Rich and creamy custard baked in a flaky pastry shell, that is one way to describe Pasties de Nata. Does this description do it justice ? Of course not, this delectable pastry is rustic and dreamy at the same time. The pastry crust is flaky and melt in the mouth, the custard is rich and creamy, baked just set. No gimmicks, exotic ingredients , no pretensions – just simple down to earth goodness ..
Not surprising, as this is a desert with rich history. This popular Portuguese desert traces its origin back to a more (Is that even possible ? ) delectable treat – Pasties de Belem. The recipe for Pasties de Belem comes from the 17th Catholic Monks of Lisbon. This recipe was later sold to a sugar refinery in the Belem district of Lisbon, Portugal, and the family still owns it till date. With so much history is it any wonder that the recipe for this desert is a closely guarded secret, known to only a handful of people who are not allowed to travel together? Talk about trade secrets ..
My recipe here is a quick version. Usually I like to make the pastry shells from scratch when possible. I have made these with store bought sheets and my easy puff pastry shells as well. The results are absolutely wonderful each time.
You might have noticed that this is recipe used half a dozen egg yolks. The egg whites were used to starch the habits of monks and nuns and the left over yolks found its way into pastries and cakes. You won’t find me using egg whites to starch clothes. Egg whites are such potent wonderful source of protein and there are so many ways to use the them – omelettes, macaroons, meringues whatever you fancy. Even in this recipe you can add up to 2 whole eggs and use the remaining yolks, the pastry will be a little less rich, but still delicious.
Mix 1/4 C milk with the cornstarch and set aside. Take the remaining milk , sugar a pinch of salt and the cinnamon stick in a medium sauce pan . Bring to boil over medium heat .
Beat the egg yolks lightly in a cup. To this pour a little of the hot cinnamon milk, about 1/4 C, while whisking the egg mixture constantly. This warms up the egg mix without curdling the egg. Return the saucepan to the stove over low heat. Slowly pour the corn starch mixture followed by the yolk mixture to the hot milk. Keep stirring the milk to prevent lumps from forming .
Keep the flame on medium to low setting and cook the custard till it thickens. As it gets cooked the cornstarch reachs its full thickening power and the custard visibly thickens. Remove from the heat and mix in the vanilla extract once the custard has thickened. Do not let the mix come to a boil .
Turn the heat off and strain the custard and set aside to cool to room temperature . At this point the custard can be refrigerated for future use. It stays fresh for 2 to 3 days .
Spray or brush a medium size muffin pan with oil . Do not forget this step even if the muffin pan has nonstick coating. Cut the puff pastry sheets into 3 to 4 inch sides squares – large enough to the line the muffin cups. Line the muffin cups with the pastry sheets. Gentry stretch and press along the sides, leaving a little overhang. Pour the prepared custard over the sheets, filling about 3/4 way of each cup.
Into a 500° F oven it goes for about 10 minutes . Keep an eye out , remove from the oven as the tops begin to brown.
The traditional ovens in which these tarts were made can reach very high temperatures – 800 to 900° F as in the wood fired pizza ovens or the tandoors. If you are lucky to have access to one by all means use them. The charring and browning from such high temperatures are unique. Cool the pastries in the pan for a few minutes. Transfer them to a cooling rack .
These are best served the same day. This is one dish I would not recommend making ahead. The custard can be made a couple days in advance and the pastry sheets freeze well. On the day of baking , leave the pastry sheets on the counter for 20 to 30 minutes till it softens a little.
Here is a quick video of it all .
I have yet to visit Portugal – but if you ever happen to be there be sure to sample the tarts from Casa Pasteis De Belem and judge for yourselves. But right now I can tell you that “Pasties De Nata is a must try”.