Don't make the mistake of confusing egg tart recipes! Before you cook, learn the differences between a Portuguese Egg Tart and a Chinese Egg Tart here.
The Portuguese egg tart and the Chinese egg tart, or Portuguese custard tart and Chinese custard tart respectively, are well-loved treats in Asia. They’ve expanded from their Asian origins into Europe and beyond.
Even KFC is in on the action, through a slightly shady backdoor deal. However, they’re not quite as high-quality as you would hope due to their mass-production manufacturing practices.
What’s the history and the difference between the Chinese egg tart and the Portuguese egg tart? Keep reading to find out!
The Unlikely History of Pastéis de Nata
The Portuguese egg tart or pastéis de nata is actually a different thing from the Chinese egg tarts you’re familiar with. It’s important to understand the history of the pastéis de nata before knowing the Asian connection.
In the 18th century, Catholic monks and nuns in Portugal used egg whites to starch their habits. Habits are kinds of uniforms or clothing for religious purposes. They had plenty of egg yolks left over to do things with, so they baked and made cakes.
After a religious reformation in the early 1800s, monks needed to make some dough — as in, money. They did this by selling one of the results of their egg white habit starching routine, the pastéis de nata.
In 1834, the recipe was sold to a sugar refinery and they subsequently opened the world-famous Fábrica de Pastéis de Belém in 1837. This business is still family-owned, even today.
Wait a Second, They’re Both Chinese?
Chinese egg tarts fall into a couple of different categories. Those are the Macanese (from Macau) and Hong Kong egg tarts.
Fast forward 150+ years to Macau, 1989. The former Portuguese colony had a high number of Portuguese people still living in it, and a thriving ex-pat community. Andrew Stow, one such British-born Essexian ex-pat, decided that the Portuguese community would love a taste of home.
Stow didn’t have the secret original recipe, so he made his own based on a British custard filling and the Portuguese pastry techniques he already knew.
It was well-received by the Portuguese, but a hit with an unlikely market — the well-to-do Chinese inhabitants of Macau. The British-based Hong Kong egg tart in southern China they called dan-tart. This one, because of Macau’s Portuguese history, they named po-tart.
From there, word of mouth took over. Lord Stow’s Portuguese egg tart empire was born.
Don’t Judge a Tart By Its Cover
But what’s the difference between the dan-tart and po-tart and why did the wealthy Macanese go crazy over them?
These British-based Chinese egg tarts use a shortcrust casing, where the Portuguese egg tarts use a puff pastry. This makes the Portuguese egg tarts a delicate melt-in-your-mouth experience.
Portuguese egg tarts are also sweeter. This makes sense since a former sugar refinery bought the recipe from the monks. Cinnamon is dusted over the Portuguese egg tarts, as well as with a dash of lemon zest.
The Portuguese egg tarts hit all the familiar places. Since Hong Kong and Macau are so close geographically, you can get familiar with both kinds of egg tarts in a single day. Why not give that a try next time you’re in the neighborhood?
The Making of a Portuguese Egg Tart
To enjoy the wonder of a Portuguese egg tart (or 12) you don’t need a whole lot of ingredients or time. In fact, this is what you’ll need:
- One-half teaspoon salt
- One cup all-purpose flour
- One-half cup unsalted, softened butter
- One-half cup water
For the filling, you’ll need these ingredients, too. Most you’ll probably already have.
- One lemon
- One three- or four-inch cinnamon stick
- One-third cup all-purpose flour (for filling)
- Three-quarter cup sugar
- Six large egg yolks
- One and one-half cups whole milk
- One teaspoon vanilla extract
- One-eight teaspoon salt (for filling)
The only piece of special kitchen equipment you might need is a candy thermometer. These are fairly inexpensive and found in almost any kitchen supply section.
Making the Dough
- Mix salt, flour, and water in a large bowl until you’ve got a rough dough. Make sure it’s very sticky, which usually takes about 5 minutes of kneading. Wrap it in some plastic wrap and let it sit for about half an hour.
- Flour up a work surface like you’re making pasta. Drop your dough onto the work surface, lightly coat it in flour along with a rolling pin. Roll it into a one-foot square.
- Imagine three columns and butter the left and middle column, leaving a half-inch border on the edges. Fold the right column over the middle one. Next, fold the left column over that.
Turn it counterclockwise and you’ll be ready for the next step. Repeat two more times. Spread the rest of the butter over it leaving a half-inch border.
- Rotate it again and tightly roll from the bottom to the top. Make sure to brush off any excess flour from the bottom as you go. Wet the edge when you get to the end so it sticks. Trim off any excess dough on the ends and cut the log in half.
You can chill one of these for one hour, and freeze the other for the next batch you’ll undoubtedly want to make.
Making the Filling and Putting It Together
- Make a lemon zest and grate the cinnamon.
- Mix the cinnamon with sugar and one-quarter cup of water over heat to make a syrup out of it. Make sure to keep the temperature at 225°. Throw in your lemon zest, stir it up, and set it aside for 30 minutes.
- Preheat an oven to 500° and throw in a baking sheet to get it ready.
- Whisk together your salt, flour, and a half-cup of milk in a bowl until smooth. Heat the remaining one cup of milk until it begins to boil, then add your flour mixture. Bring the heat to medium and stir until it’s thick, smooth, and creamy (about five minutes).
- Strain your syrup through a sieve into your milk mixture. Whisk in egg yolks and vanilla to the mixture.
- Slice your chilled dough into twelve half-inch slices. Firmly press each slice into its own cup on a 12-cup muffin pan until the dough is halfway up the muffin cup. Fill each shell with about two tablespoons of your filling.
- Put the muffin pan into the oven on the preheated baking sheet. Bake until the custard puffs and gets browned. The crust will be a golden, brown, delicious pastry puff in about 15 minutes.
- Let it rest for 10 minutes before taking them out of the muffin pan. Let it rest an additional 20 minutes before serving.
- Make sure to check out our other egg tart recipes too!
All Filled Up on Egg Tarts
It’s tough to try the recipe and learn the history of Portuguese egg tarts in Asia without getting a bit full along the way. While you digest that, make sure to browse more of our delicious recipes and food stories on Foodporn.
We’re dedicated to bringing you the best food news in Asia and beyond. From air fryers to wine tips, we’ve got you covered for all the best eats in town!