THE BITE: Way back in 2009 when Ka Ka Bakery opened at 1505 Avenue U, we all had a good laugh. Ned made some puns, got a pork bun, and invited us to share in the joy of this oddly named bakery. Maybe it means something in Cantonese or Mandarin? I don’t know. Anyway, good times.
Well, a few years later, it still stands, amid heavy competition. I think there are about four Chinese bakeries within two blocks of each other on that stretch of Avenue U by the Q train station, but the pink Ka Ka Bakery sign still got a smile out of me and I went in for a quick bite.
For 90 cents I decided to go with an egg custard tart, or dan tat, which I’ve seen (and eaten) at many Chinese bakeries.
There are two origin stories for this pastry:
- They were first baked by nuns in a monastery outside Lisbon over 200 years ago. These pasteis de nata became popular in Portuguese baking, and made it to the Portuguese colony of Macau, right next to Hong Kong, where they also took off and slowly seeped into the culinary awareness of Taiwan, mainland China, and eventually the rest of Asia.
- They were brought to Hong Kong and Canton (now Guangdong) by English colonists in the 1940’s and have evolved from English custard tarts with more egg and less milk. They were first popularized in China at cha chaan tengs, which were tea houses that served tea and Western-style foods and cakes to working-class Chinese at affordable prices. That was something unprecedented as Western food had previously been considered only for Chinese elite.
Whatever the true origin, I like that these are a little less heavy and less sweet than what you typically get from Western desserts. Each bakery seems to have their own specific take on these, and while you can find them in chocolate, green tea, or honey-ginger flavors at some places, plain sweet egg is the standard, and you will see some variation in texture from one baker to the next. The crust can be either buttery shortcrust or puff pastry, and the filling varies in ratios of egg yolk, egg white, milk, sugar, and gelatin.
Ka Ka Bakery’s egg custard tart has a shortcrust shell that is neither too thin nor too thick and in good proportion to the filling. The inside doesn’t come in any fancy flavors here, but it’s fluffy and not too yellow, which makes me suspect a higher ratio of egg whites. It’s got just a hint of jelly-like texture, holding everything together well enough and there’s a bit of sweet mystery liquid on top of the custard, which you can see glistening in the photo. Personally, I prefer these to be a bit less creamy and a bit more gelatinous (I’ve grown to like that wiggly texture) so I may be trying around the competitors just to see, but if you’re preference is for milky and not wobbly, these are for you.
Ka Ka Bakery, 1505 Avenue U, (718) 998-2229.
– Sonia Rapaport
The Bite is Sheepshead Bites’ weekly column where we explore the foodstuffs of Sheepshead Bay. Each week we check out a different offering from one of the many restaurants, delis, food carts, bakeries, butchers, fish mongers, or grocers in our neighborhood. If it’s edible, we’ll take a bite.