Pastel de Nata

(the very best of Lisbon in a little cake)

This past May my whole family went to Lisbon. They have great food that is actually slightly Swedish sometimes. Lot’s of potato and lot’s of cod and… well, that’s about all that was slightly Swedish I guess.

More importantly: they have Pastel de Nata. It’s kind of the Danish pastry of Portugal or something. We had it at the wonderful Pasteis de Belem (where they’re called Pastel de Belem) and Confeitaria Nacional as well as at street corner cafés and pastry shops. It is a kind of puff pastry base… I think. I’m really not quite sure if it’s puff pastry, filo or maybe something in between. It’s brittle and flaky and just great. The filling is a cinnamon infused custard and, I think, some vanilla. They’re topped of with cinnamon and icing sugar (if one so prefer). Pastel de Nata’s are kind of…. plain tasting. Not in a bad way, just very… smooooooth. And somehow just wonderful.

Back in Sweden, I inquired the internets in search for the perfect recipe. Alas, I was left pretty frustrated. The thing is, at the best places we had them, they were actually not very sweet. You could of course go crazy with the icing sugar, but the custard was a bit sweet but not really dessert sweet. I just felt that all the recipes I found used at least two times the appropriate amount of sugar. And while that’s also good, it’s not the thing I fell head over heals for.

This is my best approximation of how I remember them. Enjoy!

Special Equipment

  • A muffin oven plate
Created with Sketch. If you're using ready made puff pastry (which I am), ca 45 min preparation and 15-20 minutes in the oven Created with Sketch. 10-12 pieces

Ingredients

  • 200 gpuff pastry
  • 400 gmilk
  • 100 gcream
  • 4 egg yolks
  • 1 egg (yolk and white)
  • 50 gsugar
  • 1 cinnamon rod
  • 1 vanilla bean
  • 25 gcorn starch

Directions

  1. If you’ve bought frozen puff pastry, lay it out to thaw.
  2. Put a pot with the milk and the cream on the stove on high/medium heat. Cut open the vanilla bean and scrape out the content. Put the out scraped innards, the bean and the cinnamon rod in the pot with the milk and the cream. When the milk/cream starts to simmer, reduce the heat to low, keep it on the stove for about a minute and then take it off. Let it rest for about 20 minutes.
  3. Turn on the oven to max capacity. 250-300C is fine.
  4. While the milk/cream is resting, mix the corn starch and the sugar in a bowl. Put the four egg yolks and the one whole egg in with the sugar and starch. Whisk until smooth.
  5. Remove the vanilla bean stalk and the cinnamon rod from the milk/cream. Pour the milk/cream over the egg/sugar/starch- mix while whisking.
  6. If you have it: use a thermometer and bring the mix gently up to 80-85C but not higher. Keep it at 80-85C while stirring for about a minute before taking it off the heat.
  7. If you don’t have a thermometer, do this: pour the mixture in a pot on high heat. Stir or whisk the bottom of the pan continuously. When the mix starts thickening, turn down the heat to low and keep stirring/whisking for about a minute before taking the pot of the heat. The resulting mixture (regardless of method) should be quite thick.
  8. Flour an appropriate surface. Gently work the puff pastry with a rolling pin to a thin sheet.
  9. Cut circles out of the pastry sheet and place them in the muffin oven tray. If you have the patience for it, make the dough very thin and put two circled out puff pastry sheets in each muffin indentation. This makes for a better and more brittle crust.
  10. When the custard has cooled to room-ish temperature, fill the puff pastry- covered muffin shaped oven tray indentations with custard.
  11. Bake in the middle of the oven for 15 minutes or until when the little rascals start looking as in the first picture. They should have plenty of brown/black spots to be truly done.
  12. Let them cool down for about 20 minutes before eating. Top them off with a generous amount of cinnamon and, if you like, some icing sugar. As you might have guessed, I prefer them with just a smidge or none at all.

After several ok-tasting but not really successful attempts to revive the Pastel the Nata’s I so fondly remembered, I tried once more. The starch, the whole egg, maybe the thinner puff pastry, I’m not sure..? But this time I finally just felt “right… that’s how they tasted”.

That said, you can obviously one up this recipe by going to Lisbon and have the real deal, to which I am quite sure, the above imitation cannot hold a candle. For me though, even a decent counterfeit is something to treasure.

So there you have it: a decent counterfeit of a completely wonderful Portuguese gem.

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