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
  • (116)
  • 1 H
  • 2 H, 30 M
  • Makes 40 pastries
4.8/5 - 116 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 checked the recipe way after I watched the video at Jemma’s channel, and was surprised to see your reference to her video here, as I find her instructions and visuals pretty good. 🙂

      I have also checked many of the comments especially those on store-bought puff pastry.
      However, I have a batch of homemade inverted puff pastry, which gives a flakier result than normal puff pastry, and was wondering whether I could use it instead of making the dough in your recipe. I was considering rolling it very thin–like 3 mm and rolling it in itself, as it has the butter anyway on the outside. Pricking with a fork will be on the list as well. Would be happy to hear your comments.

      Greetings from Germany

        1. So I must say, considering the fact that I didn’t stick to your original dough recipe, the result is not that bad. I actually had some scraps of my home-made inverted puff pastry, which I rolled very thin, then added a layer of butter to stick it and followed the rest of your recipe steps. Unfortunately, they burnt a bit on the top, but I think the problem is in my oven, because to reach the 290C I needed to put the grill only, which was obviously way too strong for the mini-pieces. Otherwise, they turned out very crispy, which I believe the inverted puff pastry also helped a bit, and not that sweet, which is surprising considering the sugar amount.

          Now I have a veeeery stupid question–what to do with the left custard, as it is about a small creme brulee size and I don’t want to throw it away. Any suggestions?

          1. Yulia, so glad that your pastry worked out. I’ve never had any custard left over. My suggestion would be to make more of your delicious inverted puff pastry and bake more!

    2. David, this recipe turned out great! I was very nervous about how the dough would turn out as it was extremely sticky & delicate, and if I’m being honest I had about a million tears in it while rolling. Well, I just made the tarts and they look amazing! Next time I’ll try not to over fill them, the ones that overflowed got a bit burnt at the sides but otherwise taste incredible.

    3. Hey, David, I’v been using your recipe for a while and love it! I also find my custard is a bit “curdled” and not as smooth as I would like. I find when baked in a “professional bakery oven”, they have a smoother custard texture. So my question is this. If I lowered the temp and baked longer could that solve the “semi-lumpy” custard? I’ve read a lot online that baked custard should be cooked slow, however, the pastry needs high heat. Also, would it be better to start with custard from the fridge or made the day you bake them. Thoughts???

        1. Hi Dave, no it’s not, its smooth. It’s just when they bake and come out and cool they seem as if the custard broke while baking. They are not smooth like pudding or creme brulee. Not sure if the custard should be smooth pudding or creme brulee?? I’ve never been to Portugal so never had a real one.

          1. Leigh, they’re not perfectly smooth like crême brulée, as they are cooked at a far higher temp and without a bain-marie. What temperature was your oven set at?

    4. This recipe was awesome. By far the most complicated thing I’ve ever baked in my life (second most complicated was baklava). I don’t have anything to compare the taste to, but it tasted fantastic.
      I ate like six of them right away. I am already planning on making more tomorrow. I’ll be making a double or triple batch so that I can freeze some dough for later

      The link attached is a video and some pictures of the final product.

      cheers

      1. Thanks, kevin! They look absolutely perfect. Thank you so much for taking the time to share this with us. We’re delighted that they turned out so incredibly well for you.

    5. Wayyyyy too sweet. Almoat inedible. I have had them Lisbon and other places and they’re not nearly this sweet. 3/4 cups of sugar would be plenty!!

      1. We’re sorry to hear they don’t meet your expectations, cisca. If you try reducing the sugar in the recipe, we’d love to hear how they turn out!

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