These Portuguese coconut custard tarts are little pastries that look like cupcakes. They’re a classic in which the best parts of creamy milk custard and eggy macaroon come together in very Portuguese fashion.
[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
Do Portuguese custard tarts need to be refrigerated?
If you don’t make all these little coconut custard tarts disappear the day you bake them, yes, you should cover and refrigerate them. We vastly prefer the taste of them when warm, so slip them in a toaster oven or a low oven for about 10 minutes to bring them back to their original taste and texture. The dessert tarts are best consumed within a day or two…which shouldn’t be a problem.
Portuguese Coconut Custard Tarts
- Nonstick vegetable spray oil (optional)
- 2 tablespoons cornstarch
- 1 cup milk
- 1 cup sweetened shredded coconut
- 3 large eggs
- 1 cup granulated sugar
- 2 tablespoons (1 oz) unsalted butter melted
- 1/4 teaspoon lemon extract
- 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 liners with the nonstick vegetable spray oil.
☞TESTER TIP: To avoid the tarts sticking to paper liners, you can do what reader Olga DeMedeiros does and rely on foil cupcake liners sprayed with nonstick vegetable spray to ensure your 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 to keep the coconut evenly 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
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.
This Portuguese coconut custard tarts 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.
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.
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.
If you make this recipe, snap a photo and hashtag it #LeitesCulinaria. We'd love to see your creations on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter.
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.