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.
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.
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
- 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.
- 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.
- Once rested, roll dough into a square about 1/8 inch thick, dusting with flour as necessary.
- 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.
- 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).
- 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
- 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.
- Preheat oven to 500 degrees. Grease a 12-cup muffin tin.
- 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.
- 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.
- Whisk egg yolks into the cooled milk. Add the sugar syrup and vanilla extract. Whisk until combined. Strain custard into a glass measuring cup.
- Pull muffin tin from freezer and fill each cup with custard to 3/4 of the way.
- 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.