Behind the scenes of Hong Kong's most loved egg tart bakery
Many Hong Kong residents will recollect the smell of crispy cookie crust and sweet egg custard along Lyndhurst Terrace in Central with great affection. After all, if they were good enough for Chris Patten, the last British governor and famously a fan of the product, they should be good enough for the rest of us.
We are talking about Tai Cheong bakery.
For almost six decades, Tai Cheong has witnessed and experienced the city’s growth, including property inflation. Its owners were forced to close it down in 2005 due to high rent, but reopened it later in a nearby spot, determined to change.
As a part of Tao Heung Group now, the once small bakery has swollen into a corporate business. Despite the convenience given by 14 branches (excluding the one in Macau), many Tai Cheong fans, local and international, still prefer to go to the Central main store, hoping to have a taste of the good old days and to sooth their nostalgia.
We thought it was time to visit one of the new stores, and speak to an egg tart expert there instead.
The Lok Fu branch opened in April. The only trace of the age of the brand is through the old pictures on the wall. Chung Chi Wai has been a baker for 20 years and is charged with maintaining the success of the brand at this site. “Of course it is an immense pressure for me,” he says.
Every bakery has its own unique formula for the egg fillings, the highlight of the product. But as the pioneer of cookie-crust egg tarts, Tai Cheong's crust is no less important. “Personally, I am not a big fan of egg tarts,” Chung Chi Wai, admits. “Yet, Tai Cheong’s cookie-crust is really very different from the other bakeries.”
Despite the crust being centrally produced now, Chung starts baking at 6:30 a.m. However, it is not until 9 a.m. that the first round of egg tarts can be served. It is the duty of the baker to check constantly how many egg tarts are sold and start baking before the last one goes.
“The trickiest part is to be careful with the amount of filling poured,” Chung says as he calmly fills every empty shell with thick egg liquid. “When I first learned to be a baker, I always have to spoon the filling here and there to make them even.”
Another characteristic of the new store is the open kitchen design. Fans can tip-toe to see how the egg tarts are made.
The timing is essential. First, the egg tarts are baked for 13 minutes before Chung rotates the tray “extremely carefully." Then, four minutes of waiting.
Beep beep beep. The timer goes off. Chung’s hand is already on the oven handle as he asks, “Are you ready?” The egg tarts arrive, the crust brownish yellow and the wobbling egg custard looks like it is going to burst open at any second.
“When the baking is done well I am happy,” says Chung.
It is true that the new stores may not share the old-school feeling of the Central main store. But they are not short of support from long-term fans.
Tai Cheong's egg tart recipe
Evaporated milk 2 teaspoons
Egg Custard Filling:
Evaporated milk 200ml
Pre-heat the baking oven to 300°C
1. Mix all pastry ingredients and knead it into a dough
2. Refrigerate the dough for 2 hours, re-knead it before use
3. Roll out the dough and cut it to small dough balls, then press the balls into the tart shells.
4. Pour the egg custard filling into the shells. Bake it 5 minutes until the pastry turns gold brown, then bake for another 15 minutes at 150°C
Egg Custard Filling:
1. Dissolve the sugar in the boiling water, set it aside to cool down
2. Stir in the egg, evaporated milk with the cold sugar water
3. Sieve the mixture and refrigerate it for 30 minutes before pouring it into the shells with pastry on