Portuguese Coconut Custard Tarts

These Portuguese coconut custard tarts, made with coconut, milk, eggs, sugar, butter, lemon, and cornstarch, are a classic that meld the best parts of a creamy custard and an eggy macaroon. Best ever.

Portuguese coconut custard tarts in paper muffin wrappers on a glass cake stand with a cup of coffee beside them.

[Português] My Aunt Exaltina has made these Portuguese coconut custard tarts for as long as I can remember. But I’ve always wondered, are these delicacies creamy custards or eggy macaroons or a bit of both? For 35 years, no one’s been able to decide. Grab a spoon and judge for yourself. My late friend Lois Sparks, who adored these pastéis de coco desserts, was fond of spooning some raspberry coulis into the crater on top of the pastéis. She felt it gave them a tart counterpoint to the sweet coconut. I always balked at the idea until she made them for me one night. It’s a dream team combination.–David Leite

Portuguese Coconut Custard Tarts

  • Quick Glance
  • (19)
  • 15 M
  • 45 M
  • Makes 10 pastries
4.8/5 - 19 reviews
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Ingredients

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Directions

Preheat the oven to 375°F (190°C). Adjust the oven rack to the middle position. Line a 12-cup muffin tin with 11 paper cupcake liners and, if desired, coat the inside of the liners with the nonstick vegetable spray oil.
Tester tip: Or, to avoid the tarts sticking to paper liners, you can do what reader Olga DeMedeiros did and rely on foil cupcake liners sprayed with nonstick vegetable spray to ensure the tarts slip out easy peasy.
In a small bowl, dissolve the cornstarch in 1/4 cup milk.
In a food processor, shred the coconut flakes for 30 seconds.
In a large bowl, stir the eggs and sugar together with a wooden spoon. One by one, add the cornstarch mixture, the remaining milk, the coconut, melted butter, and lemon extract, stirring well after each addition.
Ladle the custard into the paper cups, filling each 1/4 inch from the top. Make sure to stir the custard frequently as you’re filling the cups to keep the coconut well distributed. You’ll be able to fill 10 to 11 liners.
Bake for 25 to 30 minutes, until the coconut is nicely toasted. Cool completely in the muffin tin before serving. Originally published March 10, 1999.
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Recipe Testers Reviews

This recipe is really good. My daughter refused to share them with the extended family. Moreover, we waited for these to cool ever so slightly on day one and then just ate them plain. That afternoon we tried some with jam. The last couple days, my daughter has been eating them both with and without jam. Jam or no jam, these are delicious. The verdict is that this recipe is easy and fantastic.

Serving these tarts a little bit warm is better than completely cold. Note: Look closely at the picture. There is a little dip in the top. The recipe is a custard with no flour to hold it up structurally, so there is definitely a place for jam (hence the accurate use of the word "tart").

These tasty little tarts are similar to the ubiquitous Pasteis de Nata seen all over Portugal, but without the time commitment of making puff pastry. The ingredients are readily available and they come together in a snap. The coconut adds a welcome complexity to the custard and also helps create a beautiful golden brown topping. The end product is a humble but delicious little pastry which would be perfect as an accompaniment to afternoon tea.

Because they were baked in paper muffin liners, we attempted to eat them by hand. The bottoms stuck to the paper a bit and were greasy where the butter leaked out, leading to a somewhat messy eating experience. Next time I might try them in ramekins and serve them with a spoon. I believe the recipe could also be improved by cutting back a bit on the sugar. One cup of sugar plus the sweetened coconut made for a very sweet tart.

One per person was plenty due to sweetness.

These pastries are a perfectly lovely springtime dessert. As they bake, the batter puffs up and separates into a crispy toasted coconut topping with a sweet smooth custard underneath. As they cool, the center collapses slightly creating a nest. It would be fun to fill the hollow with some small jelly beans or chocolate eggs for the Easter holiday.

As far as flavor, I think the recipe could benefit from some added salt. It does include some lemon extract, but I don't detect any lemon flavor. Maybe adding some lemon zest would help, as well. Peeling off the paper muffin cups there is some sticking and I wonder if these would be better made and served in small ramekins and eaten with a spoon.

I was tempted to remove the tarts at 23 minutes because coconut was getting brown on tarts at back of oven. I opted to turn the pan and leave them in for the full 25 minutes and it was fine. I would probably recommend turning the muffin tin, half way through baking time, to promote even browning.

These Portuguese coconut custard tarts really brought back some memories as my grandmother used to make something very similar to these. I didn’t even realize it until I ate the first one and found myself thinking of her. This recipe is so very easy and sweet and yummy and rich.

Now that I’m older, I like my desserts less sweet, so I would use unsweetened coconut next time or a combination of sweetened and unsweetened.

I got 11 tarts out of this (perhaps my old muffin tin has smaller than standard cups). Also, the tarts stuck in my cupcake liners, so perhaps I would use the foil liners next time and spray them. I adjusted quickly, though, and ate them with a spoon! I baked them for 25 minutes and when I checked them they were still pretty soft, so I rotated the pan and gave them another 5 to 7 minutes and took them out. The tops were golden brown and the insides were still fairly soft. I would add another few minutes next time for a total of 35 minutes, maybe rotating the pan halfway through.

These would be great to bring to a potluck dinner or just to have in the fridge for a wonderful, quick snack or dessert.

With no more effort than making some coconut haystacks, these coconut tarts come together easily and deliver a beautiful little tart that tempts you to eat more than one. They have a much more special flavor and texture than my back pocket cupcake recipe, and if you have the coconut on hand, you're ready to go.

Almost as soon as you remove these from the oven, the golden brown top begins to sink in front of you (and suggests a berry or two, or maybe a dab of lemon curd would be welcome). The slight bit of lemon extract works well without standing out.

Once upon a time, it seemed like all the coconut on grocers shelves was sweetened. Now it takes a search and you might easily come home with unsweetened accidentally as it's much more common now. Now, at least if you shop places like Whole Foods or other "healthy-ish" places, all you will see is unsweetened versions, all organic, PBS-watching and polite! Today, to find sweetened you end up with store-brand versions in more traditional stores, like Raley's or Nob Hill or Safeway, and certainly not organic. It is the kind most kids my age grew up with if they made coconut haystacks macaroons or German Chocolate cake, when sugar was not considered evil! Do not worry—you can use unsweetened (although you may need to process it more like a minute instead of the 30 seconds for the sweetened, which the recipe was written for).

So partly to address the fact that more than once, we have thought we were buying sweetened coconut only to realize we misread the package, I thought it was worth trying the recipe both ways (no need to "sweeten" the unsweetened version, though, since the recipe ran a bit too sweet for us). I made them both ways, and we liked the slightly less sweet result a bit more. In a third batch, I also reduced the sugar about 20% and we preferred that level of sweetness without sacrificing any texture. I think the unsweetened coconut browns a bit sooner, as there is more fat in the coconut.

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Comments

    1. Nobrega, the reason is lemon juice is acidic and not particularly lemony. There’s more favor in the zest. If you don’t have extract you substitute a teaspoon of zest.

  1. These are DELICIOUS!! And so easy to make (which makes them ‘dangerous’). Yes, they are sweet, so next time I’ll use unsweetened coconut or a little less sugar because there will be a next time. 😁
    Thanks, David!

  2. Whipped up a batch of these pastéis de coco today. They remind me of my mom’s queijadas de leite, only these have yummy coconut and they’re gluten-free! I’m not a fan of lemon extract so I subbed 1/2 teaspoon of vanilla extract and 1/2 teaspoon of almond extract for the lemon. I baked most of the tarts in the paper cups per the directions and a couple in aluminum cups sprayed with Pam. The tarts baked up beautifully in both cups, however, those baked in the aluminum cups were far easier to pick up to eat and made for a prettier presentation.

  3. I made these for a coconut loving friend as her birthday treat. I doubled the recipe so I could have extras and used the recipe exactly as written until the end. Thought the batter looked too loose and since this friend really really loves coconut, I added an extra cup of sweetened shredded coconut without the 30 sec blender blitz as the recipe indicated. I also prepared a gooseberry and blueberry Port sauce to fill the concave centre that the recipe reported in jest, was meant to be filled or not, as it was a naturally occurring dent. My cupcakes did deflate somewhat and a few did have some cracks but none had concave centres. This was probably due to the extra coconut. Of course I still used the jam! Looking back, the batter consistency would have worked without the extra coconut but if coconut is your thing, go for it! These cupcakes were absolutely delicious! …and super easy to make! You should try!

    1. Ilda, so delighted you enjoyed the recipe. And I’m glad you played with the recipe. Oh, and that sauce–hel-LO! Sounds great! And the photo? Unbelievable!

  4. Any suggestions on how to incorporate maple into these? I was thinking either as substitute for sugar or toasting unsweetened coconut in maple syrup. I need to make a Canadian/Portuguese desert!

  5. I made these last night for a quick dessert. Delicious! I cut the sugar to 3/4 Cup. They seemed to be a bit greasy in the paper liners, Does the coconut release oil? Two tablespoons of butter didn’t seem like much. Anyway, they were tasty!

  6. Just made these (and the raspberry coulis) and they’re delicious! What’s the best way to store these beauties? (i.e., fridge? air-tight container?)

  7. Made these this morning. Turned out perfect, and made the house smell delicious! Everybody seems to like them. Half were eaten shortly after they came out of the oven, but we have enough to include one in everybody’s lunch at least one day this week. Already, I’m imagining variations (coca nibs, almond bits, dried cherries, etc.)

  8. Not sure what I did wrong, that being said, they taste great. No depression in the center. I found parchment paper liners and did use a water bath. They do not stick to the liners. Thanks for the recipe. Will definitely make again.

  9. David,
    Thank you for this!!! I tried these last week on a whim with a bunch of leftover coconut and am a huge fan. My husband loves coconut and also raspberry and was in heaven – thank you so much for sharing this! I was wondering if you have a recipe to share with us for Queijadas de Laranja? As they are in the same vein and you seem to be such a reliable and delicious addition to my baking vault I’d love to try a version of your Q.D.L. if there is one available, or if you could point me to one that is reliable and also traditional.

    Best,
    Eliza

  10. I cannot wait to make these for my mother-in-law for her birthday. I was thinking of preparing them in the mini cupcake trays so that they are more bite sized. I imagine I would have to cut down the baking time but just wondering if the smaller size would affect the texture.

  11. I added 1/4 tsp salt to this recipe, but I otherwise followed the recipe to the letter. This was so good… there are no words to describe how over-the-top fabulous these are. If you’re considering trying these, you should. What a find.

  12. David, these are beyond wonderful. My 11-year-old grandson inhaled his and his mom and I weren’t far behind. Yum!

  13. Hello, thanks for this great recipe, which I’ve made many times since its original posting. It’s been at least a year since my last attempt, and I can’t remember if I modified it to use unsweetened coconut (I don’t care for very sweet desserts and often do this with little change to recipes). Do you know in this case if it would dramatically change the texture?

    Thanks!

    Terri

  14. David, these look super good! custard and coconut a sure fire winner. In Hawaii it’s not Fat Tuesday but Malasada tuesday! Long lines at Leonard’s malasadas. FYI there’s a malasada dessert recipe of Chef Mavro you can get by googling Chef Mavro’s Lilikoi (passionfruit) malasadas with ice cream. It’s one of his signature recipes and his eatery is a James Beard winner so it will be good. Check it out.

  15. Hi David,
    I don’t know what size cups you are using. It looks smaller than the reg. size cupcakes. Can you please let me know what size you use. Thanks.

  16. Oh my gosh, they are perfect! My husband has been in intensive care at the hospital for 8 days. I was in need of some comfort food when I saw this recipe. I had all the ingredients in the house. I made a batch and ate two immediately. They were delicious!

  17. Hey David, the Portuguese NATA aka queijadas are totally different then this coconut custard cup. I am of Portuguese decent, not that it matters, but so u know we have grown up on both pastries in our household, the queijadas have a thin puff pastry type dough on the bottom and the custard u fill it with you cook stove top before adding it into the dough, then baked in the oven. Those if you find a amazing recipe or the best Portuguese bakery be ready for a whole other taste , they have no coconut in them at all. I highly suggest u go to New Bedford or Fall River and stumble across all the sweets. now if you choose New Bedford you need to stumble into Sunrise bakery or Lydia’s bakery, that’s Portuguese at its best. Enjoy I hope you will really try.

    1. Hi christina. I, too, am of Portuguese descent–from the Azores. My family is from the island of São Miguel, from the towns of Maia and Ponta Delgada. I also grew up in Fall River and spent a lot of time in New Bedford as a kid, so I know of the treats you’re speaking.

      This recipe, which I don’t call queijadas, is from my aunts. Pastéis de coco is what they called it. They prefer not to use the thin crust, opting for the paper cups when the came to America.

      What I learned when I wrote my book and spent the better part of a decade traveling all over Portugal, Madeira, and the Azores is that there are a million different names for the same dish. Take torresmos. Im my family, they’re big chunks of pork, covered in a pepper paste and roasted. Others call pork preserved in fat torresmos. And still others, around the Bairrada region on the mainland, call pork cracklings torresmos.

      I try to be very careful when qualifying Portuguese recipes as coming from my family or a particular cook, as I try to honor what that family or cook calls their food. As you can see, for example, from Karen’s comment, her mother-in-law made queijadas with a crust and with coconut. Also, if you research, you’ll see cooks who call a treat “queijada” and there’s no crust. And to make things more confusing, almost all of these have no cheese in them, but, according to lore, the original ones, supposedly from Sintra, so contain cheese (requeijão), hence the “queij” part of “queijada.”

      The term “queijada” is used very indiscriminately these days to mean just about any treat, crust or no crust, coconut or not, made in a “forma.” Of course, that is with the exception of pastéis de nata, pastéis de feijão, pastéis de limon, etc.

  18. Thank you for posting this. As a child in the military we lived in the Azores for about 4 years. Our wonderful neighbor taught us how to make these wonderful tasty treats. We had the recipe for years and had converted it from metric to standard ourselves which I can say is a chore. Of course our recipe was triple this recipe calling for a dozen eggs! But sadly due to many moves over the years and just loss of memory I lost the recipe and was saddened to not have made these at Christmas time. So thank you again, now I can have my sweet treats this year! One thing I would like to note tho is that when our neighbor baked them for us and even in her recipe she used phillo dough and not cupcake papers. This makes a huge difference as you get a nice crisp on the outside as well. Although a warning the bottom will get sticky after a day.

    1. Anne, I’m so glad you found the recipe. Yes, some cooks use phyllo dough for the recipe. Barring that, a sheet of very thinly rolled dough works well, too. I don’t know why my aunts don’t do that. Perhaps they enjoyed the convenience of the paper cups when then emigrated!

  19. Hi, I’m just curious if these are the same as my mother-in-law makes. I’m not sure how to spell the name we call them in English , but kashadas would be close phonetically. Nata is just a milk or cream tart and then some have coconut, my favorite. However hers, and every other I’ve had, have a very thin crust. So thin you wonder is there a crust? But Ive watched her make them before and sure enough there is. In our community making these well is like a gift from god and has always been off putting. Thank you for what seems to be an easier way. I can’t wait to try!! So I’ve seen some discussion as far as what the best baking pan is, what’s your preference? Thx.

    1. Karen, I think the word you’re looking for is queijadas, pronounced kay-jah-dizhs. And, yes, I’m pretty sure they’re the same. Some do have a very, very thin crust, but my family makes the in paper muffin cups. Because of the cups, the pan isn’t terribly important. A simply muffin tin works perfectly!

  20. These were not only fantastic, but also incredibly quick and easy to make. I made a raspberry coulis as well and it was the perfect touch. Highly recommended!

  21. Made this recipe today and it couldn’t get any easier! Instructions are clear as day and super easy to follow. I also made a raspberry coulis to see what the fuss (David) is all about…my eyes (and mouth) are open! Ms. Sparks knew what she was talking about.

    Taste test: Here is another one of David’s recipes where I found myself at a loss for words…until three tarts later when my mouth no longer contained all that fresh goodness. These little guys are so delicate, light, and the coconut took them over the top. Such a simple dessert yet it ranks right up there. I dare anyone making these to stop eating at just one…go ahead, I dare you!

    Now, if you’ll excuse me, I hear a little tart whispering at me from across the room…

    1. John, that is such a delight to hear! Thank you. And while Lois Sparks is no longer with us, I’m sure she’s thrilled you like her addition. (She and I were always in competition!)

    1. Hi, Elise. No, I’ve never made these in mini-form. I would watch for a few things: 1.) Not to fill the forms too much, 2.) Check them at 12 to 15 minutes to gauge how much longer you’ll need to bake them. (I’m guess about 18 minutes total), and 3.) keep them covered when cooled, as they might dry out quicker because they’re almost half the size of the original.

  22. Hi David,

    These tarts are great. They’re delicious and so easy to make. With regards to your note to stir the mixture frequently to keep the coconut well distributed, I found it difficult to do and so I tried a different approach. I did not mix the coconut in the liquid mixture and simply divided it equally into the paper cups. Then I ladled the liquid mixture into the cups with the coconut. I found this easier to do and it seemed to do the trick. Thanks again for sharing this recipe!

    Regards,
    John

    1. Hello, John, thanks for the kind words. And thanks of the ingenious method of adding the coconut. My only caveat is that the coconut shouldn’t be wadded up in the middle. Does it float and even distribute when you add the egg mixture?

      1. Hi David, I think either way the coconut will sink and there’s probably nothing we can do about it. I just find it easier to divide the coconut more evenly without than with the liquid ingredients :-).

    1. Ana, the tarts can be very sticky, which is why my aunts use the papers. If you want to try, I’d suggest starting with very good nonstick tins that are well coated with butter and see if that helps.

    2. Hi Ana. Yes, you can make them without the paper. I do it all the time because I tried with the paper but they kept getting stuck and it was a mess. I use silicone muffin trays which I spray with nonstick vegetable spray before I fill them in I place it on a baking sheet which is about 3 inches high and fill it with water and bake for about 25 minutes at 300 degrees. When it is cooled off I place a plate over the tray and flip them over and give a little tap on each and they come right off then I put then in muffin paper and vola they are ready to eat.

      I hope this helps and enjoy I know my whole family loves them.

      Tanya Cabral

  23. I love the flavor! And yes, I also couldn’t decide if its a custard, pudding or a really soft macaroon. One question though, why does it seem to deflate once taken out of the oven? Is there something I can do to prevent this?

    1. So glad you liked them! The indentation in the middle is traditional; it’s how I’ve always seem them. A friend does a very clear thing and puts a dollop of raspberry coulis in them. Lovely.

      1. Traditional in the Islands – Main landers, like myself, no jam is included! Usually those ‘twists’ are from the Islands (Azores, etc.)

  24. i made this recipe and it was go good, thank you so much for doing this recipe in English. I will be making this recipe for the holidays for my family from Boston, MA.

    Thank you again,

    Chris Casko

      1. I just wanted to get back to you and say that the tarts were sooooo good the following day. On second thought, the indentation doesn’t bother me anymore. I will try it with some contrasting fruit the next time I make another batch. Raspberries are not available here so I will try it with some fresh mangoes, which are in season this time of the year. Thanks for sharing this wonderful recipe!

      2. David, the ones I see at the Portuguese bakeries have a piecrust type shell and no paper, and the coconut shell is different than the custard shell.

        1. Bob, yes, there are so many different types of Portuguese tarts: bean, orange, cream, coconut, etc. This is my aunt’s version. I’m not sure if there’s no crust because she’s not adept at pastry!

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