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. From being a child, they were my absolute favourite pastry. Well, apart from Eccles cakes, but we’ll leave them for another day.
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, cafes and cake shops but somehow, they are not quite the same as those ones 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 finding 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 pasteles, so wanting to limit the number I would bake to 10-12, I set about reading lots of different recipes to come up with a recipe of my own. The result of my endeavours was quite stunning for a first attempt. This is my creative 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
You also need a bun/muffin tin, a round biscuit cutter (large enough to fill the mould), 2 small pans, a 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 the tin for 30 minutes.
· Heat the caster sugar, water, cinnamon stick and zest of half of the lemon in a small pan until it boils, then turn off.
· Put 150 ml of the milk in another pan with the remaining lemon zest lemon and cinnamon stick in a pa. 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 in the pan and heat gently. Remove the cinnamon stick. Stir until it begins to thicken. Remove the cinnamon stick. Turn off the heat and stir in the syrup mixture, keeping 1 tablespoon 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 on top.
· Leave to cool (If you can resist them!)
At the end of the day, whilst I was content with my own version of pastéis de nata, 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.