Food

A visual history: the evolution of the egg tart

Jul 18, 2018

Trace the southeastern seaboard of China, and you’ll find egg tarts a recurring dessert favorite.

The egg custard nestled into a baked pastry shell is a dim sum staple throughout Hong Kong and the Guangdong province of China.

It's not technically a Chinese native, however. Custard egg tarts have been a British confectionary since the medieval times and Portuguese pasteis de nata have been around since the 18th century, first made by Catholic monks in Belém, Portugal.

It is said the British first brought the egg tart to Southern China in the 1920s, where it spread across the Guangdong province and eventually into Hong Kong.

Throughout the years, bakers have added their own twist on the eggy dessert. Here are four egg tarts that showcase the evolution of this iconic confection.

Chinese-style egg tarts

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This classic has a pie-like butter crust and a smooth yellow filling composed of evaporated milk, sugar, and eggs. Today, this is the standard egg tart found in most dim sum restaurants, and remains firmly in style.

Macanese “Portuguese” egg tarts

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In 1989, a British baker in Macau by the name of Andrew Stow wanted to add Portugal’s pasteis de nata to his repertoire but didn’t have the recipe. “Being too proud to ask a local Portuguese for the recipe, he concocted his own version,” says Eileen Stow, his sister and current owner of his business, Lord Stow’s Bakery.

“He had never been afraid of experimentation in the kitchen. So he bastardized what he knew of the Portuguese pastry methods with his knowledge of British custard making and created what, with hindsight, he should have called a ‘Macau Egg Tart.’”

Stow’s version instead utilizes a puff pastry, and the insides are egg yolk, cream, and milk. Also unlike the dim sum classic style, his has a caramelized top.

Incidentally, Stow’s former wife Margaret, who opened her own store in Macau, sold the recipe to KFC for a lump sum. (More on that history here!) That’s why you’ll find egg tarts at KFC outlets which are unexpectedly authentic.

Cheesy egg tarts

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In 2013, a bakery in Japan called Kinotoya Bakery launched an egg tart filled with cream cheese sourced from Hokkaido and France. The food world went insane at this new eggy permutation, queues kept on forming, and years later, copycat versions now exist all across Asia from Hong Kong to Singapore. This variation is especially soft; the filling has a mousse-like texture.

Matcha egg tart, Chocolate egg tart, sweet potato egg tart, etc, etc.

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Of course, new egg tart concepts will keep on spawning for as long as they remain popular. Matcha egg tarts are now a thing, as are chocolate egg tarts.

Sure, none of these are as pervasive as the first three versions, but the fact that they even exist is testament to the timelessness of bite-sized egg custard baked in a crust.