Pastéis de Nata [Portuguese Custard Tarts]

This is of those recipes that I pull from my memory bank.  During a business trip to Brasil a gazillion years ago, I came across these little morsels.  During my stay there and after many glorious trips to local restaurants my host discover my great love affair with pastries and he insisted in stopping in a pastry shop for me to sample some of the local goodies.

When I saw these in the counter, and asked what they were made of, and once the baker told me in broken Spanish, it took me less than a minute to have one in my hand for me to take a bite.  And once I did, I installing fell in love with this little egg tart.

These sweet mini pastries have travel a long way from it’s original home.

It is believe that Catholic nuns at the Jeronimos Monastery of Belem, in Lisbon created them, and after the monastery was closed in the 1820’s, a famous bakery in the area picked up where they left off and started to make them.  They are so popular, that people will literally wait hours for them.  Especially if they get them right out of the oven, when they are warm so they can sprinkle them with cinnamon and powdered sugar.

David Leite from Leite’s Culinaria wrote a great article about these supers yummy morsels and all the secrecy behind the original recipe, which has been keep a secret for generations “… only three people in the world know it…”

There have been many imitations, which bear the name of Pasteis de nata – custard tarts.  And Mr. Leite provides the link to his adaptation of Alfama’s Restaurant recipe, which got thumps up from his friends.

I have it on my list to try it.

In the meantime I journeyed down memory lane and found the original paper where I wrote the recipe that the baker gave me in Brazil.  And since I never had the original Pastéis de Belém, I will have to be happy with these – which I dare say, are great impersonators.

Makes 10 to 12

  • 250 gr of whole milk
  • 250 gr of cream
  • 4 egg yolks
  • Lemon peel
  • ½ teaspoon of Vanilla extract or 1 vanilla pod, split in halves and seeds scraped
  • 60 gr of corn starch (Maizena)
  • 120 gr of sugar
  • 1 sheet of rolled puff pastry - thawed OR fresh
  • Ground Cinnamon and sugar for dusting

Preheat oven to 400F.

Combine the milk, cream and lemon peel and if you are using, the vanilla pod and seeds in a saucepan and bring to a slow boil over medium heat.  Once it has reached that, turn it off, cover and let infuse for 20 minutes. Remove the peel and vanilla pod and and put it aside.

In a bowl, whisk the egg yolks, sugar and corn starch.  Gradually add the warm milk until smooth.

Return it to the saucepan and over medium heat cook, stirring constantly, until the mixture thickens, this will happen pretty quickly.  Don’t let it boil. Remove it from the heat and continue to whisk - it will continue to thicken, add the vanilla extract (if not using fresh vanilla bean) and once the custard is glossy and smooth transfer it to a bowl. Cover with a damp kitchen towel, to prevent skin from forming.  Leave to cool.

Using butter, grease a 12-hole muffin mold.

Unwrap the puff pastry, fold into half and then roll it up from the short side like a Swiss roll.

Divide the pastry into 12 equal round pastry dough.

Cut-sides up, using your thumbs press down in the middle of the pastry round. Push down and out with your thumbs. Place on the mold and smooth the dough up the sides and along the bottom of the mold.

Fill each cup with the custard about 3/4 full. Put the muffin mold on a baking sheet and into the oven to bake for about 8-10 minutes or until the edges of the dough are browned and the top has beautiful dark brown/black spots

Optional, sprinkle some cinnamon and powder sugar for even more authenticity.

Best served when they are hot or warm.

Now watch them disapear before your eyes.