This post was an act of sheer determination; well, the cooking was. I’d heard Pastéis de Nata were difficult to make, but clearly a certain amount of hubris took me over: just how difficult can it be to make custard tarts! Well, I was soon to discover … There were a few moments when I nearly gave up and threw the whole attempt into the bin. Fortunately, I persisted. And if persistence sometimes brings rewards then this was an example of how you should try to not give up too early but keep going. For in the end, I had a plate of delicious Pastéis de Nata to put before my family at lunchtime.
It started with a recipe for the little pastéis in National Geographic Food magazine. Well, more accurately, it began because my family are all addicted to these gorgeous little custard tarts. We can buy excellent ones in Your Bakery Whitton and when I visit my daughter in Worcestershire, she even puts in an order, asking me to take some up to her. But the idea of making them was tempting. So, I looked at the recipe in the magazine and I also looked in Rick Stein’s Long Weekends cookbook, remembering he’d been to Lisbon. And sure enough, there was a recipe there. His recipe made 28. Sure I could cut down the recipe but he also makes the pastry from scratch while the magazine recipe used bought all-butter puff pastry. A shortcut was too tempting. So I bought the all-butter puff pastry in Waitrose and soon I was ready to go.
But then there were more things to think of: the magazine recipe said to use muffin tins and the recipe made 6. Six! And muffin tins. I’ve eaten a lot of pastéis de nata in my time and they’re quite small, more cupcake size than muffin. I decided to go with small ones – though still wasn’t planning on Rick’s 28!
Buying the pastry made that part sound easy. But oh no! There were complicated instructions about rolling it up to a tight sausage shape and cutting 6 discs of 1-2cm thick. How was that going to work? I’d have an enormous amount of pastry left. So I just used my cutter and cut discs in the normal way, brushed the tin with melted butter and then pressed the discs in. After that you chill it in the fridge while you make the custard.
I heated the milk with the cinnamon and lemon zest and some butter as instructed.
Then you mix plain and cornflour together with a little milk. As I started to put it all together it occurred to me that nowhere in the ‘method’ was an instruction for what to do with the 2 egg yolks. Thank goodness for Rick. He saved me. I started to move from one recipe to another.
I added Rick’s vanilla because I thought that sounded a good idea.
I followed Rick’s easier instructions with the syrup (which is added to the custard) but I didn’t put in nearly as much as either recipe. I didn’t want the custard too sweet. So I judged it right for me by adding it a little at a time.
So, here is the recipe I came up with in the end – a combination of the two I looked at – and hopefully it will work more easily for you!
Pastéis de Nata
- 1 pack (320g) all-butter puff pastry
- melted butter for greasing
- 20g butter
- 2 tablespoons plain flour
- 1 tablespoon cornflour
- 2 egg yolks
- 1 teaspoon vanilla paste
- 250ml whole milk
- 1 cinnamon stick
- few strips lemon zest
- 225g caster sugar
- 1 cinnamon stick
- few strips lemon zest
1. Unfold the pastry onto a floured surface. Melt the butter and lightly brush the insides of a cupcake tin. Cut out 12 discs to fit the little moulds and push in well. Put in fridge to chill.
2. Make the custard: put the milk in a small pan (saving just a little, about 50ml, for the next step) with the cinnamon stick and lemon zest. Bring slowly to a simmer. Turn off the heat. Leave to infuse for 10 minutes.
3. In a bowl, mix the 2 flours with the reserved milk to form a paste. Remove the cinnamon stick and lemon zest from the warm milk and pour slowly over the flour paste, mixing as you go. Pour back into a clean pan with half the butter. Cook over a medium heat, stirring well, until you have a custard the thickness of double cream. (If it starts to go lumpy, remove from the heat and beat vigorously before carrying on.) Remove from heat and add the remaining butter, 2 egg yolks and vanilla paste. Beat well.
4. Make the sugar syrup: put the caster sugar in a pan with the cinnamon stick and lemon zest. Bring to a rolling boil and boil until it goes a light caramel colour. Remove from the heat and pour, a little at a time, into the custard, beating well with each addition. This is the point at which I took quantity into my own hand and tasted as I went. I didn’t use all the syrup but kept what was over to brush some over the tarts at the end – which the magazine did.
5. Spoon the custard into the prepared pastry cases. Mine took about a dessertspoonful each. I had a little over. You can either make more tarts – or decide 12 are enough, as I did!
6. Put the tray into a very hot oven (240C/220 Fan/Gas 9) for about 10-13 minutes, or until the tops of the custard tarts are deep golden brown in places.
7. Remove from the oven. Brush over a little of the leftover syrup to glaze the tops. Leave a couple of minutes and then carefully transfer to a rack to cool. Dust with icing sugar when cold, maybe mixed a bit of cinnamon too.
Mine weren’t all perfect. Some had the custard spilling out. However, overall they looked pretty good. But of course the judging was all in how they tasted.
I served them with some fresh strawberries and raspberries on the side. I was pleased with how they looked. They really did look like pastéis de nata!
They tasted wonderful. The custard was nicely creamy still and not too sweet. In the end I was very pleased I’d carried on and made them and the family loved them. I have to admit though that with Your Bakery Whitton within walking distance, and selling such good ones, I’m not sure when I’ll get round to making these again!