I have always been a great fan of custard tarts. It was the wobbly custard filling with the topping of grated nutmeg which captivated me. Since childhood, they were my absolute favourite pastry. Well, apart from Eccles cakes, but we’ll leave them for another day.
A first taste of a Pastel de nata
But when I went to Porto a few years ago and tasted a singularly beguiling pastel de nata, my youthful adoration of custard tarts was quickly replaced by this amazing creation. I was bewitched. Was it the light flakiness of the pastry and creamy custard filling with a light hint of cinnamon, instead of the shortcrust pastry and the nutmeg topped skin on the egg filling of the custard tart, which stole my heart? From day one, I was smitten.
Pastéis de nata everywhere
Nowadays, we find them everywhere in supermarkets, cafés and cake shops but somehow, they are not quite the same as those I tasted in Porto. One of my friends dared me to make pastéis de nata when she tried some from a famous supermarket and deemed them to be quite disappointing (and expensive). So, always open to a challenge, I set about creating a recipe.
I ducked out of making special pastry and took the advice of several (Portuguese) cooks who advocated using ready rolled puff pastry. Most recipes made huge quantities of pastéis, so wanting to limit the number I would bake to 10-12, I set about researching lots of different recipes to come up with my own version.
What you need
1 sheet ready rolled puff pastry
Butter to grease the tin
225g caster sugar
2 cinnamon sticks
Zest of 1 lemon
2 tbsps plain flour
2 egg yolks and 1 whole egg
Biscuit cutter (large enough to fill the mould in the tin)
2 small pans
Bowl or basin
How to bake
- Grease the moulds of the bun tin with a small amount of butter.
- Unroll the pastry sheet and cut out 10-12 shapes with the biscuit cutter.
- Place the shapes in the bun tin and press down into the moulds.
- Chill for around 30 minutes while you start the custard filling in the fridge.
- Heat the caster sugar, water, cinnamon stick and zest of half of the lemon in a small pan until it boils. Then turn off and leave to cool.
- Put 150 ml of the milk in another pan with the remaining lemon zest and cinnamon stick. Simmer for 5 minutes, then turn off. Add the butter and leave to melt.
- Put the remaining 100ml of the milk in a bowl or basin and add the flour gradually. Then add this flour mixture to the milk and lemon mixture in the pan and heat gently. Remove the cinnamon stick. Stir until it begins to thicken.
- Turn off the heat and stir in the syrup mixture (also remove the cinnamon stick from this pan), keeping 1 tablespoon of syrup back to decorate the tarts when cooked. Pass the mixture through a sieve if there are any lumps and then leave to cool completely in the fridge.
- Heat the oven to 220C.
- Remove the mixture from the fridge and mix in the egg yolks and the whole egg.
- Remove the tin with the pastry moulds from the fridge and fill each mould with the egg custard mixture to just below the brim of the mould.
- Bake for up to 10-15 minutes until the top starts to blister.
- Remove the Pastéis from the tin and place on a cooling rack. Lightly drip the remaining syrup mixture across each Pastel.
- Leave to cool (If you can resist them!).
At the end of the day, while I was proud of the stunning result of my endeavours for a first attempt, there is nothing like the real thing so I’m contemplating my next visit to Portugal to head back to those Pastelarias. In the meantime, I won’t forsake my custard tarts – they were my first love after all.