Pasteis de Nata

Egg custard tarts.  Two weeks ago I tried out Hong Kong style egg custard tarts.  Last week I tried the Macau version.  This week, we’re taking it back to Portugal to make the iteration that inspired the Macau style tarts: Pasteis de nata (‘cream pastry’ in Portuguese).

According to my research, Portugal’s most famous pastry dates back more than 300 years to the Jeronimos Monastery in Belem.  As the  story goes,  long before spray starch was a twinkle in Niagra’s eye, the nuns and monks of the monastery used egg whites whites to starch their clothes.  This left them with a lot of unused egg yolks.  What do you do when life gives you egg yolks?  If you are a Portuguese monk, you make pastries.  A long guarded secret, when the monastery closed in 1834, the recipe was reportedly sold to the bakery,  Fabrica de Pasteis de Belem.

The tart became very popular and soon other bakeries were making the flaky handheld tarts that became ubiquitous enough to earn the moniker pasteis de nata.

There are two main differences in this week’s recipe for pasteis de nata compared with last week’s Macau tarts.  First relates to shell technique.

In the recipe I used last week, the puff pastry was hand molded into shape.  Here, the little pieces of dough are rolled into disks which are then gently seated into the muffin or tart tins.  I found rolling out the circles satisfyingly meditative and much more attractive than the push mold method.

The second difference was in the custard.  So remember when I thought last week’s version was the Macau version until I read the recipe title.  Well, based on my research, this week’s custard is actually closer to the Macau version because it includes cornstarch.

So, to review.  Last week’s tarts, which I called the Macau tarts were actually pasteis de nata whereas this week’s tarts, which I’m calling pasteis de nata are probably more like the Macau tarts.

The thing is, I found that along the road to both these tarts, I could find recipes that claim to be the original of each, switching and swapping bits and pieces of the recipes.  And it makes sense, because that’s what cooking and baking is all about.  A little piece of this, a little piece of that.

But returning to this week’s pastry.  Rolling out the dough made for some gorgeous lamination and neat little tarts.

But, using the tins rather than the muffin cups created a snack with equal parts custard and puff.  Not my favorite.

So, the journey must continue.  I made a couple of batches of puff pastry last week that are currently resting in the freezer.

Next time inspiration strikes, I’m going to mix and match my favorite elements of  each of the three recipes and see where that gets me.

Until then, I encourage you to do your own exploring.

Pasteis de Nata

from The Woks of Life


  • one batch rough puff
  • 1/2 C heavy cream
  • 1/2 C granulated sugar
  • 1 1/4 whole milk
  • 2 egg yolks
  • 4 tsps cornstarch
  • 1 1/4 tsp vanilla extract


For pasty shells

  1. Starting with your cold puff pastry, on a floured surface, roll dough out to about 1/8 inch thick (12X16ish)
  2. Beginning on the short (12″) side of the dough, roll as tightly as possible until you get a 12″ roll.  Wrap in plastic and pop into freezer for 30 minutes (you can do this part a couple of days in advance.  Store tightly wrapped roll in fridge until ready to use.
  3. Once chilled, cut the rolled dough into 12 equal parts.  You want your dough to stay cool for this next part.  So, depending on how warm your kitchen is, wrap up 6-9 of the pieces and put them back in the fridge.
  4. On a lightly floured surface, roll first piece of dough out so that measures about 3.5 inches (or, about half an inch wider than the diameter of the tin you are using).  Place the dough into your tin with the center of the dough lining up with the center of the tin.  Gently press the dough into the sides of the tin so that the dough has about a 1/16 of a lip around the top of the tin.  Work quickly and gently, handling the dough as little as possible.  Repeat until you have filled 12 tart tins.  Place tins on a baking sheet and chill in freezer.  Freeze for at least 30 minutes or until the dough is frozen.  These can be made a couple of days ahead and kept wrapped and frozen until ready to use.

To make the custard

  1. Whisk together the heavy cream, sugar, milk, egg yolks, corn starch and vanilla extract in a small saucepan until the sugar has dissolved.
  2. Place mixture over medium low heat, continuing to whisk until the mixture begins to coat the side of the pan.  The custard is nearly ready when it just begins to steam.  When the custard is thick enough to coat a wooden spoon, remove from heat and continue to whisk.  Whisk until the custard is no longer hot.  Strain  custard and set aside to cool completely, pressing a piece of plastic wrap onto the surface of the custard to keep a skin from forming.

To assemble and bake

  1. Place rack on middle shelf in oven.  Preheat oven to 475 degrees.  Place frozen pastry shells on a sheet pan if not already there.
  2. Spoon the cooled custard into each shell until custard is about 3.16 of an inch below the top of the pastry shell.  Work quickly so that custard does not begin soaking into the shells.
  3. Place baking sheet in oven and immediately reduce temperature down to 450 degrees.  The total baking time should be about 30 minutes but begin checking after 20 minutes.  Rotate pan if tarts are browning unevenly.
  4. Once pastry is golden and you have some nice scorch marks, remove from oven.  Place on rack to cool.
  5. Once tarts are cooled to warm, remove from tins and enjoy.
  6. To reheat tarts, preheat oven to 350 degrees and heat for 7-10 minutes.



Macau Egg Custard Tarts

Happy almost Lunar New Year (tomorrow it’s official).  In honor of Lunar New Year, this month I’m having some fun with egg custard tarts.  Last week I played with Hong Kong style egg custard tarts.  This week we’re taking the ferry from Hong Kong to Macau.

Sort of.

When I was researcing egg custard tarts, I earmarked this recipe as the Macau version.  I made it thinking it was the Macau version.  I gave the finished tarts away to  friends explaining that these were the Macau version.

Then I looked at the actual recipe title.  The recipe is for pasteis de nata.  True, the Macau version of egg custard tarts take their inspiration from the famous Portuguese egg tarts called pasteis de nata.  The story goes like this.  Just over 30 years ago, an English industrial pharmacist named Andrew Stow living on Macau introduced the pasteis de nata after tasting them in Portugal.  He opened a shop Lord Stow’s Bakery and the Macau egg custard tart (po tat) was born.  Lord Stow’s timing was  serendipitous. The 1980s saw an influx of Portuguese owned businesses to Macau and while colonized by Portugal centuries earlier in 1557, from what I read, there wasn’t much European food culture on the island.  But there was demand.

While Stow’s actual recipe is proprietary, it differs from the Hong Kong style and the original pasteis de data in a couple of ways.  The Macau style has a flaky, puff pastry shell (Hong Kong is a short crust).  Moreover, according to my research, the custard in the Macau version is more like the English custard tarts than the pasteis de nata.  But then, the Macau version sends a nod to the Portuguese version by keeping the caramelized top.

So how did I get turned around with this particular recipe?  So many reasons, so little time.  But, what I think happened was during my deep dive into the rabbit hole that are the egg custard tart internets, I somehow got the impression that the method of making the puff pastry for the Macau tart was different from the European version for pasteis de data.  In this version (what I thought was the Macau version), soft, whipped butter is spread onto the dough to laminate it.  I’d only made puff using the block butter or frozen shredded butter versions.

In this version, the shell pastry is laminated, rolled and the cut into equal pieces.  Those pieces are then hand-shaped into tart shells (I used muffin tins–free forming them is seriously next level).

The result should be evidence of lamination via swirling on the bottom of the pastry.

With straight-sides and burnt, I mean caramelized blisters dotting the custard surface, these tarts homlier than their Hong Kong rivals.  They are also sweeter. And really, different baked good all together.

But, we’re not done yet.  I couldn’t end this expedition without going back to the original pasteis de nata.

Sort of.

Next week!

Macau Style Custar Tarts/ Portuguese Custard Tarts

adapted from All Recipes, recipe by “Chef John”

Great video: Pasteis de Nata

makes 12 tarts


for the dough

  • 1 C all purpose flour
  • 1/4 tsp kosher salt
  • 1/3 C cold water
  • 1/2 C (4 oz, 1 stick, 8 TBS) high quality unsalted butter, softened

for the sugar syrup

  • 3/4 C granulated sugar
  • 1/4 C + 1 TBS water

for the custard base

  • 1/3 C all purpose flour
  • 1/4 tsp kosher salt
  • 6 large eggs
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract


To make dough

  1. Combine flour, salt and cold water in a bowl.  Using a wooden spoon, mix until dough just comes together and pulls away from the side of the bowl.  The dough will be sticky.
  2. Transfer dough to a well floured surface.  Dust a little more flour over the top.  Knead for a couple of minutes and form a ball.  Cover and let rest for 15 to 20 minutes.
  3. Once rested, roll dough into a square about 1/8 inch thick, dusting with flour as necessary.
  4. Spread 1/3 of the butter over 2/3 of the square. leaving a 1/2 inch border around all edges.  Flip the unbuttered 1/3 over the middle of the square and fold the opposite end over it–like a letter.  Straighten edges as needed.  Using a bench scraper if dough is stuck to surface, unstick dough, wrap in plastic and put in fridge for 15 minutes.
  5. Remove from fridge and plastic wrap, place with long side facing you on a well dusted surface.  Dust top of dough and once again, roll into a square/rectangle about 1/8 inch thick (I should have measured the dimensions–sorry!).  Repeat butter step: spread 1/3 (well, half of the remaining) of the butter across 2/3 of the dough leaving a 1/2 inch border.  Fold into third (like a letter).  Transfer dough to a parchment-lined baking sheet and freeze until butter is chilled (about 10 minutes).
  6. Sprinkle chilled dough with flour and roll out to 1/8 inch rectangle.  Spread remaining butter across ALL of the dough, leaving a 1 1/2 inch border without butter on the top edge.  Dip your finger in water and moisten the unbuttered edge.  Starting at the opposite end from the unbuttered edge, roll dough into log. Seal with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 2 hours (will keep in the fridge for a couple of days).

For the custard and to finish tarts

  1. Combine sugar, 1/4 cup plus 1 TBS water in a small pot.  Bring to a boil over medium heat.  Do not stir.  Allow sugar to simmer until syrup reaches 210-215 degrees.  Remove from heat.
  2. Preheat oven to 500 degrees.  Grease a 12-cup muffin tin.
  3. Pull dough from fridge and trim ends.   and cut the log into 12 equal parts.  Place a pice of dough in each muffin cup with the rolled side facing up/down (as opposed to side-to-side).  Dip you thumb in cold water and then press thumb into the center of the swirl.  Gently push dough against the bottom and up the side for the cup until dough reaches at least 1/8 of an inch past the top.  Repeat until you have all 12 cup filled and then pop the tin into the freezer to chill while you finish the custard.
  4. Whisk flour, salt and cold milk together in a cold pot.  Cook over medium heat, whisking constantly until the milk thickens (about 5 minutes).  Remover from heat and let cool for 10 minutes.
  5. Whisk egg yolks into the cooled milk.  Add the sugar syrup and vanilla extract.  Whisk until combined.  Strain custard into a glass measuring cup.
  6. Pull muffin tin from freezer and fill each cup with custard to 3/4 of the way.
  7. Bake in preheated oven until the pastry is browned and bubbly and the top starts to blister, 12-15 minutes.  All tarts to cool 5 minutes, remove from tin and serve warm.

Can be reheated in a 350 degree oven for 5-7 minutes.