Pastel de Nata (Pastéis de Nata), the beloved Portuguese custard tart, has won the hearts of dessert enthusiasts around the world. Its flaky, buttery pastry shell and creamy, velvety custard filling make it an irresistible treat that’s hard to resist. Originating in the heart of Lisbon, Portugal, this pastry has a rich history and a taste that’s nothing short of heavenly. In this article, we’ll delve into the pastel de nata’s history, its ingredients, and step-by-step instructions on how to make this delectable dessert in the comfort of your own kitchen.
A Brief History of Pastel de Nata
The history of Pastéis de Nata dates back to the early 19th century when Catholic monks at the Jerónimos Monastery in Lisbon were faced with an abundance of egg yolks left over from starching their religious robes. Seeking a way to use these yolks efficiently, the inventive monks created the precursor to the pastel de nata by combining them with sugar, milk, and cinnamon. The result was a delightful custard filling that they began to use in various pastries.
The monks’ recipe remained a well-guarded secret for many years until, in the 1830s, the Jerónimos Monastery was closed and sold to a sugar refinery. The new owners of the building decided to open a pastry shop called “Pastéis de Belém” using the monks’ secret recipe. To this day, Pastéis de Belém remains one of the most renowned places to enjoy authentic pastel de nata in Lisbon.
Pastel de Nata Recipe
Before diving into the recipe, let’s take a look at the key ingredients you’ll need to create these delectable pastries:
For the Pastry:
- Puff pastry sheets (store-bought or homemade)
- Unsalted butter (for greasing the molds)
For the Custard Filling:
- 2 cups of whole milk
- 6 large egg yolks
- 1 cup of granulated sugar
- 2 tablespoons of all-purpose flour
- 2 tablespoons of cornstarch
- 1 teaspoon of pure vanilla extract
- A pinch of salt
- Ground cinnamon and powdered sugar (for dusting)
Now, let’s get to the fun part – making these mouthwatering pastries:
- Preheat your oven: Start by preheating your oven to 475°F (245°C). This high temperature is essential for achieving the characteristic caramelized tops of pastel de nata.
- Prepare your pastry shells: If you’re using store-bought puff pastry sheets, roll them out on a lightly floured surface until they are thin. Then, use a round cutter to cut out circles slightly larger than the diameter of your tart molds. Grease the molds with a generous amount of unsalted butter to prevent sticking.
- Line the tart molds: Carefully fit each pastry circle into a tart mold, pressing it against the bottom and sides. Make sure to leave a slight overhang, as the pastries will shrink during baking.
- Prepare the custard filling: In a medium saucepan, heat the milk over medium heat until it begins to simmer. In a separate bowl, whisk together the egg yolks, sugar, flour, cornstarch, vanilla extract, and a pinch of salt until well combined.
- Combine and cook: Slowly pour the hot milk into the egg mixture while continuously whisking. Return the mixture to the saucepan and cook over low heat, stirring constantly until it thickens into a custard-like consistency. This should take about 5-7 minutes.
- Fill the pastry shells: Pour the custard filling into each pastry shell, filling them about 2/3 full. Be careful not to overfill, as the custard may overflow during baking.
- Bake to perfection: Place the filled tart molds in the preheated oven and bake for approximately 12-15 minutes or until the pastries are golden brown with beautifully caramelized tops.
- Serve and enjoy: Remove the pastel de nata from the oven and allow them to cool for a few minutes. Once they’ve cooled slightly, carefully remove them from the molds and transfer them to a wire rack to cool completely. Before serving, dust the tops with a mixture of ground cinnamon and powdered sugar for that classic finishing touch.
Pastel de Nata is a delightful Portuguese pastry with a rich history and an even richer flavour. With its crispy, flaky pastry shell and smooth, creamy custard filling, it’s no wonder this dessert has gained popularity worldwide. Making pastel de nata at home is a rewarding experience that allows you to savour the authentic taste of Portugal in the comfort of your kitchen. Whether you’re a seasoned baker or a beginner, this recipe is sure to impress your taste buds and those of anyone lucky enough to share in the indulgence. So, roll up your sleeves, preheat that oven, and get ready to enjoy the sweet, custardy perfection of Pastéis de Nata! Bom apetite.