Pastéis de Nata
Creamy custard on a crunchy crust
I have always been a fan of Portuguese custard tarts (Pastéis de Nata).
I was devastated when the local bakery across my former workplace, which turned out these morsels daily to perfection, closed.
It never occurred to me to try and crank some out from my home oven. Probably too hard to make, probably only the equivalent of the Baker’s Illuminati know the secret of really good egg (custard) tarts. And I wasn’t too off the mark – the recipe to the benchmark Pastéis de Belém is patented, registered and guarded under the Oficina do Segredo to this day.
Not bad for a 190 year-old sweet treat.
Done well, these are tea-time treats that are an auditory delight to eat.
What do I mean? Imagine if you will, one of these babies in the crook of your hand. The pastry is flaky, only just, and that first bite into a still-warm egg tart should yield a crispy crunch, while the vanilla-cinnamon custard is just velvet in your mouth.
This video will change your life after 5 minutes. Go ahead, watch it. I was sold at the end, watching those hypnotic pulsating slightly charred tarts. Hey, I can do this!
You will need:
600 g freshly made puff pastry (or just cheat like I did, and got ready-made)
500 cc full cream milk
1 lemon peel
1 cinnamon stick
60 g all purpose flour
500 g caster sugar
250 cc potable water
7 egg yolks
(Makes 24 tarts)
- Pre-heat your oven to 250 °C. Fret not if you do not have stand-alone tart moulds. Just reach out for your muffin trays, and butter the wells. Yolks, milk and baker must be at room temperature.
- Cut out the pastry dough to size and push it into the well. No time to get finicky fingers- just coax the dough around from the centre to the edges; make sure the thinner bit of dough is at the bottom and the sides are thicker. If the kitchen is too hot, you can then chill the dough-lined trays in the fridge while working on the custard.
- Now for the custard. No drama, just a bit of elbow grease (and it helps if you have a kitchen thermometer, if not, a little helicopter parenting and a prayer helps). Dissolve the flour in half of the milk – whisk well, and try to get most of the lumpy bits dissolved.
- In a small saucepan, bring the remaining milk to a boil, then bung in the lemon peel and cinnamon stick. Allow to come to a boil again then add the flour mixture. Stir well. The mixture will start to thicken after a couple of minutes, then take it off the heat.
- In another saucepan, pour in the sugar and water. Stir slightly just to make sure the water wets the sugar. Then leave it to boil. Don’t stir it – you can shake the pan gently to redistribute the boiling syrup but otherwise, Do. Not. Touch. It. Stirring causes the sugar to crystallize, and you’d get clumps. Not good.
- If you have a kitchen thermometer, you are aiming for 100 °C before proceeding to the next step. If, like yours truly, you have little experience differentiating the browning-to-burning process, aim for a 3 minute boil.
- Then add the sugar syrup into the warm milk mixture in increments, and mix well.
- Reach for your sieve, then strain the mixture into a clean bowl and leave to cool.
- Once cool, add the egg yolks one by one and stir to incorporate. You can then ladle or pour the custard mixture into the muffin tray. Fill till 3/4 full. Anything to the brim spells Big Mess.
These custard tarts take 17 – 20 minutes. If your oven can take it, you could start at 290 °C. (Small consolation for fellow bake slaves according to David Leite’s blog; because home ovens can’t match the heat of those at Belém, your pasteis may not brown as much as those legendary ones).
So good with a strong black cup of joe