Portuguese custard tarts

Also known as pasteis de nata.

And, less commonly, as oh-my-gosh-I-ate-way-too-many… What was that? Do I want one more? Yeah. Yeah I do.

We took a pastry class in Portugal at Cooking Lisbon and learned how to make these adorable (and apparently famous, though I’ve never heard of them) Portuguese tarts. Being a devout consumer of the Hungarian francia krémes (note to self: make these for the blog at some point) as well as Chinese egg tarts, these are right up my ethnic alley.

Pasteis de Nata, Portuguese Custard Tarts

(Even my secret identity’s ethnicity.)

If you’re in Lisbon, I highly recommend looking up Cooking Lisbon. We had a ton of fun baking (and eating!) and one of the owners gave us a ton of fantastic recommendations from a local’s perspective, which were – needless to say – incredibly helpful.

Pasteis de Nata (Portuguese Custard Tarts)

Adapted from Cooking Lisbon

Ingredients

one package (17.3 oz) puff pastry
250g milk
250g whipping cream
175g sugar
50g bread flour
five egg yolks
zest of two lemons
one cinnamon stick
one quarter teaspoon of fresh grated nutmeg
one empty vanilla bean shell

Directions

The puff pastry should be defrosted in the fridge overnight, but keep it as cold as possible – don’t bring it out of the fridge until you’re ready to roll it out! No mise en place here.
Preheat the oven to 450 degrees Fahrenheit (I recommend conventional heat). Lightly grease a muffin pan and set aside.
Add milk, cream, sugar, flour, and yolks to a medium saucepan over medium heat. Stir until all the lumps of flour and sugar are gone, then add the remaining ingredients. Keep stirring (constant vigilance! Don’t let it burn) until it thickens into a thin custard. If you don’t know what this means, I would probably equate it to the texture of a thick gravy. I didn’t check the clock, but I’m guessing this took about fifteen minutes (that means it probably actually only took ten). But since you’re being vigilant and constantly stirring, you won’t need to set a timer. When it’s ready, remove from heat and set aside to cool a little.
Bring out half of the puff pastry (I used Tenderflake, which is pre-cut into two squares). Work quickly! Roll it out in one direction only into a flat rectangle about 1/3″ thick (my long side was about 10-12″ long) and then roll it up along the long side to make a long cylinder. Cut this into about 1.5″ chunks – I got 8 from each half.
I put these pastry chunks into a bowl and threw them back in the fridge, pulling them out one at a time once I was ready. You don’t have to do this, but puff pastry gets gummy if it gets too warm before baking… you’ve been warned.
Take your chunk and put it with the swirls facing up and down in the centre of the muffin cup. Lightly wet your fingers so you don’t stick, and press the pastry into the tin so the bottom and edges are covered. If the pastry comes over the edge that’s fine; they will shrink as they bake. Repeat with the remaining chunks. Since I only got 8 from the first half of pastry, I went ahead and baked the first 8, and did the second 8 with a new pan. It’s all about not leaving the pastry at room temperature for too long.
Pour custard into the prepared pastry cups, but make sure an edge of pastry remains above the custard.
Bake until the pastry has turned golden brown, and dark brown caramelizations are collecting in spots on top of the custard. This took me about 15 minutes, but keep an eye on them! (Don’t you love European cooking?)
I let mine cool for a few minutes in the pan on a rack, then gently pulled them out with a fork and let them cool even more.
I prefer these served slightly warm, but definitely try to serve them the day they are made. By day 2 the pastry had lost all its flaky goodness – and we worked hard for that!

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