Thursday, February 14, 2013

mini egg tarts (my fabulous birthday!)

It's my birthday! (And Valentine's Day, but who cares?)
Today has been absolutely magical through-and-through, not only because it's my birthday but because it's probably one of the first years I haven't had to spend it at school or work, and just get to lounge about the town with my family.
It began with a trip down to Over Easy Breakfast Co. down in Bridgeland, a cute little breakfast and brunch joint in the northeast, where the house special is a poutine in a take-out box otherwise known as "Soul in a Bowl" and the meals are served on enormous egg-shaped plates. If the fact that we were going out for breakfast wasn't enough to already lift my spirits to the stratosphere, father bird sent me a message as we were driving to OEB, wishing me a happy-birthday! (He's never ever done this before...)
Sister bird ordered the aforementioned Soul in a Bowl, complete with herbed potatoes, Quebec cheese curds, bacon lardons, two poached eggs topped with paprika and brown-butter hollandaise sauce - I had more than a couple tastes, and it was delicious! The peculiar marriage of these flavours from everywhere is surprisingly one that approaches perfection.
Mother bird enjoyed a ham-and-cheese omelette, served on a large platter with fresh fruit and plain toast, and as for myself, I decided to indulge myself on my birthday and ordered two "Perfect Buttermilk Griddle Cakes" topped with fresh blueberries, powdered sugar, and served with Quebec maple syrup.

What I absolutely loved about my pancakes was that the taste and texture somewhat resembled birthday cake. I thought, how fitting! as I ate, but I found that without syrup, the griddle cake was plain and a little harder to eat with gusto. The blueberries were a nice touch, but there really isn't much to do with them save for to pick at them one at a time once everyone is cooling down from attacking their dishes; I almost wish they'd been cooked right into the pancakes. But there were crispy sides to these pancakes, which are hard to find and always a plus.
Afterward, we drove down to McKenzie Towne in search of a small dessert shop called Uptowne Gelato, but the owner wasn't in this particular morning so we opted for The Little Cupcake Shop.
Mother bird chose a mocha cupcake, sister bird chose a strawberry cupcake, and I had myself a lemon cupcake. This is not my first experience with buttercream, but I believe it's managed to divert me from the stuff for a long time, if not for ever! The buttercream had an astronomical amount of butter, to the point the frosting was greasy and literally slid right off the top of my cupcake in a solid chunk of cream. It was a nuisance to try and eat, but the cake itself was light and well-flavoured. I'm beginning to find that I favour tart tastes, like lemons and apples, over the sweeter flavours like chocolate, vanilla, strawberry, et cetera.
This is all enough to send me over the moon, really!
It's already fine, I swear. But then my aunt and pint-sized cousin, whom I adore, surprised me at my doorstep with a box of a dozen cream puffs from a downtown boutique I've only ever heard about -

Father bird, mother bird, sister bird and I shared these before we had dinner. The bottoms of the cupcake liners that the cream puffs are contained in are written on, and they tell you which flavour the filling is! There wasn't much variety in the fillings - only cream and hazelnut chocolate - but the toppings more than compensated for that.
My birthday this year is something that is lucky enough to be extended over the course of the entire long-weekend, because
- tomorrow evening, I'm spending a night out on the town with my beautiful cousins - they are treating me to a schmancy dinner date at the Cactus Club Cafe, which I previously hit up with mother bird before Christmas of last year.
- Saturday is a get-together at my grandfather's home, and I will be attempting macarons for the first time. Pray it goes well! Brother bird is driving down from Edmonton to spend his Reading Week back at the nest with us, so he might be able to lend a hand with piping, if we're even fortunate enough to have our shells turn out edible. 
- Sunday is set aside for dinner reservations at San Remo Ristorante, an Italian eatery in McKenzie Towne that looks moderately priced, well-rated, and ideal for pasta-lovers such as sister bird and I.
Needless to say, I am in no hurry to see the end of this long weekend. I am extremely excited for each event that is to come, but I just don't want to see it all be over yet! (:

Okay, let's talk food.
I've been baking a number of things from before Christmas til now and I still haven't posted any recipes beyond the blueberry muffins? I am truly lazy. And forgetful. And lazy. And easily distracted. And oh, did I mention lazy?
The recipe I'm going to post tonight is one that I've made twice now. These are Portguese Egg Tarts - (or are they Cantonese?) - and they're a real breeze to make. That being said, though, both trials took me over three hours each to complete, since I was making such big batches.

They really are the bomb, though, these egg tarts. They're not just egg tarts - they're miniaturized egg tarts! They're tiny, bite-sized little tarts that you can just pick up and pop cold into your mouth, and they're fantastic soft, flaky and piping-hot and a brilliant palate-refresher when they've cooled and stiffened.

My aunt raved about these egg tarts and asked me to make them the second time that I did. My cousin and her husband allegedly ate half a tray on their own; her husband even denied them the first time he was offered one to try, claiming that he didn't like sweets very much, but he was swayed and converted!

But that's the thing with egg tarts - they've got this custard filling, but they're not actually sweet. They've got a creamy texture and light, balanced taste that just melts on your tongue while your teeth work away at the soft, buttery crust, and before you know it you're reaching for another one.
These mini egg tarts are truly one of the recipes that I'm always going to keep in my personal cookbook, with a bolded title that is underlined, starred, and circled about three times over, just because it was such a success, a total crowd-pleaser, and now a family favourite.  

There aren't many ingredients for these egg tarts, and the ones that are needed are fairly easy to buy or usually exist in the back of bakers' pantries, so I find that this recipe is ideal in all respects. Convenience-wise, taste-wise, funds-wise, and effort-wise, it is a true winner.

You know what? I don't see why this recipe wouldn't also work for regular-sized cupcake/muffin pans, so disregard the specified pan size in the recipe and have your fun.


 crust ingredients -
  • 2 boxes of frozen puff pastry, thawed (I used 2 Tenderflake boxes. The amount of puff pastry you use is actually variable, depending on how many tarts you'd like to make. Only use as much pastry as you need to, because the custard can be refrigerated and reused at a later time.)
custard ingredients -
  • 6 egg yolks
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 4 tbsp cornstarch
  • 800 mL whole milk (3.25% milk, homogenized milk, etc.)
  • 3 tsp vanilla extract

directions -
  1. Grease and flour a miniature cupcake/muffin pan. (The flour really helps the tarts to just fall out of the pans once they're out of they're out of the oven.) Preheat the oven to 350.
  2. In a medium bowl, whisk the egg yolks, sugar and cornstarch until evenly combined, then transfer to a large saucepan on the stove over medium heat.
  3. Slowly add the milk and mix well. There may be lumps, but just continue to stir.
  4. Cook the custard, stirring constantly, until the mixture thickens and comes to a light boil. Reduce the heat and let it simmer for 2-3 minutes, then remove from heat.
  5. Add the vanilla to the custard and combine well. Pour it into a bowl, cover, and let cool.
  6. On a floured surface, roll the thawed puff pastry into thin sheets. Using a cup with a rim that is an inch or so smaller than the rims of your cupcake/muffin pan, make discs of puff pastry cookie-cutter-style with the cup.
  7. Using your fingers, press each disc even thinner and wider. Some might even experience tears; just patch it up with your fingers. or a little spot of dough, and press the discs into the pans. They may not even come all the way up the sides, but that is okay! Since the pastry will puff as it bakes, the custard is at risk of being pushed up to the surface and overflowing, which will not be pretty. Thin, small tart shells are best.
  8. Using a spoon, fill each shell only halfway with custard. Any more and you might experience terrible overflow, as I discovered the hard way. Use the tip of a toothpick to swirl the custard inside the shell so it is evenly distributed and with the smoothest possible surface you can attain.
  9. Bake for approximately 20 minutes. Some of their tops will be slightly burnt, but that is the norm for Portugese egg tarts. Gauge the baking time in accordance with how lightly or thoroughly scorched you prefer the tops of your egg tarts to be. Some egg tarts will certainly overflow, and educated as to why this is I am not. But don't panic and remove them from the oven! The first batch will most likely be an error batch, in which you inspect the results and note which pastries had the most success, so that for the batches that follow, you can try to replicate that success.

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