Chinese egg tarts and Niangao

After a break over Christmas, Celeste, Penny and I are now back with our Meal to Share posts. This month’s theme is “Chinese New Year” and I’ve been allocated dessert. If you’re a newer reader, Meal to Share is our monthly collaboration where we each cook a course for a themed meal – so don’t forget to check out their posts for the rest of the meal!

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The menu:

Celeste: Long Jing Xia Ren – Dragon Well Tea Shrimp

Penny: Seafood san choi bao

Agnes: Chinese egg tarts and Niangao

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Chinese New Year is the most important festival/holiday in many Asian countries. The festival begins on the first day of the first month in the traditional Chinese calendar, which is based on a combination of lunar and solar movements (a lunisolar calendar). This year, Chinese New Year falls on 3 February, kicking off the year of the rabbit, according to Chinese astrology.

So Chinese cuisine isn’t particularly known for desserts, though I have managed to find two items to make – a traditional Chinese New Year dessert (with a twist), nian gao, and a more general dessert item, Chinese egg tarts. I’ll talk about the egg tarts first.

Chinese egg tarts are commonly found in yum cha restaurants – personally I refuse to leave yum cha without eating at least one. :) The crust is either a puff type pastry, or a shortcrust pastry (that I prefer) and it’s filled with a sweet, eggy custard. They’ve best served warm – when the contrast between the biscuity/puffy pastry and the just-set wobbly custard is most apparent.

The recipe I followed was very easy and it makes a biscuit type crust rather than a flakey crust. The amount of custard filling in the recipe is enough for two batches of pastry – and I highly recommend doing two batches of pastry rather than doubling it and trying to do it in one go. You’d need a very large food processor otherwise! Though if you do want to halve the custard filling, go with four eggs rather than three.

My first batch of tarts were cooked them at too high a heat, and the custard cooked far too quickly which meant I had to pull them out earlier than I wanted – which is why my tart pastry looks very pale in these photos. For my second batch, I lowered the heat and they were GREAT- the custard had just set and the pastry was golden brown.

Nian gao is commonly prepared for Chinese New Year, and is a “cake” that is prepared from glutinous rice and steamed. It’s not really a cake in the Western sense of the word – nian gao is a sticky, chewy item. I consider nian gao to be a very Chinese dessert, as it’s quite suited to the Asian palate (it’s a bit unusual for Western palates).

Instead of the usual nian gao, I cooked mine with coconut milk, which gave it a fragrant coconut aroma and faint flavour. And I thought I didn’t really like nian gao – but OH WOW I found it so addictive. If you drink bubble tea, it’s probably most similar to the tapioca pearls that you can get with the teas. SO CHEWY! :D

So that’s my contribution to this Meal to Share – I hope you’ve checked out Penny and Celeste’s posts for the rest of the meal. And in preparation for Chinese New Year, make sure you do the following: clean the entire home to get rid of all things associated with the old year, put away all brooms and brushes, pay all your debts, and resolve any differences with family, friends, neighbours and colleagues. Happy Chinese New Year, everyone! Gung Hey Fat Choy!

Egg tarts

Adapted from nibbledish.com

Tart crust – makes 24 tarts

220g flour
50g icing sugar, sifted
150g butter, cold and diced
1 egg (approx 50g)
1/2 teaspoon salt
iced water – approximately 2 tablespoons

Custard filling – this amount makes enough for two batches of the tart crust above

825ml milk
7 eggs (approx 350g)
240g caster sugar
pinch of salt

First make the tart crust by processing the cold butter, flour, salt and icing sugar in a food processor until it resembles coarse breadcrumbs. Add the egg and briefly pulse to combine.

With the motor running, add enough ice water to the mixture until it just brings it together in a dough.

Remove from the food processor, wrap in cling film, and let it rest it in the fridge for at least 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, make the egg custard filling. Pour all the custard ingredients into a large pot and heat slowly on the lowest heat. Whisk the custard in one direction to avoid making air bubbles, until the sugar has dissolved. Strain through a sieve into a pouring jug, and set aside to cool.

Remove the tart dough from the fridge. It’s easiest to only work with a bit a time, so cut a quarter off the dough and return the rest to the fridge.

Grease your tart tins and preheat the oven to 170°C.

On a floured surface, roll out the dough until it’s 5mm thick. Using a circle cutter that’s slightly larger than your tart cases, cut circles out of the dough. Press the circles into the prepared tart tins.

Repeat with the rest of the dough until all the tart cases have been lined with dough.

Pour the custard into the tins – only filling to about 80% full. Don’t overfill, as it will overflow in the oven!

Bake the egg tarts for about 25 minutes, or until the custard is set. You may need to keep an eye on them and adjust the temperature if necessary, depending on your oven. You want the pastry to be browned, and the custard to be set, but not coloured.

Allow to cool slightly and then gently lift out the egg tarts out of the tins. They’re best eaten warm.

Nian gao

Adapted from: this blog

Ingredients:
300g glutinous rice flour
75g ungluten wheat starch (tang mien fun)
250g Chinese brown candy (peen tong) – or substitute with brown sugar if unavailable
400ml coconut milk
100ml water

Boil the sugar with the coconut milk and water until it is dissolved. Strain it through a sieve and leave to cool.

Sift the glutinous rice flour and wheat starch together. Stir in the sugar solution and mix until it is well blended. Strain through a sieve.

Pour the nian gao mixture into a greased pan and cover with aluminium foil. Steam for about 60 minutes, or until it is cooked.