Ask and you shall receive. Thank you to everyone who contributed insights on my question about Portuguese-Chinese egg tarts. They are a Portuguese treat called pasteis de Belem (a.k.a., pastel de nata) that were brought to Macau and adopted quite heartily by the Chinese. The Chinese, particular those in nearby Hong Kong created a riff by making their own Hong Kong-style egg tarts in the 1940s. The resulting Cantonese dahn taht has become ubiquitous with Chinese bakeries and dim sum houses.
Many of you submitted Portuguese egg tarts tips, such as where I can get them in the Bay Area, such as the bakery in Milpitas Square off the 880 freeway, in the 99 Ranch Market shopping center. Amy Sherman of CookingwithAmy.com gave a link to her post on the famous Portuguese egg tarts from the Antiga Confeitaria de Belém pastry shop in Lisbon, Portugal. That bakery was the one that commercialized the tarts in 1837. Before then, Portuguese egg tarts were made and sold by the Catholic nuns of the Jerónimos Monastery. (Praise the sisters!) Others pointed to the Macao institution that’s renowned for their Portuguese egg tarts – Lord Stow’s bakery. Stowe’s cross between the English and Portuguese versions is the benchmark for Portuguese egg tarts in Asia. Egg tart fever hit Hong Kong, Singapore and Taiwan in the late 1990s.
I looked up Stow’s and found this YouTube video which was incredibly enlightening. Watch it and in the first minute, catch how the pastry is rolled up into a cylinder and then pressed into the tart shell! For those of you who have the Asian Dumplings cookbook – that cylindrical treatment of dough is the same as what’s used for Chinese flaky pastry on page 120 to make things like Malaysian curry puffs. I now wonder if the Chinese got that from the Portuguese? I’ve not seen that technique applied to puff pastry in other cuisines.
By using a cylinder of rolled up puff pastry-type dough (some describe it as a Swiss roll) for the pastry, the tart shell naturally pushes upwards as it bakes in the oven. All that hot air forces the custard to puff up like a mushroom cap and when things deflate after baking, you get the characteristic undulating top. I know this because I went about five rounds with baking the tarts to develop my own Portuguese egg tart recipe.