By Leah Gerrard
When I first learned about pasteis de nata (Portuguese custard tarts) I was intrigued, but told myself I had to wait until I made it to Portugal to try them. In 2018 on what would sadly be my last trip with my mom, we ventured to Lisbon, Porto and Paris. My first memory of that trip is spotting bakery
after bakery on the bus ride from the airport to the hotel, it seemed like there was one every block. As soon as I got off the bus, I got one. It was so good. Taking inspiration from a friend who eats a bowl of ramen every day whenever she visits her grandmother in Tokyo, I vowed to have at least one everyday. My mom joined me on my quest, and we soon added a tiny glass of Ginjinha, the regional cherry liquor to our daily ritual as well. It helped fortify us on what ended up being a very rainy trip!
These tarts are a perfect little treat with a strong cup of coffee. Cooking them at such a high temperature creates toasty caramely flavors and a great combo of textures.
Adding a few raspberries, blueberries, or any fruit that inspires helps cut the richness and adds complexity. I recommend watching a few “how to” videos on YouTube to get an idea for laminating the pastry dough. It’s not as intimidating as it seems and it’s a fun project!
Pasteis de Nata
For the Puff Pastry:
1½ sticks unsalted butter, softened
1¾ cups all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting
⅔ cup water
¼ teaspoon kosher salt
For the Filling and Garnish:
1 cup granulated sugar
⅔ cup water
1 cinnamon stick
1 cup, plus 6 tablespoons, whole milk, divided
½ cup all-purpose flour
6 egg yolks
Ground cinnamon, for garnish
Egg tart molds ( or use muffin tins)
1. Make the puff pastry: In a small bowl, whisk the butter until it is the consistency of yogurt. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the dough hook, combine the flour, water and salt. Mix on low speed, scraping the bowl down occasionally, until the mixture comes together and has a tacky consistency.
2. Transfer to a well-floured work surface and form into a 1-inch rectangle. Using a floured rolling pin, roll the dough into a ½-inch-thick rectangle, 10 inches long. Cover with plastic wrap and let it rest for 15 minutes.
3. Remove the plastic wrap and roll the dough into a 15-inch square, dusting with more flour as needed. Spread a third of the butter on the bottom half of the dough, leaving a 1-inch rim. Using a bench scraper, fold the top half of the dough over the butter. Press the edges to seal and pat the dough with the rolling pin. Roll the dough into another 15-inch square. Spread half of the remaining butter on the bottom half of the dough, leaving a 1-inch rim. Using the bench scraper, fold the top half of the dough over the butter. Press the edges to seal. Pat the dough with the rolling pin and rotate the dough so that the seam is facing you. Now, roll into an 18-inch square.
4. Spread the remaining butter all over the dough, leaving a 1-inch rim. Starting with the edge closest to you, roll the dough into a tight log. Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate until very firm, at least 2 hours, preferably overnight.
5. Make the filling: Preheat the oven to 500°. In a medium saucepan, combine the sugar, water and cinnamon stick over high heat. Bring to a boil and cook for 1 minute, then remove from the heat and let sit until ready to use.
7. Meanwhile, in a small saucepan, heat 1 cup, plus 1 tablespoon, of the milk over medium heat until bubbles begin to form around the edges, 4 to 5 minutes. In a large bowl, whisk the flour with the remaining 5 tablespoons of milk. Continue whisking while adding the hot milk in a slow, steady stream. Discard the cinnamon stick from the sugar syrup and whisk the syrup into the milk mixture in a steady stream. Return to the saucepan and cook over low heat, whisking constantly, until thickened 10 to 12 minutes.
8. Add the yolks to the mixture and whisk until well combined, then strain through a fine-mesh sieve. Pour 1½ tablespoons of the warm filling into each pastry shells. Top each with two berries or a slice of fruit.
9. Bake until the shells are golden brown and crisp, the custards are set, and the tops are blackened in spots, 15 to 20 minutes. Let cool in the pans on wire racks for 5 minutes. Then, remove the molds, transfer the tarts to the wire racks and sprinkle with cinnamon. Serve warm.