Portugal: Pasteis de Nata

#49 in my 50 Country Challenge, y'all.... can you feel the excitement?!

Today I bring you Pasteis de Nata from Portugal. These little custardy treats are remarkably similar to the Melktert from a couple weeks ago. Instead of being on pate sucree, they are on puff pastry. Of course, they're also individual servings instead of an entire tart. But like Melktert, they are a common dessert in Portugal, and are often served with tea or coffee--warm or cold.

I was entirely certain that I'd failed with this recipe on multiple levels. I defrosted my leftover puff pastry only to find that it was dessicated. So, I went out to buy more and defrosted it while I made the custard. The recipe I used noted that it is VERY important to heat the custard slowly over low heat, because if it's heated too quickly, you'll end up with scrambled eggs. Knowing that my stove top's "low" heat is "warm," I put it on medium-low. You have to stir continuously. About 40 minutes later, I had something between scrambled eggs and custard--that is to say, somewhat grainy custard. That's frustrating for 40 minutes of constant stirring. I read after the fact (in "Martha Stewart's Cooking School") that the best way to do this is to heat the cream/milk mixture and pour spoonfuls over the eggs to warm them slowly, which prevents curdling. Well, hell. I wish I'd read that first. Ultimately, I think that you can't taste the slight graininess once it's been heated.

The other issue was actually noted in the original recipe. The recipe's author said to set the oven at 225 degrees, and after multiple complaints that it didn't work, rewrote it to say 300 degrees. After 15 minutes at 300 degrees, I saw absolutely nothing--the custard wasn't a different color, the pastry wasn't puffed. I upped it to 350 degrees and about 15 minutes later, light brown appeared on the custard and the pastry was cooked. I was also momentarily worried because the custard puffed way up above the pastry, but once you take it out, it falls. Whew. Multiple crises averted.

Pasteis de Nata (from Algarvebuzz.com)
- 1 sheet prepared puff pasty – defrosted, but kept cold
-1 ¾ cups whole milk
-¼ cup cream
-4 egg yolks
-3 Tbsp white sugar
-Pinch salt
-2 Tbsp Plain flour
-½ cinnamon stick
-2 strips lemon peel
-½ tsp vanilla extract

Pastry Cream Instructions
1. In a sauce pan add milk, cream, egg yolks, sugar, salt, flour mix well with a whisk to ensure all the ingredients are well combined, do not turn heat on yet.

2. Once all ingredients are combined and there are no lumps of sugar or flour add cinnamon stick, lemon peel and vanilla.

3. Turn heat on to low stirring continuously and gently with whisk. *Note it’s very important to heat the milk slowly, if the milk is heated too quickly, egg yolks could coagulate like scrambled eggs and ruin the consistency of the custard.

4. Continue stirring until it cream becomes quite thick and resembles a rich pudding. Watch for thickening around the edges of the pan, you want a really smooth cream so make certain to get in the sides and bottom edges of the pan.

5. Let cool completely. When cooled, remove cinnamon stick and lemon peel.

6. To avoid milk skin from forming on custard you can place parchment paper on top of warm custard and it will lift out easily when you go to use it to fill puff pasty shells.

Preparing Pastry Shells
1. Preheat oven to 325-350 degrees (you will have to monitor the temperature/doneness carefully).

2. Roll out cold puff pastry dough with pin on floured surface, until 1/4 cm thick.

3. Once rolled out thin, dusk off excess flour and begin rolling puff pastry like a long cigar. Roll pastry snugly but not tight, just enough to avoid a lot of space or air pockets in roll.

4. Place pastry roll length wise and cut in 4cm lengths (**this means cut it into 12 equal pieces**).
5. Then take each cut piece in hand and push down center of roll to meet center of opposite side, gently press pastry with fingers to spread out dough to create what will feel like half of a hallow pastry ball.
Work in circular pattern and pastry will start to thin and from a cup shape. If dough gets sticky use a little flour to help it along. Finished shells should be about 1/4cm, thin but not enough to see your hand through. If you like puff pastry you can make the shells a little thicker, but a couple of tries of the finished version will let you know your preference.

6. Place pastry in muffin tray, and spread out to sides but don’t stretch dough upward, just gently press against side of muffin tin to ensure it won’t shrink too much when baking.

7. When all pastry shells are ready fill with pastry cream, do not fill to top. Fill to ¾ or a bit more but leaving 1- 1.5cm at top of pastry.

8. Place custards in oven and bake for 15min, but keep eye on custards as some ovens can burn top quite quickly, while others don’t cook the pastry quickly enough. If pastry around sides looks deep golden color pastries are done.

Verdict: These turned out super delicious. I am looking forward to tasting the cold version tonight. But for the time being, I can say that warm Pasteis de Nata are the perfect combination of creamy and crunchy and not too sweet. I like you, Portugal. You make great party desserts!


Evan Thomas said...

These sound delicious! I'd almost always rather a creamy, rich dessert than a sweet one.

Swathi said...

Looks delicious, I heard lot about them. going to try this version.

Susan said...

These look so sweet! Does the tradition call for some sort of fruit topping or do these little Pasteis de Nata stand alone?

Velva said...

Wow. No doubt the effort to make these beauties was worth it. These look really good.


Joy said...

Delish. that looks great.

Bala said...

They look great. I will have to try them.

ladyberd said...

I went to Portugal a couple years ago and loved these little treats. I've been tempted to try to recreate them at home - thanks for sharing the recipe!!!!

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