Just as there seem to be an infinite number of cuisines you can taste in Hong Kong, so there is a myriad of sweets and desserts to choose from. Both traditional-style Chinese desserts and western/European style pastries seem to be increasingly in vogue, with dessert places popping up on every street. Whether you want traditional English tea or an egg custard tart, they are easily found.
Some of my favorite places to go are the Chinese bakeries, which offer a dazzling array of Chinese-style breads and buns and western-style cream cakes. Hong Kong people seem to prefer a very soft and fluffy white-flour bun (think barbecued pork buns), and they come with every imaginable filling, from sweet coconut to meat and cheese. Some of the combinations like "sausage mayonnaise" or "corn and tuna" seem rather dubious, but there are also wonderful ones like red bean or curry. And they are ridiculously cheap: usually less than a dollar a bun. So it’s easy to stock up on a variety and see which you like best. You will see many people in the these bakeries picking up some buns for an afternoon snack or for breakfast the next morning.
I have to shamefully admit that I am not much of a bread baker, and I have not attempted to reproduce any of these buns. However, if you are so inclined, there are some very detailed recipes on A La Cuisine and Tigers and Strawberries.
Those same people might also pick up a cake in the bakery for dessert in the evening. The Chinese have adapted the Western ideal of layered cream cakes and interpreted it to satisfy their own tastes. Chinese generally have a less intense sweet tooth, so you will rarely see buttercream or "death by chocolate cakes" – instead, there is a marked preference for fresh fruit, light fruit-flavored mousse fillings, and whipped cream frosting. I am also amazed at how these bakeries produce so many of these elegantly constructed cakes and sell them for so little! Particular flavor favorites in Hong Kong are mango, mixed fruit, and chestnut. Note: even the tiramisu has a light, fluffy texture, and the Japanese-style cheesecake, which is airier and more delicate, is also very popular.
(Note: the prices on the tags are Hong Kong dollars; HK$12 is about US$1.50!!)
Of course, these bakeries will also carry the famous egg custard tart or dan tat. Just like how Parisians will pride themselves on which pâtisserie they purchase their macarons from, so Hong Kong people also have their favored dan tat places. In keeping with Hong Kong’s never-ending appetite for things new and exciting, there are now multiple versions of the dan tat to suit all tastes. My favorite is still the classic egg custard filling in a puff pastry-like crust: the crust is traditionally made with lard, making it extraordinarily light and crisp, and wonderful contrast to the creamy rich custard. Others prefer the more pâte sucrée-like shortcrust. The fillings, too, vary from classic to vanilla to corn-filled, as shown above in center. The version to the right is the Portuguese version, which comes from Macau, a former Portuguese colony. The custard top is sprinkled with sugar and it is broiled, giving it a crème brûlée-like flavor. Eating a fresh, still warm, dan tat is certainly near the top of my list of best experiences in Hong Kong.
I’m woefully behind in chronicling my Hong Kong experiences, I know. Hopefully I’ll get them wrapped up soon!