I was inspired to create this recipe after trying a similar version in “Foods of the Azores Islands” by Deolinda Maria Avila. [Editor's Note: This title is currently out of print, although used copies can still be found online.] This riff, which uses a tart dough, is simpler to make and dispenses with the tedious rolling, folding, and re-rolling of massa folhada, or Portugal’s take on puff pastry.–David Leite
LC How Very Contrary Note
These custard tarts are a little fickle in that they require all of the ingredients for the pastry be well chilled and, conversely, all of the ingredients for the custard be at room temperature. How very contrary. And yet soooo worthwhile.
Portuguese Pastéis de Nata Recipe
Hands-On Time: 25 minutes | Total Time: 1 hour, not including chilling and cooling | Makes 12 tarts
- For the pastry
- 2 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for the work surface
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
- 10 tablespoons chilled unsalted butter, cut into 1/4-inch dice
- 5 to 7 tablespoons ice water
- For the custard
- 1 tablespoon cornstarch
- 1 1/2 cup heavy cream
- 1 cup granulated sugar
- 6 large egg yolks
- Make the pastry
- 1. In the bowl of a food processor fitted with a metal blade, pulse the flour, salt and sugar to combine. Add the butter and pulse until the flour resembles coarse cornmeal, about 10 pulses.
- 2. Drizzle 5 tablespoons of the ice water over the mixture in the processor and pulse several times to work the water into the flour. Add the remaining water, 1 tablespoon at a time, and continue pulsing until the mixture develops small curds. Turn the dough out onto a large piece of plastic wrap, shape it into a disc, and wrap it well. Refrigerate until chilled through, at least 1 hour.
- 3. On a lightly floured surface, roll half the dough to 1/16-inch thickness. Cut out six 4 1/2-inch circles. (If you don’t have a cookie cutter this large, a wide-mouth jar works well.) Ease the dough circles into a nonstick muffin tin with 12 standard-size (4 ounce) cups. Gently press out any overlapping folds in the pastry. Repeat with the remaining dough. Place the muffin tin in the freezer for 5 minutes. Remove and trim any overhang using the back of a knife so the pastry cups are flush with the top of the tin. Nestle a paper cupcake liner in each dough cup and fill it with dried beans or pastry weights. Bake at 350°F (180°C) for 8 to 10 minutes. Transfer the tin to a wire rack and let cool completely.
- Make the custard
- 4. Keep the oven at 350°F (180°C).
- 5. Dissolve the cornstarch in 1/4 cup of the cream. Add the remaining cream and sugar and stir until the sugar dissolves and the mixture is smooth. Just to be sure, dip a spoon in the mixture and peer closely to check for sugar granules; none should remain. In a small bowl, blend the yolks with a fork until smooth. Slowly add the yolks to the cream mixture, stirring gently to combine.
- 6. Remove the paper liners and pastry weights from the partially baked pastry cups. Ladle the custard into the cups, filling each one 2/3 full. Bake until the edges of the custard are puffed and middle is still jiggly, about 20 to 25 minutes. (The center of the custard will continue to cook a little from the residual heat, even after you take it out of the oven.) Transfer the tin of tarts to a wire rack and let cool completely. The pastéis are best when devoured the same day.
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Portuguese Pastéis de Nata Recipe © 2001 David Leite. Photo © 2009 Nuno Correia. All rights reserved.