I became obsessed with these little pastries on holidays, the pastry so light, the delicious custard caramelised on top. Part of our holiday routine is a long early morning walk – great to see a town wake up, take some photos and see what the locals get up to before the heat of the day arrives. The reward at the end of the walk is a sit down in a coffee shop to try out the local specialties. These pastries were everywhere and investigation told me it was the nuns at Belem who developed them and the shop purported to be the original still has long queues and sell out at lunchtime.
I made the pastry but if you buy a very good quality puff pastry it will do. These take time to prepare and are best eaten the the day they are made but I do think they are worth it. Note that all my research suggested heating the oven to 290C – I’v never met a domestic ovens hitting those temperatures – I put my pizza stone into the oven and put the sheet on top of those but could not get the tops quite as brown as those I sampled on holidays…. still really lovely though!
Pasteis De Nata Portuguese Custard Tarts
1 package good quality puff pastry at room temperature
For the custard
3 tbsp plain flour
1 1/4 cups milk, divided as below
1 1/3 cups castor sugar
1 cinnamon stick
2/3 cup water
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract or 1 vanilla pod
6 large egg yolks, whisked
icing sugar and cinnamon for the top
Prepare the dough
Sprinkle work surface with a light dusting of flour
Roll out the dough to an 18-by-21-inch rectangle, with the shorter side facing you.
Then roll the dough away from you into a tight log, brushing the excess flour from the underside as you go.
Trim the ends and cut the log in half.
Wrap each piece in plastic wrap and chill for 2 hours or preferably overnight.
Make the custard
In a medium bowl, whisk the flour and 1/4 cup of the milk until smooth. Set aside.
Bring the sugar, cinnamon, and water to a boil in a small saucepan and cook until an instant-read thermometer registers 220°F (100°C). Do not stir.
Meanwhile, in another small saucepan, scald the remaining 1 cup milk. Whisk the hot milk into the flour mixture.
Remove the cinnamon stick then pour the sugar syrup in a thin stream into the hot milk-and-flour mixture, whisking briskly.
Add the vanilla and stir for a minute until very warm but not hot. Whisk in the yolks, strain the mixture into a bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and set aside.
Heat the oven to as high as it will go (usually 240C).
Remove a pastry log from the refrigerator and roll it back and forth on a lightly floured surface until it’s about an inch in diameter and 16 inches long.
Cut it into just less than 3/4-inch slices and put each piece cut-side down in each well of a nonstick mini-muffin tin then using your thumb flatten it against the bottom of the muffin tin to a thickness of about 1/8 inch, then smooth the dough up the sides and create a raised lip about 1/8 inch above the pan. The pastry sides should be thinner than the bottom.
(See pics if confused)
Fill each cup with the slightly warm custard and bank them until the edges of the dough are frilled and brown and the custard is brown – about 9 minutes for this size – more if you make them bigger.
Remove from the oven and allow the pasteis to cool a few minutes in the pan, then transfer to a rack and cool until just warm.
Sprinkle them generously with icing sugar and cinnamon and serve.
The custard will keep in the fridge up to three days.
Recipe courtesy of Leite’s – I test drove 3 recipes, this gave the best result.