They say that the older you get, the more you long for the foods from your culture, your roots, your childhood. I truly, truly didn't think it would happen to me. We grew up eating dim sum and buying bao at Chinese bakeries. I honestly hated it. The bakeries were loud and unorganized. There were no lines. Just a lot of pushing and shoving. Everyone trying to jockey their way to the front of the glass case, where employees took your order. The pastries were ok. To a kid, the buns and cakes were pretty plain jane. Nothing like the decadent chocolate cakes and jam filled cookies that I would covet from an Italian bakery. So I never thought I'd miss those buns and Chinese pastries. That is, until I grew up and moved away...
By away I don't mean another state or even another city. I moved about 8 miles east from where I grew up. 13 minutes away. But that was far enough to be out of reach from a Chinese bakery. I lie, there is one here but it's just not as good as the ones you find in more densely Chinese populated areas. So as I got older, I started to miss all those baked goods. From the sweet golden, crunchy topping of a "pIneapple bun" to the smooth, buttery filling of a coconut cream bun. These were snacks from my childhood, that didn't seem like anything special, but now I longed for them. As an adult, I can now appreciate the subtle flavors that these buns contained. They celebrate the simple flavors of eggs, milk and butter without hitting you over the head with them. And it's that simplicity that makes them also very hard to master.
One pastry that I remember eating a lot as a kid was the egg custard tart. They were mostly sold cold, but once in awhile you get a fresh batch out of the oven and man, those were good. A warm sweet egg custard with a hint of vanilla, cradled by a light and flakey crust. It was like eating a hug.
So this weekend I decided to make them in both the classic vanilla flavor and black sesame. I'm a bit obsessed with black sesame at the moment, so there will be a lot more of those recipes to come! I adapted an egg tart recipe from The Woks of Life and turned out these mini black sesame egg custard tarts. Perfect for when you want a moment of childhood in just two bites.
The recipe starts with a basic quick puff dough using 5 simple ingredients. Flour, butter, sugar, salt and water. That's it! The butter needs to be room temperature to make it easy in incorporate into the flour. But this weekend, I was running around with the kids and left the butter out for a bit too long. I basically let it soften. A big no...no... So my dough became too soft which made rolling it out that much harder. It was not pretty. Evidence of that is in my "Sour Moments."
But I was still able to roll it out and make my folds with the help of some bench flour. The butter in the dough and the folds are what give your crust it's light and flaky texture. After the folds, I decided to put it into the freezer to let the butter harden up before cutting and baking.
While it chilled, I made the custard. Eggs, simple syrup and evaporated milk create this luscious simple custard. And straining it ensures a smooth glossy surface. I decided to add some black sesame paste to half of the custard to impart nutty aroma. I made my own black sesame paste by grinding the sesame seeds in a food processor adding honey till it became thick and then thinning it out with a bit of water till it looked pasty, I've heard that you can buy the paste already made in stores, but I've never been able to find it so I'm forced to make it myself.
Once the Doug is chilled, I rolled it to about a 1/4 inch thick and cut out rounds for my mini muffin pans, I slowly poured in the custard mixture and ever so carefully baked them first at 400F then at 350F to fully cook the custard. The custard will puff in the oven them fall once you take them out. They end up having these dented dimples, but I kind of like it,
I hope you enjoy these not so traditional sweet treats from my childhood!
Black Sesame Egg Custard Tarts
*adapted from Hong Kong Egg Tarts from The Woks of Life
Yields 24 mini tarts
For the crust
- 1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
- 1/8 teaspoon salt
- 1 tbsp sugar
- 14 tbsp unsalted butter, room temperature but not softened
- 2 tablespoons cold water
For the Custard
- 1 cup hot water
- 1/2 cup sugar
- 3 large eggs, at room temperature
- 1/2 cup evaporated milk, at room temperature
- 3/4 teaspoon vanilla
- 2 tsp black sesame paste
1. Put Flour, salt, sugar and butter into food processor. Pulse until the butter is broken up pieces the size of peas. Add the cold water and pulse till it forms a dough. Cover and let rest in the refrigerator for 20 minutes.
2. Once chilled, turn the dough out onto a floured surface, knead a bit, then roll out into a rectangle thats about 8X20 inches. Fold the top half of the dough to the center then fold the bottom half so that both ends are meeting in the middle, Fold the dough over again like a book. It will look like a long rectangle. Turn it 90 degrees, then roll the dough out again. This time roll it out to 3x the length. Make the same folds are before, wrap and chill in the refrigerator for 30 minutes.
3. To make the custard, start by making the simple syrup, dissolve the sugar into the hot water and let it cool to room temperature. Whisk the eggs, evaporated milk and vanilla together. Slowly whisk in the cooled simple syrup and Black sesame paste. You'll see flecks of sesame in your custard
4. Pre Heat the oven to 400F. Once the dough has chilled the second time, roll it out on a floured board to about 1/4 inch thick. Too thin and it'll break apart when you try to take them out after they're baked. Cut 4 inch rounds. Place into the mini muffin tin. Push down to create the well and push the dough up the sides of the tin to make sure the crust doesn't shrink while baking. Pour the custard into each well filling it about half way. Too much and they'll overflow in the oven, making it hard to pop out of the tins when they're done.
5. Carefully place the tins in the oven and bake for 9 minutes. Then turn down the oven to 350 and bake for another 10-13 minutes till the custard is set. Let them cool in the tins for about 5-10 minutes to make them easier to pop out. Enjoy warm!