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.

Three pasteis de nata, two face-up showing the browned spots and one upside-down, showing the delicate spiral of browned pastry

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. Originally published June 26, 2004.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: How to Make Pastéis de Nata
Video courtesy of Cupcake Jemma

Pastéis de Nata | Portuguese Custard Tarts

  • Quick Glance
  • (115)
  • 1 H
  • 2 H, 30 M
  • Makes 40 pastries
4.8/5 - 115 reviews
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Special 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
  • For the custard
  • For the garnish

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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    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.

      12 stainless pasteis de nata tins.

    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!

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    Comments

    1. Hi David,
      I’ve loved these lil treasures from a few years ago when travelling in Portugal.

      Thanks for this recipe I’ll be trying these out this weekend.

      Cheers Carl

        1. Hi Ivan,
          I can translate to Portuguese for you if you need. Just send material. I will love to cooperate. No charges at all.
          Happy Thanksgiving

    2. This recipe is the real deal and not too complicated. They taste exactly like the ones served up at the Lisboa Patisserie in Notting Hill, London. My only observation is that based on a standard sized muffin tin you’ll only get 24, otherwise great!

      1. Hi David,

        Thanks for the recipe. Can you clarify what is meant by the following, after trimming uneven edges? What is a dot?

        4. Brush excess flour off the top, trim any uneven edges, and using a small offset spatula dot and then spread the left two-thirds of the dough with a little less than one-third of the butter to within 1 inch of the edge.

        1. Grace, certainly. What I mean (and I will clarify it in the recipe now) is to drop pieces of butter all over the dough. It makes it easier to spread it that way, rather than trying to plow through a big hunk of butter.

      2. The oven setting at 550 degrees Farenheit is a mistake. I tried the recipe–followed it completely and burned the bottoms and most of the sides. I checked online and 200 degrees Celcius translates to about 400 degrees F. I’ll try again but will reduce the temperature.

        1. I fell in love with these pastries in Portugal so was excited to find this recipe. I just baked them and at 550, the pastry burned and the custard ran all over the pans. I will try these again only baking at 450. I also thought the custard seemed a little sweeter than I remember. Also, when you make the custard it is very runny and I thought maybe I’d made a mistake. It appears to have thickened as it cooked, what didn’t run all over the place.

          1. Sharon, how close were the pastries to the top of the oven? That can affect things. (Is 550° in your oven automatically broil?) Is your oven calibrated? Was it the pastry shrinking back or the custard spilling that was the problem? And last question: we’re you using a mini-muffin pan or a larger size? This recipe does have a running raw filling, but it does firm up when cooked.

            These little gems are really tough to make at home–trust me, I know!

            1. Hello, David!
              I just viewed the Delicious Destinations show highlighting Lisbon, and the section of the show dealing with these little gems specifically said they are baked at 400 degrees.

            2. Cynthia, thanks for writing. I’ve heard all kinds of temperatures for this recipe! When I’ve baked them at 400 degrees, they don’t come out right. And I know when I grilled the owner in Portuguese, he said it was 400°C, which is approximately 750°F–which would incinerate them! I could see 400°F in a powerful convection oven, though.

            3. I have a wood oven (commercial bakery) and I am really looking forward to baking these pastries in it – easily able to obtain temperatures over 500F – what temperature would you recommend? Will try to use a standard sized muffin tin as this size suits the tastes of my customers more closely.

            4. Dianne, I would try 500/550 degrees to start. There might be adjustments that need to be done for commercial production. As I’m a home cook, I couldn’t tell you what they are!

            5. Hi David, thanks for your reply. I must apologize for commenting before I tasted the little pastries. First of all, yes the custard is runny and sweet, but after baking it sets up perfectly and isn’t too sweet when you bite it with the unsweetened pastry. Secondly, I did cheat and tried using premade puff pastry and rolled it out and followed your directions. I put the pastry in the tins and then wasn’t able to bake until the next day. I didn’t smoosh the pastry in the tins until it was thin enough and even at 550F, they didn’t get done on the bottom and didn’t hold enough of the filling. Since the pastry was too thick, it probably puffed up too much and spilled a lot of the filling out. Didn’t stop us from eating them though. I cooked the leftover filling on top of the stove and have been sneaking it a spoonful at a time from the fridge 😀 I definitely will try them again using your dough recipe. I was trying a short cut and had an epic fail . . . no fault of your recipe!

            6. Hey Sharon, well THAT explains it! Commercial puff pastry is much different from this dough, even though they’re both laminated doughs. When you use the dough in the recipe, it’s literally less than a 1/16 of an inch in places, so it doesn’t puff the same way. If you want to use commercial dough, make sure to 1.) make it thin enough, and 2.) dock it by pricking it with a fork. It helps prevent from puffing too much.

            7. Hello David,
              I am planning on making these for Christmas, and was wandering if you had the metric conversions of your measurements. I don’t mind cups, but “spoons” do throw me. Thank you.

        2. Luisa, I’ve never had a problem at that temperature. This is the first I’ve hear of it. Are you using the correct size pan–the mini muffin tin? It needs high heat in order to cook quickly and thoroughly. If you’re using full muffin tins (or larger tins), it could burn. Also, do you have an oven thermometer? Your oven might be running hot. Last, are you using convection or regular heat?

            1. Maria, I actually place them in the upper third, as you want to get the little burn marks on them. But if they’re browning too quickly, cover with foil and set the next batch on the center rack.

      3. I am super excited to try these. What changes would I need to make if I wanted to make the full size versions? I assume the filling recipe would remain the same but the size of the pastry log would have to be altered, as would the baking time. Would you be able to tell me what these changes would be?

        Thank you so much for your time.

        1. Hi, John. It really depends on what “full size” means. Will you be using the pastéis tins that they use in Portugal or a muffin tin? What I would do is cut a wider slice from the dough log. Press the slice in the tin/muffin tin as specified in the recipe. You want it to come all the way up the sides and extend beyond the top lip by 1/16th to 1/8th of an inch. Once you know how much dough you’ll need to do that, cut the remaining slices the same size. You’ll have to bake the pastries longer; again that has to do with how much larger your tins are. I would check every 2 minutes or so after the initial 8 minutes. They should be just cooked through; they’ll continue cooking as they cool. Hope this helps.

          1. Thank you for the quick reply. I apologize for not being clear; however, I was referring to regular muffin tins. I would love to have the proper pastéis tins and will look for them in the near future. I will definitely experiment with the width of the pieces cut from the dough log and keep an eye on the time.

            Time permitting, I’ll attempt to make these on the weekend and report back!

            1. Hi John. With a regular muffin tin, you don’t want to go all the way up the sides, as it makes the pastéis too big. Go a little more than halfway up. Now, if your tin is nonstick, it will be hard to prevent it from sliding down as it bakes and the custard spilling out. As far a baking, I’d try 10 minutes and then check it.

            2. Thanks again for the tips! Sorry, forgot to ask earlier…

              When I roll out the pastry log, should it still remain an inch in diameter and 16 inches long or should it be slightly thicker than an inch (perhaps 1.25 inches) since the regular muffin tins have a wider base than the mini ones? Not sure if that makes any sense.

              I am pretty much a beginner so please excuse what might seem like a dumb question but they actually sell muffin tins that don’t have the nonstick surface? I assumed they were all nonstick.

            3. John, not a problem. All you need to do is cut the log in to wider slices. That will give you enough dough to work with.

              Older muffin tins are no stick. The mini tins I use are nonstick, but the wells are so small, I can kind of anchor them to the rim.

              My suggestion for success is to bake off 2 or 3 of them as a test. Then make any adjustment you need in the size of the slice and cooking time.

            4. David, you have been a tremendous help. Thank you for your patience and taking the time to answer all my questions. I truly appreciate it.

      4. Hi Ivan, the recipe calls for mini-muffin tins. So if you used a standard size, I think you’d get about 20 or so. You’d also need to bake them longer, too,

        1. So I’ll give you a play be play of what happerned:

          1. Made The Recipe exactly as it said
          2. We started baking the tarts, looked fine
          3. It starts smoking up HORRIBLY
          4. Smoke Detectors go off BEEP! BEEP!
          5. We are trying to get smoke out
          6. Fire department comes, we tell them what happened they leave.
          7. While trying to clear the smoke detectors, we set off the burglar alarms
          8. Police come, we tell them what happened
          9. They leave
          10. We tell others about this disaster

          The smoke came from the 2 STICKS of butter that boiled over, be careful if doing this recipe, or use less butter than recommended.

          1. Bremer, my that sounds dreadful! How high was your oven? The 2 sticks of butter is correct, and while smoking can sometimes happen, I’ve never heard of the butter boiling over! I’ve made these countless times and never had that happen. Did you perhaps put too much dough in each tin?

            1. I also had some butter spillover and solved the problem with a baking dish full of water placed under the mini muffin tin–as the butter boiled over, it dripped into the water and didn’t smoke. It seems to have made the cook time a bit longer but worth it for a non-smoky kitchen.

              (I’ll try it with less dough next time.)

            2. Great idea, Emma! It cooked longer only because it took more time to heat up due to the water. I’d suggest filling the baking dish with only 1/2 inch of water and placing it on the rack underneath, giving space for hot air to circulate.

            1. Lo, I see. It could be many things. The dough might not have been pulled all the way up the sides of the tin. Or the dough might not have rested enough. Or even the slice you cut may not have been thick enough. I will agree, this is a tricky recipe.

        2. I tried to make the tarts with the pastry I bought at supermarket. It didn’t come out quite right. The bottom of the tart seems not baked properly. It turned soggy after it got cold. Not crispy and flaky anymore. Is it because of the dough?

          1. I had the same problem using puff pasty, then my Portuguese friends told me they use filo dough with a brushing of butter between the layers…it seems to work great.

          2. ron, most likely. The dough needs to be almost quite thin, especially if your using commercial pastry. I find store-bought dough to be too elastic. If you try it again, make sure to make the dough very, very thin and prick it with a fork on the bottom of this tin form. This prevents the dough from puffing up, which will keep it crisper.

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