Hokkaido cheese tarts are the latest fashionable Japanese import to Hong Kong; people wait in line for an hour or more to buy them. I'm not pretending that this recipe is the same - for one thing, it doesn't use dairy products from Hokkaido or anywhere else in Japan. But once you have the dough and filling made, you can make and bake these tarts in less time than it takes to queue for them - and you can serve them straight from the oven, so they're still hot, soft and gooey. When they cool, the filling becomes firmer.
Japanese-style gooey cheese tarts (pictured)
The recipe for the pâte à sucre is adapted from one in The Pie and Pastry Bible, by Rose Levy Beranbaum.
The filling ingredients should all be used at room temperature, especially the cream cheese, which, if chilled, is very difficult to beat, until smooth.
There's no need to bake all the tarts at once; the dough and filling can be refrigerated and used as needed. For this amount of filling, you'll only need one or two discs of dough. The rest of the dough can be refrigerated for about two weeks or frozen for longer storage.
For the pâte à sucre:
400 grams plain (all-purpose) flour, plus extra for rolling
100 grams granulated sugar
½ tsp fine sea salt
250 grams unsalted butter, chilled and cut into 1cm chunks
2 large egg yolks, chilled
About 80ml cream, chilled
1 tsp vanilla extract
For the filling:
250 grams cream cheese
125 grams mascarpone
125 grams crème fraîche
80 grams granulated sugar
1 large egg yolk
10 grams cornstarch
1 tsp vanilla extract or the finely grated zest of half a lemon
Make the pâte à sucre. Put the flour, sugar and salt in the bowl of a food processor and pulse to combine. Add the chunks of butter and pulse until they're chopped to the size of small peas, then transfer this mixture to a large bowl. Whisk the egg yolks with the cream and vanilla, then pour this into the bowl holding the dry ingredients. Mix the dry and wet ingredients together to make a cohesive dough that's neither sticky nor dry; if needed, drizzle in a little more cream. Briefly knead the dough, then divide it into three even pieces. Shape each piece of dough into a disc, wrap with cling-film and refrigerate for at least an hour.
If you've refrigerated the dough for more than an hour, leave it at room temperature until it's slightly pliable. On a lightly floured work surface, roll the dough so it's about 3mm thick. Use a round biscuit cutter to cut circles of dough just large enough to line tart pans that hold about 40ml. Settle each circle of dough into the pan. Press on the dough with your thumbs to thin it out slightly; if needed, trim off the overhang. Refrigerate the dough-lined pans for about 30 minutes.
Preheat the oven to 200 degrees Celsius. Cut squares of aluminium foil just a little larger than the tart pans. Gently press the foil over the dough into the contours of the pan; this helps to hold down the dough so it doesn't puff. Bake at 200 degrees for 10 minutes then remove the foil. Turn the heat to 180 degrees and bake for about five more minutes, or until the tart shells are very pale golden. Take them from the oven; leave the oven on at 180 degrees.
While the tart shells are cooling, make the filling. Put the room temperature cream cheese, mascarpone and crème fraîche in the bowl of a food processor and mix until smooth. Add the sugar, egg yolk, cornstarch and the vanilla extract or lemon zest and mix thoroughly, then scrape the ingredients into a bowl. (You can also do this in a bowl with a hand mixer.)
Carefully take the tart shells from the pans and place them on a tray. Spoon some of the filling into each tart shell to fill it entirely. Bake at 180 degrees for four to five minutes: the filling will be a little wobbly. Serve immediately. Makes 20 to 24 tarts.
Miniature tartlets with dulce de leche, ganache and toasted hazelnuts
Whenever I have scraps of pâte à sucre leftover from rolling pastry, I save them; I don't want to re-roll them, because the tart shells get tougher every time the dough is rolled. But for these tiny one-bite tartlets you don't need to roll out the pastry dough: you just press the dough into moulds.
About 150 grams pâte à sucre scraps, chilled
1 can of condensed milk, plastic lid and paper label removed
Whole hazelnuts, as needed
100 grams bittersweet chocolate, chopped
Rough-flaked sea salt, such as Maldon
Put the unopened can of condensed milk in a deep pan and add enough water to cover it by at least 3cm. Bring to the boil then lower the heat and cook at a very low simmer for two to three hours. Add water to the pan as needed; if the can isn't submerged constantly, it might explode. Let the can cool in the water then remove it and transfer the contents to a bowl or jar.
Take small chunks of pastry dough and roll them into balls about 1cm in diameter. Press the dough into one-bite tartlet moulds to line them very thinly and trim off the excess. Make as many as possible to use up the dough. Refrigerate for 30 minutes. Preheat the oven to 180 degrees and bake the tartlet shells for about 15 minutes, or until pale golden, then remove them from the oven.
Count the number of tartlet shells you have then use the same number of hazelnuts. Put the hazelnuts on a small tray and bake them at 180 degrees for about 10 minutes, or until fragrant. While they're still warm, put them on a dry dishtowel and rub them to remove the skins.
Make the ganache. Heat the cream until almost simmering then pour it over the chocolate in a bowl. Whisk until smooth.
Remove the tartlet shells from the moulds. Fill each shell about three-quarters of the way with dulce de leche. Spoon some of the ganache on top, to completely cover the dulce de leche. Add a toasted hazelnut and a few flakes of salt to each tartlet.
Leftover dulce de leche can be stored in the fridge for at least a month. If there's any leftover ganache, make truffles: let it harden until scoopable, then shape it into small balls. Dust the balls in cocoa powder and refrigerate until needed.
Styling: Nellie Ming Lee
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