3815 Rupert Street
Universal Bakery is a non-descript Portuguese bakery deep in Vancouver’s Eastside. I come here only for one thing – it is for their very good Portuguese Egg Tarts. To make the trip worth while, I also pick up a few other items – bread, sausages, and so forth. But really, I’m here for these tarts.
The proprietors are Portuguese and the tarts are in the style of Pasteis de Nata from Belem. It is similar to the more common dim sum favourite – the Chinese Egg Tarts. The two tarts share a common history that traces back to Portuguese colonial influences in Macau.
The two pastries differ in the nuances but it is the darkly caramelized top of a Portuguese tart that truly differentiates it from the Asian variants. I personally prefer the tarts with larger areas of caramelization.
The Portuguese version’s custard filling is more dense in texture – it is closer to the resistant chewiness of soft caramel than the soft “set custard” texture of a Chinese Egg Tart.
The lard-shortened pie shell of a Portugese tart is less flaky than a Chinese Tart. The shells of some variants Chinese tarts are often made from a very flaky puff pastry instead of the usual short crust.
The flavour is also quite different – Chinese Egg Tarts are often subtly flavoured with coconut – perhaps through the use of a coconut based shortening rather than a deliberate flavour additive. The more complex flavour and aroma of Portuguese tart has hints of vanilla, cinnamon and lemon.
The best time to get these tarts are in the mid-to-late morning. At this time, the custard has had plenty of time to cool and truly set. Eat them too soon (eg when they are still warm from the oven) and the custard would be too soft. They keep well so rest assured that they will still be pretty good if you come by later in the day.