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
- Starting with your cold puff pastry, on a floured surface, roll dough out to about 1/8 inch thick (12X16ish)
- 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.
- 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.
- 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
- Whisk together the heavy cream, sugar, milk, egg yolks, corn starch and vanilla extract in a small saucepan until the sugar has dissolved.
- 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
- Place rack on middle shelf in oven. Preheat oven to 475 degrees. Place frozen pastry shells on a sheet pan if not already there.
- 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.
- 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.
- Once pastry is golden and you have some nice scorch marks, remove from oven. Place on rack to cool.
- Once tarts are cooled to warm, remove from tins and enjoy.
- To reheat tarts, preheat oven to 350 degrees and heat for 7-10 minutes.