Caviar Egg Tarts

Somewhat inspired by my trip to Oahu, where we ate at a restaurant called Senia. One of the dishes we were served were these egg tarts, which were savory, filled with an egg salad mixture, and topped with caviar. Now eggs and caviar are a classic combination. Eggs are custardy and rich, and caviar adds pops of salt and a mild sweetness, an exciting contrast to egg. Unlike the egg tarts we were served in Senia, however, these egg tarts are sweet. Using Imperia Caviar’s kaluga caviar, which is known to be more buttery compared to their sturgeon or Ossetra counterparts. That felt the most appropriate for using in a dessert, since it will add a more mild pop of salt against the sweet custard filling I have planned for these egg tarts. Growing up on Dim Sum, I am no stranger to an egg tart(also called dan taat in Chinese). Flaky pastry surrounding a silky, custard filling, that is childhood to me. Namely because I was too terrified to eat chicken feet back then, so seeing a pastry that was basically dessert was my escape from the more “exotic” Dim Sum choices 4-year old Fred was presented with back then. My Dim Sum favorites back then were basically all things char siu pork or custard-filled(and thankfully that has since then expanded to include almost everything else, including chicken feet)! What I love about egg tarts are that they are buttery, flaky, creamy, and pleasantly sweet. A relative blank slate to work caviar into, especially since eggs and caviar are a proven combination to work.

During season 1 of Sweet Genius, contestants were tasked to make a baked dessert using caviar. One dessert that stood out for all of the right reasons was a choux bun with a vanilla pastry cream that had the caviar folded through it. Chef Ron Ben Israel emphasized how elegant the combination was, and that was definitely a component that stood out to me. Again, it just reinforces my stance that caviar and eggs work together well, be it in savory or sweet. The one apprehension anyone would have about using caviar in a dessert is the general “fishy” taste to them. Even though that cream puff did not have an acidic-ish component, I felt like including something like that would give me personally a better peace of mind with using caviar in pastry. In a lot of ways, I am trying to just use it as a finishing salt substitute, while also trying to remove that fishy flavor. The easiest way to alleviate that is to use something tart, tangy, or sour, which will then open your palate and help you receive those more saline flavors in a less off-putting way. For my egg tarts, I opted to use a little creme fraiche on top, to help hold the caviar in place, but also to give that tang to offset the ocean-y taste as well, letting the caviar just provide pops of salt and mild sweetness, perfect and welcome additions to any dessert!

For the shells of the egg tarts, I am going with puff pastry. I made my own rough puff pastry for this, but you can also just use premade if you want. It is a very time-consuming, patience-testing process, so I would not blame you. My puff pastry recipe is quite generous(since you should not have to invest 2 to 3 hours of your time for just enough pastry for one recipe), so you only need about half of it for this recipe, and you can use the rest for another puff pastry recipe, like a tarte tatin, beef wellington(ew to those two), or a mille feuille. The pastry is rolled out quite thinly, since it will expand, and holds a custard made with a combination of milk, condensed milk, and egg yolks. The condensed milk helps the custard filling bake a lot faster, since there is a lot less liquid that needs to be baked off. It is a trick a lot of people use to make flan with, since flan made with fresh milk would take at least an hour to bake, whereas flan made with condensed milk takes less than 45 minutes to bake. That same principal of using condensed milk to speed up the baking time applies here too for the custard filling. Without the condensed milk, the filling would have to bake at the expense of the tart shell being overbaked, so it really helps to sync up the baking times between the filling and the pastry surrounding it. To finish the tarts, I am topping the tarts with a small dollop of creme fraiche, and the caviar, which adds pops of salt, tartness, and a little sweetness that brings a whimsical touch to these Dim Sum classics!

For the rough puff pastry:
3 sticks unsalted butter
1/2 cup cold water
1 tablespoon vinegar
1 teaspoon salt
2 cups all-purpose flour

Dice up your butter into 1/2-inch cubes and stick in the freezer for at least 20 minutes. Mix together the cold water, vinegar, and salt until dissolved and store in the freezer for at least 5 minutes. It is important that you keep both the butter and the water cold, or else your layers could melt together! In a bowl, toss the butter cubes with the flour, making sure that each cube is completely coated in the flour and separate from each other. Form a well in the center of the flour-butter mixture and pour in the cold water. Gently stir the water into the flour mixture until the water is absorbed into the flour. You want a craggy dough with the chunks of butter still visible. If you have mixed the dough to the point where the butter chunks are completely gone, you have overmixed the dough and you should just bake that into crackers or savory shortbreads. Pour your relatively unmixed dough onto a plastic wrap or parchment-lined cold surface and gently push the dough into a rectangle shape and then wrap your dough. Chill down the dough for 25 minutes in the freezer. Place the cold dough onto a floured surface and roll it out to be a rectangle that is about 1 1/2 feet by 6 inches. Fold the dough into thirds, taking each end of the dough along the length and folding them into the center like a brochure or pamphlet. Re-wrap the dough and rechill it for another 20 minutes in the freezer. Repeat this step three more times. For the fifth roll, re-roll and fold it in the same fashion as before, but instead of the freezer, store the dough in the refrigerator until time to use. This will help guarantee that you will not need to wrestle or struggle with rolling out the dough when it comes time to baking with it.

To form your pastry shells, roll out half of the puff pastry dough to about 1/8-inch thickness. Cut out 5-inch disks of the pastry and press into lined cupcake molds. Prick the bottom of the shells with a fork and transfer them to the freezer while you work on your custard.

For the egg custard:
1/2 cup sweetened condensed milk
1/3 cup whole milk
a pinch of salt
4 eggs yolks

In a pot, heat up the condensed milk, whole milk, and salt. Once the mixture is melted together and relatively fluid in consistency, whisk that into the egg yolks. Pass everything through a sieve to remove any solids or lumps. Pour the custard into the chilled pastry shells, filling them about 3/4 the way full, and bake at 350 degrees F for 20 minutes. The tarts are ready when the custard has a slight wobble in the middle still. Allow the tarts to cool down fully before removing from the tins.

For the creme fraiche:
4 tbsp creme fraiche
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 tsp lemon juice

Mix together in a bowl, using a rubber spatula. Transfer to a piping bag.

To finish:
Edible flowers

Pipe a small dollop of the creme fraiche onto each tart, and garnish with caviar and an edible flower to finish. I used borage flowers, just to give the tarts a more oceanic feel, but any flower works!

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