The Traditional Portuguese Pastery: Pastel de Nata
Being Portuguese means that you HAVE to like, or even love, Portuguese food, and especially Portuguese pastries. That’s why I chose to introduce you today the most popular one: “o Pastel de nata de Belém”. This pastry is presented as a custard tart, and you probably already know that cream, known as “natas” in Portuguese, is almost in every dish. Before giving you the top secret recipe, let’s start with a few historical elements.
At the beginning of the 19th Century, in Belém, right next to the ‘Mosteiro dos Jeronimos’ (the Heironymite Monastery), there was a sugar cane refinery linked to a small general store. As a result of the liberal revolution of 1820, all Convents and Monasteries in Portugal were shut down in 1834. In an attempt to survive, someone from the monastery offered sweet pastry for sale in the shop. These pastries quickly became known as ‘Pasteis de Belém’.
At that period, the area of Belém was still far from the historical city of Lisbon, so the shop could be reached by steam-boats. Thanks to the Monastery and the Torre of Belém (the Belém Tower), that were attractive places for visitors, the store quickly became known, and tons of visitors gathered around it to buy one or several pasteis.
In 1837, the baking of the ‘Pasteis de Belém’ began in buildings joined to the refinery, following the ancient ‘secret recipe’ from the Monastery. The pastry still remains unchanged.
WHAT YOU’LL NEED:
- 400g of puff pastry
- 250g of sugar
- 500ml of milk
- 1tbs flour
- 6 egg yolks
- lemon zest (optional)
- iced sugar
- cinnamon (optional)
For the Pastry:
Roll the pastry out into an oblong, then roll along its length into a sausage. Cut into equal slices and put one in each hole in a patty tin. Squash the pastry inside the tin (easier with wet fingers). Press with your thumbs from the bottom to the sides so the pastry is thinner at the bottom. Put the tins in the fridge while you work on the filling.
For the Filling:
Mix the flour in the cold milk and pour into a pan. Mix and bring to boil, whisking all the time. If you like it you can add a bit of lemon peel.
Remove from the heat and add the sugar (previously boiled with some water to ‘soft ball’ stage, or rather, boil it for about ten minutes and don’t let it colour).
Allow the mixture to cool down, then add the yolks and beat well. Pour into the pastry cases straight from the fridge and put it in the pre-heated oven at 230°C.
Cook for about 15 minutes, and then watch them until the pastry is golden and the custard turns dark brown in patches.
Remove from the oven, and allow to cool in the tins, but tap the tins first, so they don’t stick.
Eat slightly warm, sprinkled with iced sugar and/or cinnamon (as you like) on top, as is traditional in Pastéis de Belém.
I suggest that you share some of these pastries with your family and friends around a cup of coffee or a nice cup of tea. 🙂