It is said that these tarts were invented by Portuguese Catholic monks many years ago when they had to find ways to use excess egg yolks. Apparently egg whites were in demand for the starching of nuns habits & also needed when making ‘port’. They are also known as ‘Pastel de Nata’ (singular) or “Pasteis de Nata” (plural) in Portugal. They’re surprisingly easy to make and would impress guests or a crowd if you had to take a plate somewhere. Be warned however, blink and they’ll disappear!
Portuguese Custard Tarts
-1 x 3 pack of Pampas Butter Puff Pastry (ie. 3 frozen sheets in a pack)
-4 egg yolks
-3/4 cup milk
-2/3 cup caster sugar
-3 heaped tablespoons cornflour
-1 to 1.5 vanilla bean/s (seeds scraped out) or 2 teaspoons of vanilla bean paste or extract (not essence)
-1 strip of lemon peel, 5 or 6cm in length
(I think shredded lemon rind is more intense because the lemon oils are released, so use 1/3 teaspoon only if you want to use your lemon rinder gadget)
-Combination of plain flour & icing sugar to use underneath pastry (so it doesn’t stick)
-Oil for muffin tray (I use low aroma, refined coconut oil)
-Optional but very traditional & lovely extra: icing sugar to caramelise on finished tarts!
-Preheat oven to 180c or 170 (if fan forced oven)
-Grease your muffin tin with oil
-If you’re using vanilla bean or beans, make sure to ‘deseed’ first before you start your custard
-Prepare your strip of lemon peel
-In a medium-sized saucepan mix the sugar, cornflour & egg yolks over a low heat until well combined
-Add vanilla and lemon peel and slowly add milk & cream (I combine both of these & just pour while whisking)
-Keep stirring/whisking custard well until mixture boils & thickens a little (it’ll start to form big bubbles)
-Remove custard from heat & immediately cover with a piece of baking paper so a skin doesn’t form on top of your custard. The proper way to do this is by making a
‘cartouche’).. which will mean your baking paper is round..and fits your saucepan nicely (of course it doesn’t have to be exact). If you’d like to learn how to make a cartouche.. here is an easy 1.5 minute video online! I prefer a cartouche with baking paper than cling film food wrap on top of custard. I don’t like the idea of the plastic film in direct contact with my hot food.
-While custard is cooling, dust your work surface with a combo of plain flour and icing sugar
-Cut (or ‘press-out’) four rounds into each pastry sheet using a large soup mug or something similar. I used a big milkshake cup. An ordinary drinking glass might not make rounds that are big enough (See my website photo’s for pic of my ‘cutter’)
-Place (& gently mould) a pastry round into each muffin cup & divide custard into the raw pastry cups
-Bake tarts for 20 to 30 min’s – & keep an eye on them. When the custard has risen to ‘puffy heights’ and some of the tops ‘brown’ a little, they are ready. Mine took approximately half an hour. They’ll come out of the oven looking like you have puffy custard, but the custard will shrink back a bit like a deflated souffle.. so don’t be disappointed… it’s normal!
-Optional but very traditional & special ‘extra': Sprinkle icing sugar onto the top of each tart.. be generous! I have a cooks torch (like a flame gun!), so if you have one too then ‘torch’ the sugar (ie. caramelise it) until it melts & goes very dark brown.. careful not to make them too black. A little ‘scorched sugar’ colour is traditional & it doesn’t ruin the taste of the tart. I’ve not tried placing these under a hot grill before to melt the sugar. There is a risk you could burn the edges of your pastry. However, you could always cover the edges of your tarts with a little foil (as fiddly as it sounds) to prevent them from burning & then place icing-sugar covered tarts under a hot grill.. until the sugar is bubbling & dark brown. Remove the foil edges before serving of course. I bought my cooks torch at a speciality kitchenware shop.
-If you’re not going to caramelise the tops of the tarts, then simply dust with icing sugar for presentation.