Pastel de Nata (Portuguese Custard Tarts)

Pastel de natas are a tasty pastry we discovered during travels in Portugal … now they’ve become a part of our life back home.

One of the best parts of traveling is learning to appreciate the food of another culture. I like to look up the recipes to some of our favorite culinary discoveries and work them into my repertoire  back home to keep a taste of our travels in our everyday lives.

One of my favorite treats to make is the Pastel de Nata, or Portuguese custard tarts. These little babies are delicious with a hot cup of good, strong coffee, and they keep for a couple of days. They’re decadent without being super-sized or covered in chocolate, and offer just the right amount of pick-me-up to start your day right.

If you have the chance to go to Lisbon, don’t miss the opportunity to try these delicious little pastries at the appropriately named  Pastéis de Belém cafe in the  Belém neighborhood, where they’re served hot and fresh all day long. This restaurant, started in the late 1830s, has a closely guarded recipe that is kept completely secret — I believe that only three employees know the actual ingredients. They’re so well-respected that only the pastries made in-house are called “Pasteis de Belem,” while all other versions are referred to as pastel de nata. Either version is delicious. When we visited the city, it was all I could do to make myself stop eating them … they’re just that good.

I use a recipe I found on Allrecipes as a base. It’s a solid recipe, but I make the following substitutions: instead of cornstarch, I use six tablespoons of flour. NOTE: Making the filling takes patience. If you’re familiar with Southern cooking, it’s a lot like making a roux. For a long time, it feels like nothing is happening, but once the texture shifts, you’ll know. Just stir constantly, otherwise you’ll scorch the filling and/or have that raw, uncooked flour taste.

Another alteration I’ve made to the recipe deals with the puff pastry. The method I’ve employed after research online is to press out the pastry dough with a rolling pin, then roll it into one spiral loaf. Slice it into 1″ to 2″ pieces, then use your thumb to press down then center so that each piece turns into a cup-shaped piece of dough, with a thicker rim around the top.

Try these when you get a chance — you won’t be able to have just one! Don’t forget to sprinkle lots of powdered sugar on top of them while they’re still warm. Okay, I’ve made myself hungry — now I need to go make some for myself!

Have a favorite recipe from your travels? Share it below!


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