In the Summer of 2018 we had a special opportunity to visit friends and get a taste of a wonderful place - Portugal! No list of "top foods to try in Portugal" is complete without the glorious little Portuguese custard tart known as Pastel de Nata!
Our first Pastéis de Nata came from Portela Cafe on Rua da Graça in Lisbon. It was a short stroll from our airbnb and we wanted to get our Portugal trip off to a good start with cafe and pastries for breakfast! ;)
From there we enjoyed Pastéis de Nata just about everywhere we went - Lisbon, up the Silver Coast, Porto, and even the airport lounge on the way home.
So what exactly is a Pastel de Nata?
Pastéis de Nata are a delightful little treat consisting of a flaky crust filled with custard. Most people enjoy their Pastéis de Nata with a sprinkle of powdered sugar and cinnamon on top! Some people prefer just cinnamon or just powdered sugar while others enjoy a Pastel de Nata as is!
How do you eat a Pastel de Nata?
Easy. Just take a bite for optimal enjoyment of the creamy custard together with the crispy crust. There is a segment of society, however, who prefer to use a spoon to eat the custard first and then eat the crust. Posh. ;p No matter how you eat your pastel de nata, it's going to be delicious!
History of Pastel de Nata
The popular origin story of the Pastel de Nata goes back over 300 years ago to Jerónimos Monastery in Belém. The nuns and monks used egg whites to starch the clothing, leaving a huge amount of egg yolks needing used up. To prevent waste and simultaneously generate income to support the monetary, the custard tart was born. The recipe was later sold when the monastery closed in 1833. Today you can try the original Portuguese custard tart at Pastéis de Belém.
Wait. I'm Confused. Is it Pastéis de Nata, Pastel de Nata or Pastéis de Belém?
Pastel de Nata - one Portuguese custard tart
Pastéis de Nata - multiple Portuguese custard tarts
Pastéis de Belém - Portuguese custard tarts made from the original secret recipe.
The original Pastéis de Belém is only available at Fábrica Pastéis de Belém
It makes me think of how some people say Kleenex any time they mean "tissue" whether it's Kleenex brand or not. Technically, a Kleenex is a tissue, but all tissues are not Kleenex. So all Pastéis de Belém are Pastéis de Nata (albiet branded with the perception of superiority), but not all Pastéis de Nata are Pastéis de Belém. Hope I got that right and hope it makes more sense now!
Flash Forward to December 2018 and we were already in withdrawal! On a weekend trip to Toronto we looked up Carousel Bakery in St. Lawrence Market so we could relieve the custard tart experience
Flash Forward to summer 2019 when family brought back some Pastéis de Nata after attending the Love Never Fails International Convention in Lisbon! And later when we sought out Azores Cafe in Pittsburgh so we could have some more Nata.
Basically, it was high time we tried to make Pastéis de Nata at home...
A Pastel de Nata has two main elements to master:
Which begs the question....
Can you make Pastéis De Nata with frozen puff pastry?
How To Make Pastéis de Nata Custard Step-by-step
I followed LeitesCulinaria's recipe found here
How long will Pastéis de Nata uncooked custard mixture last?
Uncooked custard mixture can last in the refrigerator for up to 3 days according to LeitesCulinaria.
At what temperature does milk scald? Why do you scald milk
Milk scalds once it is heated above 180F or 83C. Scalding milk can kill bacteria and enzymes that may interfere with thickening in recipes. (sources here and here)
Tips for using Frozen Puff Pastry to Make Pastéis de Nata
You will want to take the pastry out of the freezer well in advance.
How long does it take for frozen puff pastry to defrost/thaw from frozen?
In general, thaw at room temperature for 2 hours or overnight in the refrigerator.
It's important to let the pastry thaw or else you will break it when you try unroll it from the package.
Once the pastry is thawed, you are going to lay it flat on your work space (I used this large cutting board) and then roll it tightly into a log. Wrap it in plastic and refrigerate until you are ready to assembly your Portuguese custard tarts!
See this CupcakeJemma video below for the technique:
Assembling Pastéis de Nata
The final product was quite adorable and delicious! This one has a very light dusting of powdered sugar and cinnamon on top.
I also tried to make them in normal sized cupcake tins, but I filled them up too high, causing the custard to run down the side and caramelize way before the pastry was fully cooked. You can tell below that the pastry at the bottom is still soft. I definitely recommend taking seriously the recommendation to fill just 3/4 full!
When do you eat a Pastel de Nata?
According to Eater, "locals eat Pastéis de Nata at breakfast, in the midmorning, after lunch, or in the evening — any time they're craving a snack"
Should you eat Portuguese custard tarts hot or cold?
Is there lemon in Pastéis de Nata?
Although this particular recipe did not call for it, many recipes do infuse lemon flavor into the simple syrup by adding lemon rind to the water, sugar, and cinnamon stick! I will definitely try this next time because I love a bit of lemon in a custard.
Tools That Make It Easier To Make Pastéis de Nata at Home:
For That Friend Who is Obsessed With Pastéis de Nata:
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We're Justin & Marissa