As great lovers of the custard tart, in all its guises, it might surprise you that we only ate our first pastéis de nata back at the start of the summer, on Macau.
I'm sure there must be popular London cafés that offer up damn good, damn close-to-the-real-thing Portuguese custard tarts, but you can pretty much find anything you want to eat in London. I have yet to glimpse them in the Midlands however, so do let me know in the comments if you know where we can get some good ones up here.
We have solid intentions of visiting Lisbon soon, and eating an authentic Pastéis de Belém, but for now, we have had to make do with my homemade offering to get our fix. Worse still, I've been really bad (M tells me off all the time for altering recipes before I've even made the original!), and sort of cobbled this one together from multiple recipes from a google search. The result was delicious though, so I decided to share.
N.B. I've cheated by using shop-bought pastry here. I also finished them with a grating of nutmeg, which isn't traditional, but I like it, so there.
Yield: 24 tarts
Butter for greasing
500ml whole milk
Zest from 1 lemon, pared
1 cinnamon stick
70g plain flour
400g caster sugar
6 large free-range egg yolks
2 x packs ready-rolled, all-butter puff pastry*
*I used 1 x roll of Sainsburys TTD all-butter puff pastry (375g) for 12 tarts. Basically, you're looking at approx. 30g of pastry per tart.
1. Begin by liberally buttering the cups of 2 12-hole muffin tins, and placing in the fridge to chill.
2. For the custard filling, start by forgetting what you know about the English egg custard tart or French flan pâtissier.
3. Infuse the milk with the lemon zest and cinnamon stick by heating in a small pan until just simmering. Take off the heat and leave to cool a little.
4. Remove the zest and cinnamon, and in a small bowl, whisk about 1/3 of the milk with the flour until you have a smooth paste.
5. Bring the remaining milk back to a simmer, and gradually incorporate the paste until the milk thickens, stirring constantly with a whisk. This should only take a few minutes.
6. Next we need to make a sugar syrup. Heat the sugar and water in a pan, starting on a low heat and stirring to dissolve the sugar. Once dissolved, using a sugar thermometer, bring the pan to the boil and continue boiling until the syrup reaches 110°C. Take off the heat.
7. Gradually whisk your sugar syrup in to your prepared milk mixture until fully incorporated. Strain the resulting mixture through a sieve to get rid of any lumps.
8. Place your egg yolks in a large bowl, and pour over your mixture, whisking constantly to combine. You now have your custard. Cover the surface with a piece of cling film to avoid a skin and set aside.
9. Pre-heat your oven to 250°C/230°C fan. Remove the paper from the back of your pastry sheet and re-roll back into a cylinder. Cut the roll into 12 equal rounds.
10. Place one round of pastry in each of the buttered muffin tin cups, flat side down, and starting from the middle, push your thumbs into the pastry and start to flatten it against the bottom and up the sides of the cup until there is a small lip above the pan. Try to make the sides quite thin.
11. 3/4 fill each cup with your custard mixture, then bake for approx. 15 minutes, or until the pastry has browned. The filling will probably rise significantly, but don't worry, it will deflate when you remove them from the oven.
12. Leave to cool in the tin for 5 minutes, then transfer to a cooling rack. Grate nutmeg liberally over the tops (optional), and gobble them as soon as you dare without scalding your mouth.
They keep for a day or two afterwards, and refresh well in the oven if you want to eat them warm.