Mister Jiu’s Heavenly Parisian Dan Tat
When I was a kid, my dad would often tote home a pink box tied with red string from his shopping trip to San Francisco’s Chinatown.
Inside could have been anything from pudgy dim sum dumplings to triangles of airy buttercup-yellow sponge cake to a double-crust apple pie so shiny and bronzed that it nearly looked lacquered.
More often than not, though, what was hidden inside was a custard pie.
It had a simple crust, which honestly, wasn’t anything to write home about. The real star was the smooth, eggy custard filling, almost the pale hue of eggnog, soft and just barely jiggly, and with a taste of both comfort and lavishness all at the same time.
It was my dad who gave me my first taste of this nostalgic pie, proferring an affection for it that I still possess to this day.
So, when I baked this “Parisian Dan Tart,” I couldn’t help but think of him immediately.
No doubt he would have loved this majestic version of a custard tart.
And no doubt he would have been tickled to know that its origins are also from Chinatown.
From the modern-day, high-end Mister Jiu’s to be exact, which occupies what was once Four Seas, the go-to glamorous spot for festive gatherings in my father’s day.
Chef Brandon Jew took over this iconic building in 2016, restoring it, and giving it not only new life, but the excellence to garner a Michelin star.
Now comes his new cookbook, “Mister Jiu’s in Chinatown: Recipes and Stories from the Birthplace of Chinese American Food” (Ten Speed Press), of which I received a review copy, which was co-written by Bay Area food writer Tienlon Ho.
It tells how Jew, who grew up in San Francisco, came to make his mark in the oldest Chinatown in North America, and what being in this neighborhood — home to countless new and struggling yet persevering immigrants — has meant to him.
The evocatively photographed book also includes 90 recipes that are true to Jew’s vision, and not at all dumbed down for the homecook. Indeed, there’s a roast duck recipe that spans four pages, and will take you two weeks to make. Others are far less intimidating, including “Spicy Crispy Peanuts,” “Gong Bao Romanesco,” “Xinjiang Lamb Skewers,” and “Sizzling Fish.”
“Parisian Dan Tat” is like a giant version of a Portuguese custard tart. It even takes on the speckled burnt top of a Basque cheesecake.
It can be baked in a flan ring or a cake pan, which is what I used. It does need to be refrigerated after baking in order to firm up, so plan accordingly.
The flaky, crisp crust is blind-baked first, before it is filled with a cooked custard mixture of whole milk, heavy cream, egg yolks, cornstarch, and vanilla bean, then baked in the oven again.
It emerges with a golden top with deep dark leopard spots. It’s striking looking, even if mine for some reason had a slight divot in the center. Parts of the very top of the crust might get a little too dark, but they can gently be cut off so top of the crust is level with the filling. Or you can place a ring of foil over the edges while the tart is still baking.
I was leery of unmolding the tart since I used a cake pan. But after refrigerating it overnight, it was definitely firm enough to get out of the pan without falling apart or marring the top. I noted that in the recipe below. Just run the thin blade of a knife around the pan edges, then shake the pan ever so gently up and down once to make sure the tart is loose. Place a board or plate over the pan, invert the tart, then invert again onto your serving plate.
The custard is silky, creamy, and with a firm yet yielding body, almost like extra-rich flan. The vanilla comes through beautifully, too.
It is a tart that’s a custard lover’s dream.
Parisian Dan Tat
For Dan Tat Crust:
1/4 cup whole milk
1 egg yolk
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for rolling
1 tablespoon granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
6 1/2 ounces cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
For egg custard filling:
3 cups plus 2 tablespoons whole milk
1 vanilla bean, split, seeds scraped, and pod reserved
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons heavy cream
1 cup granulated sugar
1 egg, plus 4 egg yolks
1/3 cup cornstarch
1 pinch kosher salt
To make the crust: In a small bowl, whisk together the milk and egg yolk. Set aside.
In a food processor fitted with the blade attachment, combine the flour, sugar, and salt and pulse briefly to combine. Scatter the butter over the flour and pulse repeatedly for a second or so until cut to pea-size pieces. While pulsing, stream the milk mixture into the flour mixture. Continue with more 1-second pulses until wet clumps start to form. The dough should not be dry or form a ball. Remove the dough from the food processor, shape into a disk, and wrap tightly in plastic wrap. Refrigerate for 30 minutes.
Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and place a 9-inch flan ring or 9-inch round (2-inch high) cake pan on the sheet.
Unwrap and lightly flour both sides of the dough. Roll out into a 12-inch round about 1/4 inch thick. Line the prepared pan with the dough, wrapping it over the rim so it will not slump during baking; trim the overhang. Using a fork, pierce the dough all over to prevent bubbling. Set aside in the refrigerator for 1 hour.
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
Press a 16-inch-long sheet of parchment paper onto the crust, then fill with crust with pie weights. Bake for 20 minutes, then remove the parchment paper and weights. Bake until the crust is very pale golden brown, about 5 minutes more. If parts of the crust have puffed up, use your fingers to flatten gently. Remove from the oven and let cool to room temperature.
To make the filling: While the crust is baking, in a large saucepan over medium heat, combine the milk and vanilla seeds and pod and bring to a simmer. Remove from the heat and let steep for 20 minutes. Discard the vanilla pod.
In a large bowl, whisk together the cream, sugar, egg, egg yolks, and cornstarch until smooth.
Prepare an ice bath in a large bowl by filling it with ice cubes and a little water.
Bring the vanilla milk back to a simmer over medium heat. Whisk 1/3 cup of the milk into the egg mixture to combine and temper the eggs, then whisk in the remaining milk. Pour the milk-egg mixture back into the saucepan and cook, stirring constantly, until the custard thickens and just starts to bubble (don’t worry if it’s a little lumpy), 3 to 6 minutes. Stir in the salt.
Strain the custard through a fine-mesh strainer into a medium bowl, pushing it through with a rubber spatula. Press a sheet of plastic wrap directly onto the surface of the custard so that it doesn’t develop a skin. Place the bowl in the ice bath and let cool until slightly warmer than room temperature, about 30 minutes. The plastic wrap should pull off the surface cleanly. If not, let it cool further.
Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 425 degrees.
Stir the custard until smooth, then pour into the crust. Smooth the top with a small offset spatula or the back of a spoon. Leave on the baking sheet and bake until the surface is mostly dark brown and the custard bubbles around the edges, 40 to 45 minutes. Rotate the baking sheet as needed for even browning.
Transfer to a wire rack and let cool for 2 hours. Refrigerate, uncovered, for at least 4 hours or up to overnight before slicing and serving. (If you used a cake pan, and refrigerated the tart overnight, it will be firm enough to invert, then turn again onto a serving platter.)
Adapted from “Mister Jiu’s in Chinatown” by Brandon Jew and Tielon Ho