Chinese egg tarts and Niangao

Posted on | January 31, 2011 | 22 Comments

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!


The menu:

Celeste: Long Jing Xia Ren – Dragon Well Tea Shrimp

Penny: Seafood san choi bao

Agnes: Chinese egg tarts and Niangao


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

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

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.


22 Responses to “Chinese egg tarts and Niangao”

  1. Celeste @ Berrytravels
    January 31st, 2011 @ 10:38 am

    Yum! I’m so going to try out that Nian Gao recipe. I haven’t had it in ages!

    Nian Gao is especially good when sandwiched between sweet potato slices and battered then deep fried. The only time I’ll actually want to deep fry anything!
    Celeste @ Berrytravels recently posted..Recipe- Carrot cake with Cream Cheese Frosting – so moist!


    Agnes Reply:

    Deep fried! That sounds like crazy… though I do remember eating very oily versions of nian gao, so perhaps those were ones that had been fried.


  2. leaf (the indolent cook)
    January 31st, 2011 @ 10:57 am

    Great classic desserts! I hope to enjoy some nian gao this year… it’s been a while!
    leaf (the indolent cook) recently posted..the snake pit lounge- fitzroy


    Agnes Reply:

    Hope you managed to eat some :)


  3. Hannah
    January 31st, 2011 @ 2:28 pm

    What’s that you made? Kidney and lard pies? ;)

    In all seriousness these look fantastic! Egg tarts were the requisite ending to yum cha in my family too – none of this almond jelly business. I’ve never had anything like the nian gao but I’m tremendously intrigued and hungry after looking at the photos. I’m not a big standard-cake person, so this chewy morsel sounds like wonderment!
    Hannah recently posted..Ani Phyo’s Coconut Breakfast Cakes- More Raw Vegan Fun!


    Agnes Reply:

    Haha I used to like almond jelly too. But I haven’t eaten it in years! Nian gao is great, though it’s probably an acquired taste. :)


  4. penny aka jeroxie
    January 31st, 2011 @ 3:17 pm

    I love nian gao deep fried as well! Happy Chinese New year lovely!
    penny aka jeroxie recently posted..Cookbook Challenge citrus – Luke Nguyen’s salad or dipping sauce


    Agnes Reply:

    I’m very late – but happy Chinese New Year! Hope you had a fantastic one :)


  5. Fatbooo
    January 31st, 2011 @ 11:01 pm

    I’m so impressed! I tried making dan taa last time but the custard sank. Might try your recipe! :)

    I bought nian gao for CNY this year, but never imagined we could make them!! I normally like to slice them and the deep fry with with a light flour batter, my grandma likes to sandwich them between yam slices and then deep fry.
    Fatbooo recently posted..Mee Sua Soup


    Agnes Reply:

    Maybe the custard sank because the oven was too hot?

    And another vote for deep frying nian gao… my arteries hurt just thinking about it :D


  6. Lisa
    February 1st, 2011 @ 5:44 am

    The photos of those yummy tarts remind me how much I miss yum cha :(


    Agnes Reply:

    You need to come back to Melbourne!! :) (They have yum cha in London though????)


  7. Mama Kelly aka Jia
    February 1st, 2011 @ 12:47 pm

    Those egg tarts look really yummy. I’ve been on an Asian kick in the kitchen lately. I might have to give these a try.
    Mama Kelly aka Jia recently posted..Frugal Pantry – 11 Cheap Pasta Based Meals


    Agnes Reply:

    Hope you try them – they’re soooo good :D


  8. mademoiselle délicieuse
    February 1st, 2011 @ 8:57 pm

    Haha, I just went out and bought a small nian gao/nin go today!
    mademoiselle délicieuse recently posted..Epicure Recipe Card 15- Nori-crusted Tuna


    Agnes Reply:

    Did you eat it all? :D Happy belated CNY!


  9. crankycheryl
    February 7th, 2011 @ 10:45 am

    I love, love, love don tot and was so happy to see the picture on Photograzing and find your blog with the recipe. Happy Year of the Rabbit to you all!
    crankycheryl recently posted..Miso Roasted Roots &amp Friends


    Agnes Reply:

    And to you too! :D Thanks for the visit and the comment!


  10. ck
    February 8th, 2011 @ 7:41 pm

    Meal to Share Grand Tart Off for dead! And your Meal to Share logo is fabulous. Your desserts look great, and although I am not from an Asian background, I am addicted to everything with glutinous rice flour and red bean paste! I don’t know about the Nian Gao deep fried either. It would be great to try though.
    ck recently posted..The Cookbook Challenge – 26 themes over 52 weeks Citrus


    ck Reply:

    that was meant to say, ‘I think your Meal to Share leaves my Grand Tart Off for dead’!
    ck recently posted..The Cookbook Challenge – 26 themes over 52 weeks Citrus


  11. Heidi
    February 28th, 2011 @ 11:48 am

    Fantastic post! I loved reading this. I was in HK this year for CNY, and had my first nian gao :) yum!
    Heidi xo
    Heidi recently posted..One Whirlwind Day in Ho Chi Minh City- Part 3


  12. Molly
    January 31st, 2012 @ 2:22 pm

    Those little tarts look so tasty! Thanks for the idea…and the Sugar Rush!


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