Most of you would be familiar with Portuguese tarts, pastel de nata, the delicately spiced and bruleed custard pastries. They are a familiar sight in many Melbourne cafes; Journal Cafe in the CBD and Tre Bicchieri in Carlton North immediately spring to mind.
However, today I wish to extol the virtues of a 'cousin' of these popular treats, the Cantonese egg tart, or dan tat (pronounced 'daan taad'). Anyone who has eaten dim sum would have undoubtedly seen these little pastries nestled amongst the range of dessert snacks, however there is no need to wait for weekend yum cha. To sample one of the tastiest examples in town, head straight to Maxims Cakes and Pastry on Little Bourke Street, in the heart of Melbourne's Chinatown, which has been serving Hong Kong-style pastries and cakes for over twenty years.
I must admit to being rather addicted to these little tarts. While still a sweet treat, the Cantonese version is slightly more savoury than its Portuguese cousin. The custard filling is less creamy in texture and is not commonly flavoured with spices such as cinnamon or nutmeg. Appreciation of these treats is all about the egg and the pastry, the essential simplicity of the ingredients.
The egg tarts at Maxims Cakes are famous and popular, especially straight from the oven
My friend Maggie in Hong Kong tells me that there is somewhat of an ongoing debate concerning egg tarts, and it centres on the type of pastry used. On the one side, you have those who prefer to use flaky pastry as the base. The opposing view is to use a biscuit or short-crust pastry. Maxims' egg tarts fall into the latter category; the pastry is crumbly and moorish. The custard is deliciously 'eggy' in texture and flavour. It's subtly sweetened but not overly so, soft but not runny.
If egg tarts are not your cup of tea, you will find a vast array of pastries and cakes, sweet and savoury, to tempt you at Maxims. I'm also partial to their walnut cookies and coconut tarts. But the egg tarts are what Maxims is famous for and they have me returning again and again; their pull is irresistible. I simply cannot walk past this Chinatown stalwart without stepping in to buy one, and if I'm lucky they will still be warm from the oven. It's the best $1.90 that I'll spend all day!