Splitting the perfect egg tart in half in front of a water-blurred window on bustling Main Street, Flushing means propping the delicate puff pastry edge up with a fingernail, leaving paper-crisp crumbs on every surface it comes into contact with. As you pull the flaky crust apart, the delicately sweet taste of the golden egg custard filling, hypnotic in its perfect roundness, means being taken back to after-school fall commutes for students at the junction of the third-busiest intersection in New York City, an array of bus stations and subway entrances lining each corner, steam rising from manholes between insistent traffic and plentiful pedestrians.

In one of the largest and fastest-growing Chinese enclaves, with NYC home to the largest ethnic Chinese population outside of Asia, egg tarts, or dàn tǎ in Mandarin, are a common sight on shiny bakery trays, outdoor stalls, and dim sum carts. Nabbing one means a refuge from autumn chills, drizzly springs, and lost memories, awash in a wave of nostalgia for the times when visits to Chinese bakeries were an exciting treat as a kid. Entering a Chinese bakery, you’ll find that in addition to egg tarts, bakery cases hold milk buns with a variety of toppings including copious rou song dried pork, bright strips of egg, or sausage and scallions. 

Popular sweet options are in abundance and include crumbly streusel pineapple buns, red bean paste buns, taro buns, and coconut buns filled with a salty-sweet cream of shortening and sugar. Alternatively, plump sesame balls and chewy mochi adhere to the prized and fun ‘Q’ texture prevalent in East Asian cuisines. Western-inspired creations are widespread and typically presented in a separate bakery case, such as colorful swiss rolls, napoleons, and mini cakes. For makeshift sandwiches, each milk bun is split with crispy fish filets, bright strips of egg, or soulfully tasty char siu barbecue pork. Holiday specialties include dense mooncakes and whipped cream sponge cakes layered with fruit, and you can expect to-go drink pairings of bubble tea, dreamy soy milk, and piping-hot classic teas and coffee. Expect cash payment to be the most convenient option, as well as leaving with single-serving portable desserts and pastries that are somewhat less sweet than mainstream American tastes. 

With fascinating origins in British and Portuguese cuisine, an entire range of alternative uses of the egg tart’s delectable custard filling has invaded the stores of Flushing Chinatown as well as Chinese home experiences. Egg custard slices are a common sweetened topping for bubble tea, where the drinking experience involves patiently dividing and sucking up the custard using wide “boba straws” with loud unpredictable slurps. The gently steamed salted egg custard has domestic origins for me as an antidote to sickness, soother of childhood palates, and basically being the pinnacle of all soft foods made for the purpose of being soft and comforting. For the Chinese egg tart, typically a shortcrust or puff pastry envelopes the warm custard heart of each egg tart, made satisfyingly firm and guaranteeing sugar-shined, melt-in-your mouth bites.

Some delectable hotspots for the Chinese egg custard tart include New Flushing Bakery and Taipan Bakery, where rows of trays showcase the tarts’ origins in Portuguese pastéis de nata and English custard tarts by way of Hong Kong and Guangzhou. Varieties include the original bright yellow egg tart; shifting your gaze a little further means coming across the patches of browned sugar signaling a brûléed Portuguese-inspired tart; the silken pearly surface of egg white tarts; tart crusts containing custard remixed with the shadowy jade of earthy matcha green tea; as well as many more flavors such as coconut, almond, strawberry and papaya.

My sojourn with the egg tart is always brief, like a magic trick. Each tart is consumed in moments, emitting sublime yellow ooze into a ribbed paper liner, crackly buttery crust breaking through to reveal a deceptively simple custard with the lightly sweetened dexterity of liquified sunshine.

When I attempted to make my own, I realized that Googling egg tarts results in an array of recipes that seem completely impractical for the average busy college student. Does putting hours of work into refrigerating two batches of oil- and water-based puff pastry really make the final product taste better if you’re not a truly experienced baker? Would omitting dairy products and using lard in the pastry, like what heritage Cantonese pastry shop Tong Heng recommends, really result in a less runny egg custard and a more authentically fragrant crust, for an average twenty-year-old undergraduate whose cooking obsessions are pasta chips, upgraded ramen, and grilled cheese? It can be notoriously difficult to find a Chinese bakery on any campus. After thoroughly evaluating my time and resources, along with the potential responsibility of feeding a crowd of hungry students eager for tasty cultural and culinary experiences at club bake sales and crowded dorm living rooms, the recipe for all apocalyptic circumstances, time emergencies, and hungry friends follows.

After much experimenting, I’m happy to unveil the basic Hong Kong style egg custard tart recipe for all your egg tart needs away from home and family! This recipe will feed your needs for nostalgia, yumminess, and efficiency in a simple shortcrust pastry filled to the brim with sweetened egg custard. Just like how the British brought the custard tart as part of a growing tea culture to the southern Chinese city of Guangzhou, where locals adapted foreign tastes for their own streets and fine dining, and how Portuguese pastéis de nata migrated to Macau, so too can you navigate the dynamics of a college campus with a delicious confection to share!

Easy Yummy Bake Sale Chinese Egg Custard Tarts (蛋挞; pinyin: dàn tǎ)

  • Prep Time:40 mins
  • Cook Time:15 mins
  • Total Time:55 mins
  • Servings:10
  • Easy


  • Shortcrust Tart
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 stick cold butter
  • 1 egg yolk
  • 2 tablespoons powdered sugar
  • 2 tablespoons cold water
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • Foil baking cups
  • swap with 1 package store-bought puff pastry for even faster results and a puff pastry variation
  • Egg Custard
  • 4 tablespoons hot water
  • 4 tablespoons sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/4 cup milk; replace with Lactaid for lactose-free version or swap with water for firmer filling
  • Optional: 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Michelle Chen
  • Step 1

    Preheat the oven to 425 F.

  • Step 2

    Make the pastry dough: Combine flour, butter, egg yolk, powdered sugar, cold water, and salt by hand or use a hand mixer, until the dough forms a smooth ball and there are no chunks of butter remaining. Refrigerate in plastic wrap for 15-20 minutes.

  • Step 3

    Begin making the egg custard: Combine sugar and water and microwave for 1-2 minutes, and stir until everything is dissolved.

    #SpoonTip: Chill syrup in the refrigerator until pastry dough has been finished and molded in foil tins, to prevent lumps of partially cooked egg in the custard.

  • Step 4

    Remove pastry dough from the refrigerator and sprinkle flour generously on the surface before rolling out flat with a rolling pin. Use the edge of a clean drinking glass to divide dough into approximately ten equal circles.

  • Step 5

    Press the shortcrust pastry circles into foil tins. Stop at about ¼ inch below the top edge to prevent tart breakage and poke a few holes into the bottom crust with a fork.

  • Step 6

    Remove simple syrup from the refrigerator and add eggs and milk. Whisk thoroughly and strain mixture through a sieve to remove bubbles and lumps, for a perfectly smooth custard surface.

  • Step 7

    Pour custard equally amongst all tart shells, filling 80% full and following the brim closely. Bake the tarts for 15 minutes until the crust is golden-brown and the egg custard is set.

    #SpoonTip: If the custard expands too high, open the oven door 2-3″ to prevent the custard from spilling over or collapsing when cooled. Observe all tarts closely to avoid over browning.

    Michelle Chen
  • Step 8

    Remove from the oven and let cool 5-10 minutes. Serve immediately while warm for best taste, and enjoy with a cup of coffee or tea!

    Egg tarts can be stored in an airtight container for up to three days in the refrigerator. Reheat in a 300 degree oven for 5-10 minutes to refresh and crisp the pastry.

    Michelle Chen