Pastéis de Nata ~ Portuguese Custard Tarts

This pastéis de nata recipe makes as-close-to-authentic Portuguese custard tarts with a rich egg custard nestled in shatteringly crisp pastry. Tastes like home, even if you’re not from Portugal.

These Portuguese custard tarts are facsimiles of the true pastéis de Belém pastries from the Antiga Confeitaria de Belém (below), where they churn out more than 22,000 pastries each day. When you make that many a day, you get damn good at it. There are all kinds of reasons why the original pastéis de nata from this pastry shop are so freaking good. Secret recipes, teams of folks who do nothing but make the pastry dough or whip up the filling, ovens that blast at 800°F.Seven pasteis de Belem, or Portuguese custard pastries, on a plate, with coffee cups nearby In order to translate the pastéis to the home kitchen and to ovens that that hit 500°F if you’re lucky, these pastéis are smaller than the original. and the tops may not brown quite as much as the authentic pastéis in the picture, which are from the confeitaria. Still, that hasn’t stopped the flood of rave reviews below. The secrets to making spectacular authentic Portuguese custard tarts at home are few and simple.Pasteis de Nata | Portuguese Custard Tarts When making the pastry, make sure the butter is evenly layered, all excess flour is removed, and the dough is rolled very thin and folded neatly. As for the custard, you’ll need a thermometer to accurately gauge the custard. These are best eaten warm the day they’re made.–David Leite

A Little Visual Aid

The tremendously delightful and charming London pastry queen Cupcake Jemma uses my recipe to make her delicious Portuguese custard tarts.

Video

Video: How to Make Pastéis de Nata

Pastéis de Nata ~ Portuguese Custard Tarts

Three pasteis de nata, two face-up showing the browned spots and one upside-down, showing the delicate spiral of browned pastry
This pastéis de nata recipe makes as-close-to-authentic Portuguese custard tarts with a rich egg custard nestled in shatteringly crisp pastry. Tastes like home, even if you’re not from Portugal.
David Leite

Prep 1 hr
Cook 1 hr 30 mins
Total 2 hrs 30 mins
Dessert
Portuguese
40 pastries
83 kcal
4.81 / 118 votes
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Equipment

  • Mini-muffin tin with 2-by-5/8-inch (50-by-15-mm) wells; If you prefer the classic larger tins from Portugal, you can purchase them at Portugalia Marketplace.

Ingredients 

For the pasteis de nata dough

  • 2 cups minus 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour plus more for the work surface
  • 1/4 teaspoon sea salt
  • 3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons cold water
  • 2 sticks (8 oz) unsalted butter room temperature, stirred until smooth

For the custard

  • 3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/4 cups milk divided
  • 1 1/3 cups granulated sugar
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 2/3 cup water
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 6 large egg yolks whisked

For the garnish

  • Confectioners’ sugar
  • Cinnamon

Directions
 

Make the pastéis de nata dough

  • In a stand mixer fitted with a dough hook, mix the flour, salt, and water until a soft, pillowy dough forms that pulls away from the side of the bowl, about 30 seconds.
  • Generously flour a work surface and pat the dough into a 6-inch (15-cm) square using a pastry scraper. Flour the dough, cover with plastic wrap, and let it rest at room temperature for 15 minutes.
  • Roll the dough into an 18-inch (46-cm) square. As you work, use the scraper to lift the dough to make sure the underside isn't sticking to your work surface.
  • Brush the excess flour off the top of the dough, trim any uneven edges, and, using a small offset spatula, dot and then spread the left 2/3 portion of the dough with a little less than 1/3 of the butter being careful to leave a 1 inch (25 mm) plain border around the edge of the dough.
  • Neatly fold the unbuttered right 1/3 of the dough (using the pastry scraper to loosen it if it sticks) over the rest of the dough. Brush off any excess flour, then fold over the left 1/3 of the dough. Starting from the top, pat down the dough with your hand to release any air bubbles, and then pinch the edges of the dough to seal. Brush off any excess flour.
  • Turn the dough 90° to the left so the fold is facing you. Lift the dough and flour the work surface. Once again roll it out to an 18-inch (46-cm) square, then dot the left 2/3 of the dough with 1/3 of the butter and smear it over the dough. Fold the dough as directed in steps 4 and 5.
  • For the last rolling, turn the dough 90° to the left and roll out the dough to an 18-by-21-inch (46-by-53-cm) rectangle, with the shorter side facing you. Spread the remaining butter over the entire surface of the dough.
  • Using the spatula as an aid, lift the edge of dough closest to you and roll the dough away from you into a tight log, brushing the excess flour from the underside as you go. Trim the ends and cut the log in half. Wrap each piece in plastic wrap and chill for 2 hours or preferably overnight. (The pastry can be frozen for up to 3 months.)

Make the custard

  • In a medium bowl, whisk the flour and 1/4 cup milk (60 ml) until smooth.
  • Bring the sugar, cinnamon, and water to a boil in a small saucepan and cook until an instant-read thermometer registers 220°F (104°C). Do not stir.
  • Meanwhile, in another small saucepan, scald the remaining 1 cup milk (237 ml). Whisk the hot milk into the flour mixture.
  • Remove the cinnamon stick and then pour the sugar syrup in a thin stream into the hot milk-and-flour mixture, whisking briskly. Add the vanilla and stir for a minute until very warm but not hot. Whisk in the yolks, strain the mixture into a bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and set aside. The custard will be thin; that is as it should be. (You can refrigerate the custard for up to 3 days.)

Assemble and bake the pastries

  • Place an oven rack in the top third position and heat the oven to 550°F (290°C). Remove a pastry log from the refrigerator and roll it back and forth on a lightly floured surface until it's about an inch (25 mm) in diameter and 16 inches (41 cm) long. Cut it into scant 3/4-inch (18-mm) pieces. Place 1 piece pastry dough, cut side down, in each well of a nonstick 12-cup mini-muffin pan (2-by-5/8-inch [50-by-15-mm] size). If using classic tins, cut the dough into generous 1-inch (25-mm) pieces. Allow the dough pieces to soften several minutes until pliable.
  • Have a small cup of water nearby. Dip your thumbs in the water, then straight down into the middle of the dough spiral. Flatten it against the bottom of the cup to a thickness of about 1/16 inch (1.5 mm), then smooth the dough up the sides and create a raised lip about 1/8 inch (3 mm) above the pan. The pastry bottoms should be thinner than the tops.
  • Fill each cup 3/4 full with the cool custard. Bake the pastries until the edges of the dough are frilled and brown, about 8 to 9 minutes for the mini-muffin tins, 15 to 17 minutes for the classic tins.
  • Remove from the oven and allow the pasteis to cool a few minutes in the pan, then transfer to a rack and cool until just warm. Sprinkle the pasteis generously with confectioners' sugar, then cinnamon and serve. Repeat with the remaining pastry and custard. These are best consumed the day they're made.
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Show Nutrition

Serving: 1pastelCalories: 83kcal (4%)Carbohydrates: 17g (6%)Protein: 2g (4%)Fat: 1g (2%)Saturated Fat: 1g (6%)Polyunsaturated Fat: 1gMonounsaturated Fat: 1gTrans Fat: 1gCholesterol: 28mg (9%)Sodium: 20mg (1%)Potassium: 28mg (1%)Fiber: 1g (4%)Sugar: 7g (8%)Vitamin A: 53IU (1%)Vitamin C: 1mg (1%)Calcium: 16mg (2%)Iron: 1mg (6%)

De Rigueur Equipment for Pastéis de Nata

These are the original pastéis de nata tins that all the great pastry shops in Portugal use. I find them indispensable, as they’re much easier to use than muffin tine.

Recipe Testers’ Reviews

According to my Portuguese dad, I can make these pasteis de Nata again and again and again! I am pretty chuffed with how they turned out since I had doubts throughout the entire process of making these traditional tarts. First of all, Pasteis de Nata are the epitome of the classic Portuguese sweet treat. So no pressure!

In following the recipe, when mixing the flour, salt and water in the stand mixer, my dough never achieved the soft pillowy stage I was hoping, or rather thinking, what it would be. My dough did pull away from the sides slightly, but remained sticky, hence I feel I should have added more flour which I didn’t at this stage. Doubt started to set-in! When working with the dough on the work surface, I needed to add a very generous amount of flour to stop the dough from sticking. At this stage I probably added so much flour that I actually increased the amount of flour added to the dough significantly.

I found working with the dough a test of extreme patience! I remained calm (yet doubtful) and just kept working with it gently. I was never able to achieve the 18-by-18-inch square, no matter how hard I tried. It was closer to 14 inches. The custard seemed quite thin and even though the recipe mentioned it would be so I had my doubts it would firm up into a creamy custard. While the tarts baked, the butter bubbled and oozed out of the dough and over the edge of the minis tin causing lots of smoke in the extremely hot oven. I baked the minis for 9 minutes and the custard was set and the pastry was golden brown. I expected the custard to have a brown speckled appearance (like the ones you buy commercially), but it remained an eggy yellow. For the larger tins, I baked the tarts for 15 minutes and they too remained an eggy yellow with a golden brown pasty.

To my surprise, the pastry was super flaky and crispy and it had that perfect crackly crunch that is the true mark of a great pasteis de Nata! And the custard? It set and was creamy, sweet, and deliciously perfect.

When my Portuguese mom said they tasted just like the pasteis de Belem (the most famous and original Portuguese Custard Tarts), then I knew we had a winner! Talk about the best compliment ever! It was quite a bit of work to produce these little gems, but the end result was definitely worth the effort!

Originally published December 12, 2020

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Comments

  1. I am also wondering how to make it stick to your teeth..because after it is cooked the pastry is really crackling! I mean..-sharp…like that. So I put it the dough in the fridge and about the 2nd day it turned out the way I wanted. The opposite of crackling pastry. I dont really know how to say it, but I wanted it that way. Not super crispy! so it was my preference. =) thanks again!

  2. 5 stars
    Hey David!

    I stumble upon your website looking for the perfect pastéis de nata recipe because I used to eat them at Nando’s (Portuguese resto franchised here in the MidEast). There are a lot of websites that offer the same recipe, but I was interested in your because of the small quantity with a sure-win taste! I was really amazed when I tasted them! They were really wonderful! And…yes the are little devils to the diet! From now on, this will always be one of my top desserts to cook.

    Now, I am trying your Katherine Hepburn brownies. I was wondering if one day you could also make a recipe for honey cake. Since i’ve been researching it…just can’t comprehend other websites. God Bless on your passion for cooking!!! Thanks!!!

    1. Faye, what a lovely thing to say, thank you. Yes, I find these little devils to be not only detrimental to the waistline but also to the will. Which is why I make them only when I have a crowd coming over.

      I’ll take a look at bolo de mel (honey cake). It wasn’t may favorite when I was in Portugal, so I didn’t include it in my cookbook or on the site. But perhaps I can come up with something that will satisfy us both.

  3. Hi David,

    I’m having real trouble getting the dough rolled out to an 18-inch square as specified – it’s very thin and sticking to the surface no matter how much flour I use (and I don’t want to overdo it on the flour for fear of making the pastry tough). Do you have any tips? When I try to scrape it from the surface with the dough scraper it’s just ruching up in places, tearing in other places. The dough doesn’t feel excessively wet or sticky though.

    Thanks so much!

    1. Hi, Ruby. I see you’re writing from the UK. That in itself may be part of the problem. I find it irksome that flours, as well as some other baking ingredients, differ from country to country. The first thing I’d try is to roll out the dough to the size that works for you. Forget about yield at the moment. Our goal now is to get it working so that you can then make any volume adjustment later. Fire off a batch and see how they fare. It might be simply a matter of differences in measuring the flour. In the US, we prefer, sadly, volume, where elsewhere in the world,the more precise method of weight is the standard. If that still doesn’t do, write me back and we’ll get to the bottom of this. We have some testers in England who might be able to lend their expertise.

  4. Hi David,

    I have a question with regards to the custard. After whisking in the eggs, is the final result supposed to be quite liquid?

      1. Thank you for the reply, David.

        Well it did not turn out as the one I just ate in Portugal two weeks ago unfortunately:(

        The custard did set but it set too much because I notice that it did not move as much as the ones I ate. My pastry did not turn out very well either because they did not grow and was not fluffy:( but they were eatable!

        Also I did half the quantity of the custard and it was a little too sweet. But I did not give up!!! I am trying again this weekend 🙂 will let you know.

        For my pastry, I noticed that when I had them in the spiral and pressing them in the pan, I could feel the butter. Is that normal?

        I really want to get this right 😉 hubby is Portuguese 🙂

        1. Hi Nusrat. I’m sorry they didn’t turn out well. These are mini-pastéis and will be a bit different. They’re supposed to be made in a small muffin tin (see special equipment above). That makes the pastry crisper than those in the confeitaria. A suggestion: perhaps make these in a regular-size muffin tin. That will allow more dough in each well and that means the dough has a better chance to puff more. Also because the pastéis are bigger, the custard won’t cook as much.

          I’m here to help you. But I’ll admit I’ve never had a homemade pastel that was like those in Portugal. You’ve inspired me to get back in the kitchen and revisit this recipe.

  5. Hi David! I’ve been over the years trying various recipes and eventually settled with one where I was getting fairly decent results…until that same recipe (also with a sugar syrup) began to sometimes get runnier with rest to cool down and split when baked!!I read you mentioned in the EG forum that you had that resolved. Could you PLEASE enlighten me as to why that happens or how to avoid it? I don’t know anymore if it is due to overcooking the cornstarch (which I use instead of flour…maybe I ought to change) or not cooking it enough and thus the uncooked yolks breaking it down. thank you, thank you in advance!!I am trying today your recipe, though I’m afraid my “conversions” to grams may not be so accurate…We’ll see! 🙂

    P.D. Would it be possible for you to share the full version of Alfama’s recipe (the one not adapted for home ovens?).

    1. Colette, thanks for writing. Cornstarch is notoriously finicky. If overcooked, it turns runny, as you noted, and there is nothing you can do to fix it. And that’s what I think is happening to you. Flour is more stable and creates a thick custard, so I suggest you go with that. I don’t have the full recipe from Alfama, because right from the beginning, we scaled it down for the home cook. But all we did was scale it down. This recipe is the Alfama version. Please let me know how it goes.

      1. Hi David! I’ve just seen your reply! Thank you so much!! i tried it with flour and it seemed to work well..so I’m sticking to it! 🙂 Thanks again!

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