August 5, 2020

Pastéis de Nata (Portuguese Custard Tarts)


It was love at first bite when I tasted the famous Pastéis de Nata in Lisbon a few years ago. The combination of creamy, rich custard and crispy, flaky crust was too good to pass up.   I don't think I let a day go by during my stay in Portugal when I didn't indulge in those delicious pastries.


As a souvenir from my trips I brought back a few dozen pastel de nata tins with every intention of creating them at home.   Who would have known that two years later and I only managed one attempt at making the tarts.  Much to my disappointment the results I got were less than stellar, honestly they were crap, so I basically gave up.   I just couldn't seem to find a recipe that worked for the home kitchen.  That is, until now! 


The authentic recipe I had been looking for came by way of Jeremiah Duartes Bills, a Portuguese-American baker I follow on Instagram.  He was offering an online pastéis de nata class and I signed up immediately.  The format was a three hour virtual Zoom class where the students would bake alongside Jeremiah.  Although there were more than thirty five students the class still felt quite intimate and Jeremiah was a great instructor who answered our questions and proffered baking tips.  Three hours went by in a flash.

 
The recipe he used for the class was based on one he was taught in a pastel de nata workshop.  By the looks of my tarts and those of my fellow students I can happily report that his recipe really worked.  I couldn't believe how well they turned out, almost as if I was transported back to pastelharia Manteigaria in Chiado.  I sent pictures of my pastéis to a Portuguese colleague and even he said they looked like the real thing.  If that's not a seal of approval I don't know what is.   If you love pastéis de nata as much as I do I highly recommend you give this recipe a try and also take Jeremiah's class.  Trust me, you won't be disappointed.


Special obrigada to Jeremiah for the fantastic class and also giving me permission to share his pastéis de nata  recipe on my blog.  I hope he'll be offering more classes on Portuguese baking because I'll be one of the first to sign up.  Also, be on the lookout for his upcoming cookbook, "The Baking of Portugal."


Pastéis de Nata (Portuguese Custard Tarts)

Makes 24 (in nata tins) and 16-18 (in a standard cupcake/muffin pan)

NOTE: It's highly recommended you use a scale to weigh the ingredients!

Massa Folhada (Puff Pastry)
350g (2 1/2 cups) all-purpose flour
200g (1 cup less 2 tbsp and 1 tsp) room temperature water
1 1/2 tsp fine sea salt
26g (2 tbsp) unsalted European style high fat butter, room temperature
200g (15 tbsp) unsalted European style high fat butter, room temperature, divided into 2

In the bowl of a stand mixer combine the flour and salt.  Using your hands mix the 26g/2tbsp of butter into the flour completely.  Add the water and mix on medium-low speed using the dough hook until a dough forms.  Increase the speed to medium for 5 minutes.  The dough should be smooth and very elastic.  Allow to rest for at least 10 minutes.

Dust your work surface with flour and roll the dough into a rectangle about 1/4" thick.  [Size should be roughly a 8" x 10" rectangle.]  Spread the surface with half of the remaining butter (100g/7 1/2 tbsp) leaving a 1/2" border on all sides.  Fold the dough into thirds like a business letter.

Turn the dough so that the open fold is to your right.  Roll into a rectangle about 1/4" thick, dusting your work surface with flour as necessary.  Spread the surface with the remaining half of the softened butter.  Fold into thirds.

Turn the dough so that the open fold is to your right.  Roll into a rectangle about 1/4" thick.  Fold into thirds.  If the dough is getting to warm or is difficult to roll out cover with plastic wrap and chill in the fridge, 10-15 minutes.

Roll the dough into a rectangle 1/4" thick (approximately 10"x13").  Brush off any excess flour.  With your hand, lightly dampen the surface of the dough with water to help the dough adhere to itself.

Starting at the long end, roll the dough, being careful to roll tightly so no air pockets will be trapped.  Wrap the pastry roll in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 1 hour and up to 2 days.


Creme (Custard Filling)
1030g (4 1/4 cups) whole or 2% milk
1 cinnamon stick
2 strips of lemon peel
500g (2 1/2 cup) sugar
100g (3/4 cup) all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp fine sea salt
224g (1 cup or 12-15 large) egg yolks

Place the milk, cinnamon stick and lemon peel in a large saucepan.  Heat on medium, stirring occasionally until simmering.

While the milk is heating, whisk the sugar, flour and salt together in a medium bowl.

When the milk is simmering gradually whisk in the sugar and flour mixture, a spoonful at a time.  Continue to cook, whisking constantly until slightly thickened.  It's done when you can begin to see trails left by the whisk. Control the heat so it does not come to a simmer. [Err on the side of a thinner consistency.]

Cool to room temperature or store in the refrigerator for up to 2 days.

Once the custard is room temperature or cold, whisk in the egg yolks.  Strain the mixture through a fine mesh sieve into another bowl.  Set aside.


Assembly  

Lightly spray your pastéis de nata tins or cupcake pan with nonstick spray.  

Roll and stretch the dough log so its diameter matches the diameter of the base of your tin.

Using a serrated bread knife cut discs that are 1.5cm or 2/3" thick for each natas tin or 3/4" for a cupcake pan.

Place each disc into each tin. If they feel too soft or slightly warm you can chill for 5-10 minutes.

To line the tins lightly dampen your dominant thumb with water.  Press the center of the dough to create a thin base.  Then use your thumb to push and stretch the pastry up the sides of the tin so it comes up over the edge.  Try to avoid the top edge.  It should stay slightly thick so that its layers can puff while baking.

Chill all the lined tins until ready to bake.  They can be covered and chilled or frozen until ready.  If frozen, allow to defrost in the refrigerator before filling.

Preheat your oven to 500F or as hot as your oven will go.  Use convection if you can.

Fill each tin almost to the top at least to the level of the tin.

Bake in the center or upper third of the oven until the pastry is golden and the custard is caramelized.  This can take anywhere from 10-24 minutes, depending on the size of your tarts and your oven.  They will take about 16 min in a cupcake pan.

Halfway through the baking time quickly rotate the pan.  They are done when the filling seems solid but still wobbles just slightly.  If you let them bake longer to achieve more caramelization you may overcook or curdle the filling.

Cool in the tins for at least 15 minutes.

Remove from tins and cool on a wire rack.

Enjoy warm with ground cinnamon and/or powdered sugar lightly sprinkled on top.

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