One of the most beautiful parts of New York City life is what we might call “culinary window shopping.” In so many neighborhoods, you can gaze into shops and spot beautiful, tantalizing dishes and ingredients you’ve never seen or eaten before. New York’s many Chinatowns (in Manhattan, Queen and Brooklyn) are home not only to a universe of restaurants, but also constellations of of groceries, seafood and poultry shops, traditional medicine emporiums and bakeries. All make excellent stops for window (or actual) shopping, but the bakeries are fascinating for the way they assimilate Western traditions and make them uniquely Chinese. Pastries that would look right at home in Paris are stuffed with lotus or red bean paste instead of strawberry jam, and the flaky buns alongside them give way not to pastry crème but to savory char siu, or barbecued pork. If you’ve ever had dim sum, you may have tasted tiny tarts filled with golden egg custard: these are originally Portuguese, imported to China via the former colonies of Macau and Hong Kong, and now a treasured part of Chinese cuisine as well as a traditional sweet treat for the New Year. You can adapt these tarts in many ways–add some cinnamon or nutmeg to the custard, dust with powdered sugar–but we kept our first attempt simple so we could really taste the pastry and sweet, eggy custard. Be prepared to see them puff up hugely in the hot oven, then gently deflate as they cool on your counter. The biggest advantage of making these at home, aside from how pretty they are, is that you can enjoy them at their best: warm from the oven. Start your meal with a bowl of sweet and spicy dan dan noodles–long noodles are considered propitious in China, representing longevity–then nibble on warm tarts for dessert, and hope the rest of the Year of the Pig is this delicious.
Dan Dan Noodles
For the sauce:
- 3 tbsp peanut butter
- 1 tbsp sesame oil
- 4 tbsp soy sauce
- 4 tbsp chinkiang vinegar (or unseasoned rice vinegar)
- 4 cloves garlic, finely minced
- 2 scallions, finely minced
- 1 tbsp honey
- 2 tbsp chili oil
For the pork:
- 1 pound ground pork
- 1 tbsp vegetable or peanut oil
- 1 tbsp minced ginger
- 2 scallions, chopped
- 1 cup chicken stock
- 1 bunch baby bok choy, sliced into 1 inch pieces
- 12 oz dry Chinese egg noodles (or fresh ramen noodles)*
- sliced scallion and sesame seeds for garnish
Put a large pot of water up to boil for the noodles.
Prepare the sauce: whisk peanut butter and soy sauce together until smooth, then stir in the rest of the ingredients.
Heat oil in a large saucepan or wok. Add pork and cook over medium heat, breaking up meat with the back of a spoon. Season with salt and pepper and cook until pork is a deep brown color, about 10 minutes. Add chicken broth, ginger and scallion and cook for another 5 minutes.
While the pork is cooking, boil the noodles according to package directions, being careful not to overcook: fresh noodles usually need only a couple of minutes. Blanch the bok choy in the pot together with the noodles for two minutes. Drain and set aside.
Once the pork is done, add the sauce to the pan and then the noodles and the bok choy. Stir together, adding more chili oil if desired. Divide among 4 bowls and serve garnished with some sliced scallion and a sprinkle of sesame seeds.
*Whole Foods has a great selection of fresh Asian noodles in the refrigerated section. We used fresh, thick ramen noodles for this recipe.
Egg Tarts for the New Year
- 14 oz puff pastry (if using Pepperidge Farm, one sheet)
- 8 tbsp sugar
- ¾ cup hot water
- 4 large eggs, beaten
- ½ tsp vanilla
- ¼ cup heavy cream
Special equipment: sieve, rolling pin, mini tart tins/pan or mini muffin pan
On a lightly floured surface with a rolling pin, roll the puff pastry sheet into an 18-inch square, then tightly roll the dough into a log. Wrap in plastic wrap and chill until very firm, at least 30 minutes in the freezer or overnight in the fridge.
Make the filling: in a mixing cup, combine ¾ cup hot water and 8 tbsp sugar and stir until sugar dissolves, then cool. Add the eggs, vanilla and cream and whisk to combine well. Strain once or twice through a sieve, then chill filling in fridge.
Roll the firm log of pastry on a lightly floured surface until it is about 1 inch in diameter. Trim the ends, then cut the log into 1-inch slices. We recommend you try one first, as you may need to make slices smaller or larger depending on the diameter of the tins you are using: with a rolling pin, roll one of the pastry rounds into a circle larger than the diameter of your tins. Place pastry into the cavity of a mini tart (or mini muffin) tin, and press lightly to evenly flatten the dough against the bottom and sides of the cavity, extending just above the rim of the pan. Repeat with the remaining dough, chilling the cut rounds if dough becomes difficult to roll. Refrigerate crusts until firm, at least 10 minutes.
Preheat oven to 450℉. Carefully pour filling into tart molds, filling each no more than ⅔ full. Bake in center of oven until filling is set and even a little brown in places, about 15-18 minutes. Remove and place pan on cooling rack for five minutes, then carefully loosen tarts from pan and set directly on rack to cool. Serve warm if possible.
Makes 16-20 mini tarts