Sunday, April 23, 2006


Egg Tart Experiment #1

Due to the relative scarcity of Asians in the HRM, there is a definite difference in available menu selections between restaurants here and in Vancouver. Some seem to have come to terms with this, others scarf metric tons of it down whenever passing through Vancity, and yet others feel compelled to bend the laws of time, space, and culinary ability and make those menu items happen HERE and NOW.

Taryn and I have learned the art of making sunomono salad and okonomiyaki, and last Saturday we hung out at Ritchie's place helping him and Geniva prepare that tasty of dim sum tasties: the egg tart.

Mastering the pastry (Asian or not) is tricky business. I'm sure entire books have been written on the subject, unfortunately probably in French which won't help us now. So we're proposing a long, drawn out experiment, trying many recipes attempting to find one that best: (a) matches our abilities (ie. is EASY) and (b) tastes as close to the real thing as possible. For me, that means tasting like the egg tarts most currently in my memory banks: those from the Imperial Dim Sum in the Marine Building on Hastings + Burrard. They're ultra flaky, almost like they've been made with puff pastry, and oh so tasty.

This attempt we decided to make half the following recipe . By we, I mean mostly Ritchie as I was usually busy taking pictures. But hey, I _did_ provide a kitchen scale for use! (You always weigh when you bake, right? Scoop-and-tap!? If explanations like that web page have to exist, really lets just listen to reason and do it like the Europeans!)

Our assembled tools. In this case, 1 laptop, 1 strainer for sifting, 1 scale, 1 coffee, and 1 Nova Scotia trails guide.

Here is what you get when you halve a recipe that calls for 1/2 an egg. The far bowl contains our best approximation of a quarter of an egg.

We had to deal with lack of microwave, butter from the fridge, and a requirement for said butter to be room temperature.

After some furious mixing, we were left with the proto-pastry!

We needed to cool the dough for 2 hours in the fridge, but we figured 20 minutes in the freezer might be easier.

Stop-motion vanilla is a crucial ingredient in the egg custard.

Following the Alton Brown pastry method, we rolled the dough inside the ziploc bag, cutting it open when we reached the desired thickness.

We then formed the pastry into the tart shells. The first photo shows what we got from using a circular shaped cut out of pastry dough placed into the cup. The second is from a blob of dough that has been simply pressed into the shell with our fingers. I have seen both kinds at various dim sum restaurants, although from a comparative taste analysis they seemed pretty much the same. The only bonus to the pressed version was that it had no lip edges to burn.

We filled the crusts with custard liquid, baked, and voila the final product!

The taste test:

The taste test proved that the egg custard was more or less what we would expect at a dim sum meal. However, the pastry dough itself wasn't up to our requisite standards. It wasn't half bad pastry, as pastries go, but it wasn't flaky enough and had that pre-made frozen tart shell sort of feel to it. Definitely not the flaky concoction I remembered. There could be a number of factors at fault. Most obviously, we could just be using the wrong recipe for the kind of pastry we want. I think this is probably the main culprit, however we may have also mixed the dough too much which creates gluten, which binds the dough together, which is why bread isn't flaky and pastry is. I've also heard that butter doesn't impart quite the flakiness as vegetable shortening does, which is why perhaps a vegetable shortening + butter (for flavour) mixture may be preferable next time.

So, today's experiment has concluded but the search for the perfect egg tart recipe goes on.

i see you have now discovered the joys of food blogging as well.

if you have a pastry baking fest, i'll bring my reviewers over and we can have a blogathon. maybe you can try and bake fish and chips, to include r. as well.
omg! They look sooooo yummy! I really wish I could download one of those egg tarts to my STOMACH. I'm seeing a decendant of imperial's egg tarts here. Did you put the egg-y filling through a sieve (pronounced siv)? It looks so smooth after!
No sieve for us this time... I don't think the recipe called for it, although we _did_ have one on hand (I brought it over for sifting purposes-- I use my food processor for that job but Ritchie doesn't have one).
damnit man, post your sunomono tips 'n tricks already!
"Gluten is like a rubber band, and when stretched from rolling or pulling, they want to snap the dough back into their original shape. To counteract this, it is essential that the pastry dough relax for 1 to 2 hours or more in the refrigerator to relax the gluten, making it easier to stretch or roll it further. If done properly the dough will shrink less and will be flakier."
According to Alton Brown, the "letting the gluten rest" is bunk. Actually what's happening is the flour is slowly hydrating, making the dough more supple and easier to work with.

He's usually quite accurate with his scientific analyses and often likes to debunk "traditional" wisdom.
relative scarcity of asians!
For the flakiest pastry, you use lard. And something involving an ice water bath, I can't remember. You want the butter/shortening/lard to not completely melt while you're handling the dough, so a light touch and a cold room help.
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