Sunday, January 31, 2010

kentucky fried comfort

One of the challenges of living in East Asia, for me, was keeping my head up when things got rough. There would be days when I would feel so beaten and broken down, days when it felt like my language teacher chewed me up and spit me out for breakfast because I couldn't construct a sentence using the character 把, days when I missed the bus because someone cut in front of me in "line" again, days when I would unwittingly step in some freshly manufactured baby poo on the sidewalk, days when I couldn't get rid of the sensation of pollution on me because it was clinging to my eyelids and my clothes and the insides of my nose and throat. (I know I talk about East Asia as much as humanly possible on this blog (in generally positive tones) because I am still processing my experience (high fives to slow processors!), but lest you be deceived--living in East Asia was NOT a daily bright sunshiney walk in the park by any means.)

My friends and I, being of the remarkably adaptable human species, quickly found out what we needed to do to survive a bad day. Sometimes it would be a simple bottle of Coke or a popsicle if it was hot outside. Midway through the year we found that one supermarket carried those little cakey powdered sugar or chocolate frosted donuts (yeah, you know the ones, the transfatty gems), and those also contained remarkable healing powers. I was quite partial to the 35 cent McDonald's ice cream cones and, unashamedly, KFC's egg custard tarts. I know, I know, shake your head mournfully if it helps you get it out of your system. Some of you believe the C in KFC stands for cruelty, still others think it means chicken...I think crazy (good) would work, or even charisma because geez louise, I was drawn to these things like a moth to the flame. I went all over town, scoping out the best ones--KFC would always come out on top, like magic. I have no idea how they did that!

This I do know: one bite of an egg tart can, in an instant, take me back to childhood (countless Saturdays spent dim summing it up in the Bay Area) and East Asia (where they served as a Band-Aid for a bad day, celebration of a good day, and all other things in between) simultaneously. Smooth, creamy, bright yellow custard + buttery, crumbly crust = pure magic in tart form. One of my ultimate comfort foods. C is for comfort.

Egg Custard Tarts
adapted from Baking Bites (I want to make everything Nicole writes about!)

a disclaimer: if you're not used to working with this type of dough, you may consider these slightly labor intensive to make (I found them to be a little time consuming) but that does not detract from their deliciousness at all!

Preheat oven to 350.

1 3/4 cups flour
3 tbp sugar
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 cup butter, chilled and cut into cubes
1 egg

In a food processor, pulse the flour, sugar, and salt together to combine. Add the butter and pulse until the dough looks sandy. Blend the egg in--now it should look like wet sand. Pour everything into a ziploc bag and press the crumbs together into a cohesive dough. Chill dough in fridge for at least 15 minutes. Press equal sections of dough into muffin tins, 2/3 of the way up. Square off the tops with your finger so that the filling doesn't run out when you pour it in.


1/2 c sugar
4 egg yolks
2/3 c milk

In a bowl with a spout, whisk sugar and egg yolks together until sugar is mostly dissolved. Whisk in milk. (You will be tempted to do this while the crust dough is chilling, but I would advise not to do that because the milk separated from the rest in a weird way and never really recombined again...) Pour into dough-lined muffin tins and bake for 25ish minutes until the center jiggles just a teensy bit. Cool in pan.

Makes 10-12 egg tarts.

(You may have noticed that I made baby ones too because I thought they'd be really cute, but they turned out weird for me (and pressing the dough into the mini muffin pan took forever), so I'd stick with the big ones.)

Your question: What's a comfort food of yours?


  1. this will sound really weird, but it's a classic indonesian breakfast combo. a fried egg with steaming white rice and indonesian sweet soy sauce. i eat that for dinner when i don't feel like cooking.

  2. That doesn't sound weird at all! I actually wants that...

  3. Hey - I'm here via your comment on my blog ... your first graph is spot-on, having lived in China I completely understand. BUT I haven't encountered anything like those sorts of frustrations in SE Asia, outside of Vietnam. To me SE-Asia-ex-Vietnam is oranges to China's apples. And while I could eat an orange a day an apple I certainly could not

  4. Robyn,

    Yes. SE Asia has nothing to do with the above frustrations. Like you said, I also found Vietnam to be a little frenetic in pace, but I also wasn't there long enough to get a good feel of the country. China takes a lot of work to love, but any efforts in that direction will be rewarded in time, I believe!

    I'm in love with YOU


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