While sampling the menu of a new bakery is important, the heart of the baker is where the wonderful sweets are born. With Tasty Tart still in its first year in Champaign, few people have had chances to meet chat with the one behind the wonderful sweets they’ve tried. Read on as I ask Eric Kuo, owner and baker of Tasty Tart, about Tasty Tart’s history, the most difficult aspect of tart-making, and share a message from Eric to the Champaign-Urbana community.
Smile Politely: Can you tell us a bit about yourself and how Tasty Tart came to be?
Eric Kuo: I was born in Champaign and raised in Taiwan. After moving back to Champaign (since my girlfriend was admitted into UIUC), I fell in love with this area and now feel familiar with this land. We have met many kind people who helped us tremendously here in Champaign, Illinois that we really appreciate. It feels so good to be home. Holding this faith and gratitude, I hoped I could bring some delicious tarts to Champaign-Urbana. Therefore, I decided to put down roots in Champaign and come back to where my life started.
I developed all the flavors and came up with recipes after numerous tries and tastes. Thanks to my family and friends who supported me and gave suggestions along the way. Our tarts are finalized and adjusted based on countless advice and discussion. We are also excited to hear what other flavors people want from Tasty Tart.
We started preparing Tasty Tart back in 2019 but were postponed due to the pandemic and uncertainty. After setting up health procedures and guidelines for both customers and employees such as wearing gloves, masks, and sanitizing regularly, we decided to open in May 2020 and bring some sweets to the C-U community. Desserts can cure everything.
SP: What factors went into the decision for the Neil Street location?
Kuo: There is a lot of traffic on Neil Street which is a good chance for Tasty Tart to be seen by more people passing by. We are also thankful for having a bus stop right in front of our store. In addition, Tasty Tart is providing in-store pickup and curbside pickup by making use of parking spots in front of Tasty Tart.
SP: When did you first start making tarts?
Kuo: All the baking started from wanting to make some desserts for my family. It was with faith and love that I strove to make healthy and delicious desserts for my beloveds. I started making cakes and tarts for the first time in Summer 2018. Since then, I make various desserts every day.
SP: How long does it take to make one tray of tarts?
Kuo: Tarts are very labor-intensive. We have eight flavors of tarts currently. The base of each tart, the crust, takes five hours per day to bake all the crust for a one-day sale. In addition, most of our tarts come with two layers for a richer and better taste. As you can imagine, it takes a bunch of time to make fillings and then fill two layers in one kind of tart. For fruit tarts, they are more time-consuming. Taking strawberry tarts as an example, we make the fillings, fill the tarts with two layers, and then wash, dry, and cut each fruit into a heart-shape to decorate the tarts as a topping. Every tart from Tasty Tart is delicately handmade. We believe that handmade desserts have better tastes and quality.
SP: Have you made a tart that turned out better than expected?
Kuo: Yes. As I developed all eight tarts, some of the recipes came about surprisingly. For example, the milk tea tart was developed since my girlfriend loves to drink milk tea. She had been longing to eat desserts with a milk tea flavor, but most tarts/desserts from other bakeries come in fruit flavors only. I thought it was impossible to bring beverages into desserts at first, but I finally developed the milk tea tart successfully after many tries and tests.
SP: What is the toughest part of tart-making to get right?
Kuo: Food is amazing: even strawberries are different from each other. The level of moisture and sweetness of each box of strawberries varies. Therefore, adjusting recipes slightly according to different conditions takes lots of tries and experience. With flour and sugar, the amount of these ingredients is consistent in recipes. However, how many fruits need to be added is based on not only recipes but also our own experiences. It is one of the toughest parts of making tasty tarts.
SP: Your pictures of tarts on your website are quite appealing! What is the secret to taking the perfect picture of a small sweet?
Kuo: First of all, desserts are the main character in a picture. Therefore, making beautiful as well as delicious tarts is the core of having appealing pictures. In addition, it is also important to set up a photo studio with sufficient lights and proper accessories and ornaments. We also tried to take photos from various angles to find the best sides of each tart.
SP: How do you select the best ingredients for your tarts?
Kuo: Since our belief is to make desserts for families and friends, we definitely pay attention when choosing ingredients. We look carefully at what is inside the ingredients and ask ourselves, “Are there any additives, preservatives, or artificial colorings?”
I have to admit that using these would make desserts more beautiful and stunning. For example, you can get a high-contrasted and bright-colored pink color on your desserts very easily when blending a drop of artificial colorings while it takes a bunch of strawberries to get just a slight pink in your desserts. We are proud to say that the ingredients selected for Tasty Tart are the ones that we will purchase for our beloveds when making desserts.
SP: What types of drinks are best enjoyed with tarts from Tasty Tart?
Kuo: Most people love lattes and especially milk tea which is more popular.
SP: What is the most popular tart on your menu right now?
Kuo: Lemon, strawberry, and blueberry tarts are the most popular tarts on our menu. Lemon tarts are our classic and one of the must-buys among the eight flavors.
SP: Other than the most popular tart, what would tart do you recommend residents of Champaign-Urbana try?
Kuo: Well, this is a good question but also a hard question because I am proud of every tart and each flavor is supported by customers. So it is really dependent on your interests. I would recommend “tea – coffee series”: matcha tarts, milk tea tarts, or mocha tarts. If you love drinking one of those beverages, you will find your favorite beverage in our tarts.
Chocolate tarts and cheese tarts are also a hit. Chocolate is a common flavor that will be loved by people of all ages. With two layers in chocolate tarts taking things up a level, our chocolate tarts taste silky, rich, and fantastic.
SP: What was it like opening for business during a pandemic?
Kuo: It is obviously challenging, nervous, and unexpected. What we can do during this pandemic is to bring more and more delicious tarts to cure people’s minds, and at the same time following health and safety guidelines during our making and selling every day.
SP: How can C-U residents buy tarts from you right now?
SP: Anything else you want to share with Smile Politely’s readers?
Kuo: Not just for Smile Politely’s readers but also for all C-U residents: We are super thankful and grateful to get so much support from you guys. This encouragement supports and motivates us to keep bringing delicious desserts to the C-U community. Although it may not be a perfect time to start a new business, it is amazing and perfect to have you guys helping and supporting us along the way.
405 S Neil St
11 a.m. to 8 p.m., daily