Portugal: When on holiday in Lisbon, it is common to sample a delicious Pastel de Nata, or Pastel de Belém. These Portuguese treats are especially popular and part of food tourist cultures in former colonies, such as Brazil, Mozambique Goa and Macau.
Portugal. I long to see Portugal. I had planned to spend a month there, climbing hills in Lisbon, drinking port in Porto, sunning in Aveiro and sleeping in a giant wine barrel in the Douro Valley, hopefully drinking more Portuguese wine. But no, the pandemic hit, and the tickets were refunded. So sad. And sadder still, I have yet to replan this trip. Beth, however, decides to go and assigns me the hard stuff! Whilst she's sipping Vinho Verde (the other Beth's favourite), I'm in my kitchen elbows deep in flour. Oh, the sorrow!
If I can't be in Portugal, I can at least eat like I am. Pasteis de Nata is a traditional, famous Portuguese custard-filled pastry created over 300 years ago by monks living in a monastery outside Lisbon. The monks used egg whites to starch their laundry. Not wanting to waste the yolks, they used the yolks for pastries. Unlike neighbouring European countries, you will find that sweets in Portugal are almost always custard-based. I will whip up some lovely egg-white frittatas with my whites and spare my laundry.
As no one clicks on a recipe blog to read the life story of the person who wrote it, I will skip to the recipe.
These delightful treats are complicated in the number of steps to keep straight, and organisation is critical. However, the ingredients are everyday staples, so emergency trips to the grocers are optional. I've tried several recipes, testing the easiest and best tasting. I hope you will try this:
STEP ONE: MAKING THE DOUGH
1 cup all-purpose flour, with more for dusting and kneading
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup cold water
1 stick unsalted butter, softened
Mix the flour, water and salt by hand or in a mixer. The dough will be sticky, so add flour a bit at a time to make handling easier. Knead the dough, cover and let rest for 15 minutes. Roll the dough into a rough square about 1/8" thick. Spread 3/4 of the square with half of the butter. Fold the dough, overlapping, in thirds. Roll again into a rectangle at 1/8" thickness and spread the whole rectangle with the remaining butter. Roll, jelly roll style, clean up the edges, wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate for two hours or more.
STEP TWO: MAKING THE SYRUP
1 cup sugar
1/3 cup water
options for flavouring
zest of one lemon. Use wide slices
juice of 1/2 lemon
one thick or two thin cinnamon sticks
I preferred the lemon zest and lemon juice together. I love lemon!
Combine all ingredients in a small saucepan. Bring to boil, without stirring and then a low boil until you reach 210* F. Or let it roll boil for a few minutes so you don't have to break out the candy thermometer. Let it cool.
STEP THREE: MAKING THE CUSTARD
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1 1/2 cup milk (I used whole milk, but please experiment)
6 large egg yolks (saving the whites for a healthy frittata)
2 teaspoons of vanilla
Combine the flour, salt and milk in a COLD saucepan. Heat, constantly whisking until the mix thickens, about 5 minutes. Please remove it from the heat and let it cool for about 15 minutes. The mixture will look like school glue. Slowly whisk in the egg yolks and vanilla.
Preheat oven to 500*F
Remove dough from frig, unwrap and cut into 12 equal pieces. Put the dough pieces into greased small muffin tins or individual tart pans, 3" in diameter. Pasteis de Nata tart tins are also available on Amazon. Push the dough solidly to the bottom, then up the sides. Try to get the sides up above the rim.
Combine the syrup and the custard base—strain into a large measuring cup to remove any lumps and lemon zest.
Pour the custard into the dough cups, 3/4 full.
Bake in a preheated oven for 15 minutes, until the custard splits and the colour goes golden. Cool and serve at room temperature or warm for a tasty bite.
If you reside in the USA and can't be bothered to follow these steps, Amazon sells Pasteis de Nata by the dozen for $59.99. However, remember that there is nothing like the real thing, and home-baked is always best!