More wanderlust today. Maybe it’s the rain, and being cooped up inside. Maybe it’s the consistent doom and gloom in the news. Maybe I just like to think about sunny days at the beachside? Today I’ve got beautiful Portugal on my mind. I adore Portugal. The warm and friendly people. The colourful landscape. The stunning UNESCO heritage cities dotted all over with the most amazing tiles. The old fashioned trams and winding streets, and yes, oh yes, the food. And what food could be more associated with Portugal than the Pastéis de Nata – the Portuguese custard tart?
Everything I ate in Portugal was delicious. I conquered what is possibly the worlds greatest sandwich, the towering Francesinha of Porto. We sampled dried and salted cod, Bacalhau, sitting by the sunny harbour. We ate more seafood in the form of tinned sardines, presented like tiny treasures alongside a tasting flight of different ports, and they were wonderful. But what grabbed my attention was the bakeries. Wandering the streets in the early morning, the scent of baked goods seems to waft through the air, drawing you ever closer to a window displaying mountains of pastries, tarts, rolls, cheesecakes and more. Let me tell you, the smell of fresh Pastéis de Nata, can’t, and shouldn’t be resisted.
Pastéis de Nata were invented at Jerónimos Monastery in Belem, near Lisbon. When the monastery was dissolved in 1834, the carefully guarded recipe was sold to the owners of the Fábrica de Pastéis de Belém, where they are still being made to the original recipe today! While very few people know the actual secret recipe, the basic ingredients of buttery puff pastry, and sweet cinnamon and lemon custard will be delicious in just about any combination. Pastéis de Nata are very quick and simple enough to make at home, and the ingredients are quite frugal (thank the monastery for that). So, even if it’s raining where you are, you can have a taste of sunny Portugal in your kitchen at home. Do you have a favourite memory of Portugal? Let me know in the comments below!
Pastéis de Nata - Custard Tarts
for the pastry:
- 275 g ready-rolled puff pastry
- 2 tsp sugar
- 1 tsp cinnamon
- butter, to grease baking tin
for the syrup:
- 125 g sugar
- 100 ml water
- 1 cinnamon stick
- 2-3 pieces lemon peel
for the filling:
- 2 egg yolks
- 1 whole egg
- 300 ml milk
- 2 Tbsp cornflour / corn starch
- icing sugar, for dusting
- Remove puff pastry from the fridge and allow to warm for 10 minutes at room temperature. Butter a 12 hole muffin tin and set aside. Unroll the pastry and cut in half. Mix the cinnamon and sugar, scatter over the piece of pastry on the left, then place the other piece on top. Roll up the pastry from the short side into a tight roll, then cut into 12 even pieces.
- Place the pastry pieces with the spiral facing up, dust with a little flour, then roll out flat. Press each into the prepared muffin tin, leaving a centimetre of pastry overhanging the rim. Chill until needed.
- Heat the oven to 220°C / 425°F / Gas 7, with a baking tray in the top third of the oven.
- To make the syrup, whisk together the sugar and water in a small saucepan over medium heat until the sugar is dissolved. Add the cinnamon stick and lemon peel and simmer, uncovered for 5 minutes. Remove from the heat and set aside.
- To make the filling, whisk together the egg yolks, egg, milk and cornflour until well combined. Cook over medium heat, whisking constantly until the mixture begins to thicken and bubble. Pour in the sugar syrup while whisking constantly, cook for another minute or two until the mixture is thick again, then remove from the heat. Strain into a heatproof bowl or jug through a sieve to remove any lumps.
- Spoon a generous tablespoon of the custard into each of the pastry cases, then cook in the oven for 15-20 mites until golden, puffed and beginning to scorch. Every oven heats differently so this may take a little longer or a little less, keep an eye on them after 15 minutes.
- When the tarts are cooked, remove from the oven and allow to rest for 5 minutes. Use a small sharp knife to loosen the tarts from the tin if necessary, then transfer to a wire rack to cool. Dust generously with icing sugar before serving.
FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS
I don’t like cinnamon! Can I leave it out?
Yes absolutely, do sweeten the puff pastry with plain sugar as ready-made puff pastry is often on the savoury side. You might like to add a little vanilla or other flavourings to the syrup instead. Orange blossom would be nice.
I only have a 6 hole muffin tin! What do I do?
That’s fine, you’ll see in the pictures that I make these in 3 four hole muffin tins! Just make 2 batches, – keep the pastry in the fridge between the two, and place a piece of cling film directly on the surface of the custard so that it doesn’t form a skin.
The tops of my Pastéis de Nata aren’t scorching – help!
While the scorched effect is traditional, it’s not necessary. If you have followed the recipe and your baking tray is in the top third of the oven they should scorch, latest around the 20-minute mark. If not it may be possible that your oven is running cool. In the meantime, you can always switch the grill/broiler on for a minute or two to give the tops a final blast.