a recipe that I wanted to test drive before Chinese New Year. The lunar new year falls on January 31st, which means a lot of celebratory dishes will be prepared and consumed on the 30th (the eve) and the 31st (the new year) in our house. If you’ve ever been to dim sum, you’ve likely encountered the Chinese egg custard tarts next to the mango jello and fried sweet sesame balls. These are a childhood favorite and an occasional adulthood indulgence for me. Egg custard tarts come in two forms – the first has a short crust pastry and the second has a flaky layered pastry. I like both, but I prefer the flaky pastry, so that’s what I set out to make.

water dough: water, salt, shortening, flour

fat dough: shortening and flour

custard: hot water, sugar, salt, evaporated milk, vanilla, eggs

Making the flaky pastry is a little like making puff pastry from scratch, except shortening or lard are used instead of butter and the process involves two doughs rather than the détrempe (water dough) and fat (butter). And instead of creating a large sheet of puff pastry, here we roll out each individual tart pastry.

make the fat dough: cut the shortening into the flour

the blended fat dough

mix the water dough ingredients

knead until smooth

I chose shortening as my fat because I had some in the pantry to use up, but I believe that lard produces the best results. Roll the fat dough into 20 equal-sized balls. It’s a dough that is brittle under any sort of shear, but it should hold together as a ball. Once the water dough has rested, roll it out into one or two logs and slice it into 20 equal pieces. Roll each piece into a little disk large enough to wrap around a ball of fat dough.

roll the fat dough into little balls

slice the water dough into 20 pieces

roll the water dough into a disk

place a ball of fat dough in the center of the water dough disk

wrap the fat dough with the water dough

If the water dough doesn’t completely cover the fat dough, just pull the edges around and smoosh it together. It doesn’t matter what it looks like as long as the fat dough is encased in the water dough. Flatten the ball with the seam-side down and then use a rolling pin to roll it out into an oblong oval/rectangle about 4-5 inches long. Starting at the end closest to you, roll the dough up like a rug. Turn the dough 90 degrees, and roll it out again into a long rectangle. Roll the dough up again and this time it should be a little compact nugget. Give it a little squash with your palm.

roll out #1

roll up #1

roll out #2

roll up #2


Now roll the dough into a disk a little more than 3 inches in diameter. It’s not going to come out round because of the starting shape, and that’s fine if you’re fine working with it. I trimmed mine with a 3-inch biscuit cutter, then rolled it out a little larger with the rolling pin. My tart molds are 2.5 inches across at the maximum. The dough also stretches a little if necessary, so you have wiggle room. If possible, use deep tart molds otherwise there won’t be enough room for the custard. It also helps to make more room for the custard filling if you press the center dough a little thinner than the rest. If you don’t have tart molds, try using muffin tins.

trim the edges

line the mold with the pastry dough

crimp or rope-pinch the edges

here I’ve done both styles

Once the molds are lined with pastry, prepare the custard filling. When you combine the hot water, sugar, vanilla, salt, and evaporated milk, be sure to stir the mixture until the sugar dissolves. You just want to make sure the sugar doesn’t settle to the bottom. Whisk the sugar mixture into the eggs and strain the egg mixture into the tart molds.

adding hot water to the sugar, salt, vanilla, and evaporated milk

whisk the eggs

whisk the sugar liquid into the eggs

strain the filling

Take care not to overfill the tarts with egg custard filling, because it makes the tarts harder to remove from the molds. The filling will puff up during baking, but it deflates when it cools. The recipe called for 25 minutes in the oven, but mine required 35 minutes before the custard was no longer liquid. You still want it to jiggle, but you don’t want it to be liquid nor do you want it to be completely solid. The jiggle will ensure a delicate custard.

filling the tarts with custard


cooled and ready for the lunar new year

The pastry was quite flaky, but I do think lard lends better flavor to a dough than shortening. The custard tastes like what I remember from my dim sum days. I may try larger tart molds next time because I had a bit of custard filling leftover and I found the ratio of pastry to custard to be a little more than I desired. That said, the tarts came out better than I could have hoped for a first attempt and they are particularly delightful warm from the oven. Serve them warm or room temperature, but fresh is definitely best. I think the quality tapers off after a couple of days.

Are you planning anything special for the lunar new year?

the egg custard tarts are great warm from the oven

flaky pastry and creamy custard

Chinese Egg Custard Tarts
[print recipe]
based on two recipes from Chinese Snacks and from Chinese Dim Sum by Wei-Chuan Publishing

water dough
2 cups all-purpose flour
5 tbsps shortening or lard
10 tbsps (5 oz.) water
1/4 tsp salt

fat dough
1 cup all-purpose flour
5 tbsps shortening or lard

5 eggs
1 cup sugar
1 1/8 cup hot water
2 tbsps evaporated milk
1/4 tsp salt
1 tsp vanilla extract

Prepare the water dough: Mix all of the water dough ingredients in a bowl. Knead until smooth (took me a few minutes). Let stand 20 minutes covered with a damp paper towel. Roll the dough into one or two logs and cut into 20 equal pieces. Cover with a damp paper towel.

Prepare the fat dough: Mix the flour and fat together until smooth. This dough will be crumbly compared to the water dough. Divide into 20 equal pieces and roll each piece into a ball.

Make the pastry dough: Take one piece of the water dough and flatten it into a circle with your palm. Roll the dough into a small disk about 3-inches in diameter. Place one ball of the fat dough in the center of the disk and wrap the ball completely with the water dough to make a ball. Place the gathers on the bottom and press the ball with your palm to flatten. Use a rolling pin to roll the dough into an oblong rectangular shape (it won’t be a rectangle, it’s okay) about 4 or 5 inches long. Roll the dough up like a carpet from one end. Turn the dough 90 degrees. Flatten the dough with your palm and roll it out into another rectangle about 4 or 5 inches long. Roll the dough up like a carpet again from one end. You should now have a somewhat squat package of dough. Flatten it once more, but this time roll it out evenly into a circle or square at least 3-inches in diameter. I used a 3-inch circular cutter to trim off the odd ends – you don’t have to do this. Once trimmed, I rolled the disk out a little more. You just want to be sure you have enough surface area to cover your tart or muffin molds. Line a mold with the pastry dough and crimp the edges. Repeat for the remaining dough.

Make the tarts: Preheat oven to 350°F. Beat the 5 eggs in a medium bowl. In another medium bowl, stir the sugar, hot water, evaporated milk, salt, and vanilla extract together until the sugar is dissolved. Whisk the sugar water into the eggs until incorporated. Arrange the pastry-lined tart molds on a foil-lined baking sheet (to catch the leaks and overspill). Strain the egg mixture through a sieve into each of the tarts, taking care not to overfill (the custard will puff up when it bakes). Bake the tarts 25-35 minutes until the custard is no longer liquid (check with a toothpick – mine took 35 minutes). Remove from oven and serve warm or at room temperature. Makes 20 2.5-inch tarts.

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28 nibbles at “up, down, all around”

  1. Ruth says:

    Thank you! From Malaysia with love, I will try my luck at making these for Chinese New Year!!! Glad to hear precious Kaweah is ok and my best for her well being and yours, although, sounding like Kathleen Turner would be a gift!!!! Lover her!!!

  2. Kristin says:

    Ay yi yi…what an ordeal. Thank goodness no one was standing under the glass watching this guy. So glad you’re all ok & that Kaweah is doing better & that the bone is in good shape. We were rear ended once, & were finding pieces of the shattered rear window in the car (and originally all over in the clothes of those of us who were in the backseat) for ages…but I would much rather be picking up pieces of safety glass than shards. I can only begin to imagine what that might have been like.

  3. Katrina @ Warm Vanilla Sugar says:

    The layers in these are killing me!! So delicious!

  4. Pey-Lih says:

    Oh man….what a story AND what a great recipe! I cannot tell you how impress I am with the amount of work you do to get the crust down. To be honest, I have never eaten an egg custard pie for dim sum anywhere, including in SF. But you make it look so good that I am tempted to give it a try. As far as the x-ray goes, how wonderful is that…no cancer! Good for Kaweah….and I am glad to hear she’s bounced back on her feet, literally. And you don’t need to see Boulder Glass again, just send them any repair bill for their mistakes. Charge it onto them. BTW, I love Kathleen Turner! The War of the Roses- great movie!

  5. Sophie says:

    Oh your poor floors (and nerves)! That is such a bad experience — I would agree that the company would not be welcome back to right any of their wrongs. Gracious! Hope things are feeling back to normal. These tarts look so delicious! I’ve never seen such a texture in pastry! Great photos illustrating how-to, something we can always count on you for :)

  6. Abbe@This is How I Cook says:

    I would have been seething at that glass company. And you had to clean it? Man, this screams lawsuit in my mind! You seem very calm and collected. Much more than I would be. My husband loves egg tarts. He spent years in China and says the best ones came from KFC. Go figure. These sound much better!

  7. Jasline @ Foodie Baker says:

    I love love love egg tarts! I live in an Asian country so I’m lucky I can get egg tarts almost anywhere, but I really want to make them on my own one day, yours is a great source of inspiration!

  8. denise says:

    I’m addicted to these. This precious knowledge shared makes me envision myself making huge batches of these tarts, Breaking Bad-style, in a mobile home, out in the New Mexico desert. The dough technique is fantastic!

  9. Maradith says:

    I’m so sorry for the crappy week behind you :( I have no experience with housework though so I’m wondering, aside from not having a protective sheet on the scaffolding, how could it have been prevented? Was it just a mistake on his part or was it really his fault?

  10. guest says:

    Wow, that broken glass ordeal sounds like a nightmare. (They only sent one guy to fix that window???) So happy Kaweah’s cancer free and feeling much better!! x

  11. Janet says:

    I am sooo glad I saw your post. 1st, because Don Tots are my daughter’s favorites, and 2nd, because the photo reminded me to get red envelopes before the holiday!

  12. Lisa @ Je suis alimentageuse says:

    Wow your tart crusts look perfect. WHY ARE YOU SO AMAZING? I’m making banh it tran (vietnamese dumplings) for new years, but vegan! Recipe looks great and I can’t wait for your new years post =) Chúc mừng năm mới!

  13. CoffeeGrounded says:

    Oh my gosh, I held my breath while reading about our beloved puppy-dog. I must be honest, I was speed reading, zipping to the results of the X-ray. I’m so thankful to hear Miss K. is doing better. I LOVE her and LOVE you for sharing her world with us.

    So sorry to hear about the bum factor of the glass company. Glass splinters and shards! What a danged nightmare. I’d run over with my Sebo if I was in the area. I wouldn’t even take, “No” for an answer. I’d just beg to vacuum so I could redeem some doggie kisses.

    The recipe? Oh yeah, the recipe. Smell-O-Vision registered, NUCLEAR! I turned the sirens off and inhaled to my hearts content. Btw, the tutorial photos are an extreme bonus, oh, and those air pocket layers are magnificent! You ain’t nuttin but a pro.

    Last, but never least…I do hope you are feeling mucho-better-oh, cuz if you ain’t, I’m driving north with chicken soup, oh, and the Sebo.

  14. Shut Up & Cook says:

    So glad sweet K is doing better and so sorry to hear about your stupid window…..ugh! How maddening.

    Being in Paris the thing I miss the most is my sweet pups…to be sure.

    As always…your recipe looks dynamite!

    Hang in there lady,

  15. Kat says:

    These look great! They are a favorite of mine, too. MAN, what a scary thing for that guy to drop the window!! Glass is the worst to clean, I’m glad you are all okay. XO

  16. swan says:

    hey j j and k!

    glad to hear things might be ok w/ your girl.

    big hugs from nor cal

  17. Brianne says:

    I almost jumped out of my chair when I read that Kaweah’s okay! That is so, so wonderful.

  18. farmerpam says:

    Glad to hear K is doing well.

  19. Kate in New York says:

    Glad to hear your puppy’s ok! And thanks for another great recipe… these pastries are one of my absolute favorites! You taught me about the two types of dough (fat and water), which I was unaware of. Just curious, would subbing with butter be very different?

  20. V says:

    Um, PRETTY Freaking amazing! these look awesome, might just try them this weekend :) Thanks for sharing!

  21. Jeanne Kane says:

    “big ass hand basket” – you crack me up. xoxo j

  22. Carole@Rustic Artistry says:

    When I visited my daughter in Beijing these were my favorite snack to buy at the grocery store. I had no idea they were so time consuming to make. Sure wish they were available in my grocery store in NJ.

  23. Eve says:

    I love you!!! That came on a little strong. Thank you for all these awesome Chinese recipes! I LOVE egg custards and will definitely attempt to make these with my kids!

  24. sara says:

    Wow, these look so amazing! I love love love these at dim sum…how cool to make them at home!

  25. jenyu says:

    Ruth – you’re welcome!

    Kristin – uggggggh, I HATE shattered glass everywhere. It never goes away… Hope that you were all okay after the accident.

    Pey-Lih – I see them everywhere! Really, you’ve never seen them?? Yes, War of the Roses was a great movie.

    Sophie – thank you! Yes, I never want to see that guy again.

    Abbe – It took me a few days not to talk about it without a whole slew of curse words… Oh, and egg tarts from KFC China? Hilarious (and awesome)!!

    denise – I love you :)

    Maradith – he should have had a second person helping him as he was on the hairy edge of not being able to handle the situation with the wind. He was utterly cavalier, reckless, and unprofessional. Also unethical. I won’t go into how he offered to commit fraud against our insurance company…

    guest – exactly!

    Lisa – thank you!

    CoffeeGrounded – thanks Margie. We have a good vacuum cleaner and Jeremy was sweet enough to vacuum several times over while I was sick :)

    Kate in New York – well, believe it or not, I pondered subbing in butter for a long long time before making these :) Butter would make the pastry taste way better, but I think it doesn’t behave as nicely as lard or shortening. I suppose you could just make a proper puff pastry instead, but the texture would be different from the traditional tarts (still, I think it might be BETTER, but that’s just me!) :)

    Eve – :)

  26. Lan | morestomach says:

    this has been on my list of things to make and i feel like i have a month to perfect before new year next month. i was wondering if these can be pre-made and then frozen? and if so, would you recommend par-baking them and then freezing? or would it would be better to bake completely and then freeze?

  27. jenyu says:

    Lan – I’m not sure if these will freeze well. Perhaps after baking, but even then I’m doubtful as custards and tarts aren’t really things you freeze. You could probably freeze the dough before baking though.

  28. chinese egg tarts | morestomach says:

    […] Chinese Egg Tarts dough adapted from Use Real Butter […]

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