In search of the yummiest egg tart

In search of the yummiest egg tart
If you are planning a trip to Hong Kong and Macao, pack an extra stomach, please. Do not fill it up with noodles and dim sums. Keep it tarty. Not how the dictionary defines ‘tarty’ (offensive, improper), of course.

I mean, leave it for the tarts. Egg tarts. Those scrumptiously flaky pastry crusts filled with delicious egg custard and topped with a hard layer of caramelised sugar. High in calories as these tarts are, they have got to be on your must-try-before-you-die list.

The address is a tongue twister on its own and the white building that stands there nondescript. But in Coloane Island, Macao, do not fret about the inflexions of Largo da Matadouro, the name of the street. Just say, egg tarts. If language comes in the way, follow the heady whiff of butter and custard and you would reach the famous Lord Stow’s Bakery that advertises itself as ‘Creator of the egg tart now famous throughout Asia’.

Portugal and England both stake claim to the tart-inventor tag. The Portuguese say the egg tarts originated in Lisbon’s waterfront area of Belem; the British have had their own version of the snack since dinosaurs roamed the earth.

Rolling 192 layers of pastry

The Macao egg tart is a hybrid – an eclectic blend of the Portuguese and British tarts. And it was brought into Macao (a former Portuguese colony) by an Englishman called Andrew Stow.

Lord Stow was not a Lord, not to a manor born. He began life as an industrial pharmacist, dabbled in import and export later. When it all failed, he hunched over dough to roll the perfect tart. Exactly 192 layers in the flaky pastry. He ditched the cornflour off the dough and shunned the machine pounded tart shells. Stow handcrafted the shells and caramelised the tart top in the tradition of the Portuguese pastel de nata which historians believe was invented by the 18th-century monks of the Jeronimos Monastery.

At the Stow’s bakery, tarts fly off the shelf. Nearly 14,000 of them every day. The sweet-toothed wait patiently for their share of the flaky delicacy. In Macao, one egg tart as dessert is blasphemy, you keep asking for more.

 No one can eat just one

A few ounces heavier and still not tarty (not the ‘improper’ tarty, remember?), I took the ferry to step into Hong Kong’s Honolulu Cafe at Hennessy Street. If you remember Jacky Cheung and Tang Wei from the film Crossing Hennessy, this is where it was shot. In Honolulu Cafe, a myriad dishes are on offer – egg sandwich, beef satay, nissin noodles, and yes, the egg tarts.

Do not ask me why there is Honolulu in Hong Kong. Legend has it that when the cafe opened in 1940s, it had a bakery and served milk, tea and coffee. The owner had a soft corner for Hawaiian coffee. Hence, the name. That Hawaiian connection is merely on the signage now. There is no Hawaiian coffee on in Hong Kong’s Honolulu.

But who really cares when they’ve got the tarts! These are made with shui pei (pastry made with egg yolks and ice) layered with yau pei (butter pastry) folded over many times and left in the fridge overnight.

The local gourmand will tell you that the Hong Kong tart is not the Macao tart cousin. The finest taste buds know the difference between the two. Both have their zillion takers – Lord Stow has opened in Macao’s uber-lux The Venetian hotel and when Honolulu Cafe opened its shutters in Singapore, all the tarts got sold out in less than two hours. A tart is a tart, they say. But in Lord Stow’s and Honolulu Cafe, a tart is more than a tart. It feels like heaven in a shell.

Portuguese egg tarts

Ingredients:
l  Cornstarch - 3 tbsp
l  Vanilla essence - 1 tsp
l  White sugar - 1 cup
l  Milk - 2 cups
l  Egg yolks - 6
l  Frozen puff pastry (thawed) - 1 pack

Method:

Preheat oven to 190°C. Lightly grease 12 muffin cups and line the bottoms and sides with puff pastry. In a saucepan, combine milk, cornstarch, sugar and vanilla. Cook, stirring constantly, until the mixture thickens.

Place egg yolks in a medium-sized bowl. Slowly whisk half a cup of the hot milk mixture with egg yolks. Gradually add egg yolk mixture back to the remaining milk mixture, whisking constantly. Cook, stirring constantly on a slow flame for five minutes. Add vanilla essence. Fill pastry-lined muffin cups with the mixture and bake in preheated oven for 20 minutes, or until crust is golden brown and filling is lightly browned on top. Dust them with cinnamon and icing sugar.

Recipe Courtesy: Chef Edridge Vaz, Chef de Cuisine, Casa Sarita, Park Hyatt Goa Resort & Spa

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