So it was my Mama's birthday and she had decided to have a very very little party with a buffet dinner. I of course didn't offer to bake, I simply (a) assumed that I'd be helping anyway; and (b) took it as red that I would be baking something so cut-to-the-chase and asked "what" she wanted me to bake and not "if". She started off pretty vague so I thought "ok I've not done a chocolate cake, so I'll do a chocolate cake" and then she told me that her friend who makes an amazing chocolate cake was coming too. I figured that even if she wasn't bringing cake, I just couldn't put a first attempt in front of her (not yet anyway). Back to the drawing board.
My mum (as I have said before) is a pretty picky eater and I've so far nailed 2 desserts I know she loved - the Lemon Meringue Pie and the Creme Caramel - but felt kinda inspirationless. Not good. I said she started off vague when I first asked so I asked again but at a better creative-juices-type-moment (we were in Paris for a couple of days - me, hubster, Pose and my folks - and I was hoping Paris might give her some inspiration). This time she completely threw me. I was expecting maybe some type of cake, or little mousse-type-cakey-thing or even some sort of patisserie. But no. She turned around and said "Portuguese Custard Tarts". RANDOM?!
But. Her birthday. Her choice. I agreed.
Now I'm not a massive fan of regular custard tarts so I've never made them. I certainly had no idea what the difference is between regular English custard tarts and their Portuguese cousins. So I had to do some investigating.
I googled "Portuguese custard tarts" and promptly came up with a recipe on The Telegraph's website and figured "its the Telegraph its got to have done its homework right?". Well. Judging by the comments on the recipe from one particular lady, no. The suggested recipe was apparently practically blasphemous - the custard all sorts of wrong and the puff pastry a big fat NONO! I decided to leave it. I then ran through a couple of other recipes that had come up in the search and all of them used puff pastry. Bad start.
The search had however given me the actual Portuguese name for the tarts so I did another google search for "Pasteis de Nata". This time we had better success. I toyed with searching for Portuguese language recipes and then translating them using google translate but they just didn't translate well (and my Portuguese is right up there with my Spanish. Crap). And then suddenly a ray of sunshine hit my computer and highlighted this little gem...
The recipe - Pasteis de Nata courtesy of David Leite's website Leite's Culinaria (plus, of course, my commentary!)
For the dough:
2 cups minus 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
¼ teaspoon sea salt
¾ cup plus two tablespoons water
16 tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature, stirred until smooth
For the custard:
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 ¼ cups milk, divided
1 ⅓ cups granulated sugar
1 cinnamon stick
⅔ cup water
½ teaspoon pure vanilla extract (homemade!)
6 large egg yolks, whisked
Powdered sugar and Cinnamon for dusting
1. Start by making the dough. In a stand mixer fitted with a dough hook, mix the flour, salt, and water until a soft, pillowy dough forms that cleans the side of the bowl, about 30 seconds.
2. Generously flour a work surface and pat the dough into a 6-inch square using a pastry scraper (I personally don't have a pastry scraper and coped fairly well) as a guide. Flour the dough, cover with plastic wrap, and let it rest for 15 minutes.
3. Roll the dough into an 18-inch square (I struggled with this - I simply don't have the counterspace! - worked out ok though, nothing dramatic happened). As you work, use the scraper to lift the dough to make sure the underside isn’t sticking.
|Yes I mastered shapes in school, and YES I KNOW that's not a square...|
4. Brush excess flour off the top, trim any uneven edges, and using a small offset spatula dot and then spread the left two-thirds of the dough with a little less than one-third of the butter to within 1 inch of the edge (I started using a spatula but found it really difficult to spread the butter, so abandoned the spatula and just used a knife...worked much better).
5. Neatly fold over the unbuttered right third of the dough (using the pastry scraper to loosen it if it sticks), brush off any excess flour, then fold over the left third. Starting from the top, pat down the packet with your hand to release air bubbles, then pinch the edges closed. Brush off any excess flour.
6. Turn the dough packet 90 degrees to the left so the fold is facing you. Lift the packet and flour the work surface. Once again roll out to an 18-inch square, then dot and spread the left two-thirds of the dough with one-third of the butter, and fold the dough as in steps 4 and 5.
7. For the last rolling, turn the packet 90 degrees to the left and roll out the dough to an 18-by-21-inch rectangle (again a struggle on my kitchen counter but we survived), with the shorter side facing you. Spread the remaining butter over the entire surface.
8. Using the spatula as an aid, lift the edge closest to you and roll the dough away from you into a tight log, brushing the excess flour from the underside as you go. Trim the ends and cut the log in half. Wrap each piece in plastic wrap and chill for 2 hours or preferably overnight.
9. Then onto the custard. At this point I would also put the oven on, turning it up as hot as it can go. In a medium bowl, whisk the flour and 1/4 cup of the milk until smooth. Set aside.
10. Bring the sugar, cinnamon, and water to a boil in a small saucepan and cook until an instant-read thermometer registers 220°F (100°C). Do not stir (I actually don't agree with this. I made a couple of batches of the custard to use up all the dough and with the second batch I went more the caramel route used in the Creme Caramel recipe steps 2 and 3. This worked much better).
11. Meanwhile, in another small saucepan, scald the remaining 1 cup milk. Whisk the hot milk into the flour mixture.
12. Remove the cinnamon stick then pour the sugar syrup in a thin stream into the hot milk-and-flour mixture, whisking briskly. Add the vanilla and stir for a minute until very warm but not hot. Whisk in the yolks (careful the mixture isn't too hot when you do this or the eggs will scramble. Thankfully we were fine), strain the mixture into a bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and set aside.
13. Now you can start assembling the pastries! Heat the oven to 550°F (290°C) (as I said up by step 9 I would actually put the oven on earlier than this mainly because most conventional ovens are unlikely to go this high, so whack it up to the max heat early on and try to get the oven super hot). Remove a pastry log from the refrigerator and roll it back and forth on a lightly floured surface until it’s about an inch in diameter and 16 inches long. Cut it into scant 3/4-inch pieces. Place a piece cut-side down in each well of a nonstick 12-cup mini-muffin pan (2-by-5/8-inch size). Allow the dough pieces to soften several minutes until pliable.
14. Have a small cup of water nearby. Dip your thumbs into the water, then straight down into the middle of the dough spiral. Flatten it against the bottom of the cup to a thickness of about 1/8 inch, then smooth the dough up the sides and create a raised lip about 1/8 inch above the pan. The pastry sides should be thinner than the bottom (I did this for the first batch and the pastry was a little too thin I think, then for the second batch I used my pestle to start the process off - this made the process slightly easier and the pastries came out much better).
|On our LEFT, batch no.1 and on our RIGHT, batch no.2 (much better right?)|
15. Fill each cup 3/4 full with the slightly warm custard. Bake the pasteis until the edges of the dough are frilled and brown, about 8 to 9 minutes (don't expect the custard to brown much unless you have a super hot oven, apparently this is the secret to the browning).
16. Remove from the oven and allow the pasteis to cool a few minutes in the pan, then transfer to a rack and cool until just warm. Sprinkle the pasteis generously with powdered sugar, then cinnamon and serve. Repeat with the remaining pastry and custard. If you prefer, the components can be refrigerated up to three days. The pastry can be frozen up to three months.
They tasted good to me but I have no point of reference since I've never eaten Pasteis de Nata. I have eaten English custard tarts though and these were much better (well anything's better, like I said, I don't like English custard tarts - too eggy). As for the party these went down phenomenally well. I was told that they brought back memories of Lisbon! I'd say that's a pretty damn good endorsement!
My favourite endorsement though was from my little sister's boyfriend. I suddenly heard from the corner of the living room "Oh my god, this is delicious!" and looked over to see this 6ft guy perched on a toddler-sized-chair with a look of joy on his face. It was hilarious.