Pastéis de nata: the small vanilla custard tart that has become world renowned as one of Portugal’s most famous treats. Few surprises why. Buttery, flakey, melt-in-the-mouth pastry with beautifully set vanilla and cinnamon custard; by the time you say that, there’ll be none left.
A ‘secret recipe’
It’s 1820. Religious orders face extinction but the monks still starch their habits with egg whites.
Monasteries everywhere find themselves with unused egg yolks.
At the Mosteiro dos Jerónimos, they begin to sell a sweet treat, the Pastéis de nata, at a local sugar refinery for a little extra revenue.
It’s 1834. The Mosteiro dos Jerónimos, closes.
The ‘secret recipe‘ is sold.
…the Fábrica de Pastéis de Belém opens making and selling the ‘secret recipe.‘
Here we are in 2018…
…the original descendants at the Fábrica de Pastéis de Belém still make by hand and sell the ‘secret recipe.’
That hallowed recipe is still very much a mystery and you’d have to head out to Lisbon to enjoy but you can find my attempt at a version below.
Traditional puff pastry is notoriously hard and a little time consuming so I’ve included a recipe for rough puff pastry adapted from Ed Kimber. Much easier to do and still puffs up with a delicious flavour and texture – it’s worth giving a go if you’re up for getting your hands into a bit of flour. Otherwise you most certainly won’t be judged if you choose to go for a pre made puff pastry like Jus Rol.
what you’ll need
Equipment: food processor or mixing bowl + blunt knife, further mixing bowls, 2 small saucepans, rolling pin, mini muffin tin. Can be cooked in the oven or bbq.
Pastéis de nata:
for the homemade rough puff pastry:
adapted from Ed Kimber – his recipe usually makes 500g but I’ve reduced the quantities to match the Jus Rol 320g and fill a full muffin tin. You will have extra custard leftover so feel free to make more, increase the flour and butter to 200g and use 100ml ice-cold water to make 500g.
- 128g plain flour, plus extra for dusting
- pinch of salt
- 128g unsalted butter, chilled and diced into 5mm pieces
- 65ml ice-cold water
for the custard:
- 30g plain flour
- 300ml milk
- 275 granulated sugar
- 1 cinnamon stick
- 150ml water
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
- 6 large egg yolks, whisked
- 50g icing sugar
- ½ tsp ground cinnamon
making the puff pastry:
Throw your flour and a pinch of salt into the bowl of a food processor and pulse to combine. Add the butter and pulse a couple of times (the butter is already diced small so you are just mixing it here). Make sure not to process the butter too much, if you can’t see streaks of butter in the finished dough it won’t puff up. Pour in 40ml of the water and pulse once more to combine. If your dough is still a little dry add the remaining water and pulse once again.
→If you don’t have a food processor, put the flour and salt in a mixing bowl and add the diced butter. Mix it using a blunt knife, to cut the pieces very slightly in size. Add 60ml of the water and stir to combine – again add the remaining water if a little too dry.
Tip your mixture onto a work surface and gently bring it together into a dough – it should be soft but not sticky. Lightly flour your work surface and roll out the dough into a rectangle 3×1 with the short edge facing you (roughly 15 x 45cm). Brush off any excess flour.
Fold the top half of the dough over the middle third, then fold the bottom over the top two thirds, just like a business letter. Turn the dough through 90 degrees – the open ends should be facing you – and repeat the rolling and folding process before placing in the fridge for 30 minutes to chill. Repeat the rolling and folding process twice more and chill again for 1 hour before using.
The dough will last for up to a week in the fridge wrapped in cling film or can be frozen for up to two months.
When you’re ready to go, roll your pastry out on a lightly floured work surface to a rectangle measuring roughly 20cm x 30cm. Roll the pastry, from the short side, tightly into a log, wrap in clingfilm again and put back into the fridge. You can use it straight away or it will keep in the fridge for a couple of days.
making the custard:
In a medium bowl, whisk the flour and 60g milk until smooth.
In a small saucepan/milk pan, heat the 240g milk to just below boiling point – you should see small bubbles start to appear. Whisk the hot milk into the flour mix.
Meanwhile, throw your sugar and cinnamon stick into another small saucepan. Pour in your water and heat gently to melt the sugar, then increase your heat and boil, without stirring, until a jam thermometer reads 100C.
Remove the cinnamon stick and gradually whisk the syrup into the milk mix.
Add the vanilla extract and stir for a minute – until you can place your hand on the side of the bowl. Whisk in your eggs yolks and strain into a large bowl. Place a sheet of clingfilm over the surface and leave to cool – the custard should be thin and can keep in the fridge for up to three days.
assembling the pastries:
Set your oven to 240C. If you can go hotter do, I’ve cooked mine in the Joe at 290C – at that temperature should only take 8 – 9 minutes and you get more of the traditional brown spots.
Take your pastry log out of the fridge and cut into 12 even rounds. Place a round into the cup of a 12 hole muffin tin, swirl side up. Have a small cup of water nearby. With wet fingers, carefully push the pastry up the sides, working from the centre out. Keep going until it pokes just over the top. Repeat with the remaining pastries. Chill for 20 minutes.
Pour the custard into the pastry cases about ¾ full, make sure you’re at least 1 cm below the top. Bake in the oven at 240C until the pastry is golden and crisp and the custard is bubbling with small brown spots – around 15 – 20 minutes.
Remove from the oven. Cool your pastries in the tin for 5 minutes before gently turning out onto a wire rack.
Sprinkle your Pastéis de nata generously with the icing sugar/cinnamon dusting just before serving. They are best still warm.