Custard tarts

Custard tarts

Pastéis de nata

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Makes
6
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When you mention Portuguese food, most people think of pastéis de nata, our glorious custard tarts. They became popular in the mid-nineteenth century when monks at the Mosteiro dos Jerónimos in Belém began selling them to help make a living. When I was a child, my grandmother would take me to Pastéis de Belém, where the original versions are still sold. I’d pinch her coffee spoon when she wasn’t looking and scoop out all the custard before eating the crust. The filling here has a soft scent of citrus and should be really runny – just perfect for small boys with coffee spoons.

Ingredients

Quantity Ingredient
1 x 320g sheet all-butter puff pastry
melted butter, for greasing
sugar, for dusting
ground cinnamon, for dusting

For the custard

Quantity Ingredient
250ml whole milk
1 cinnamon stick
a few strips lemon, zested
20g butter
2 tablespoons plain white flour
1 teaspoon cornflour
2 egg yolks

For the sugar syrup

Quantity Ingredient
225g caster sugar
1 cinnamon stick
a few strips lemon, zested

Method

  1. Brush 6 individual muffin tins generously with melted butter, then chill them in the fridge. (If you don’t have individual tins, use half of a 12-hole muffin tin).
  2. Make sure the pastry is in a large 2–3mm-thick rectangle, rolling it out a little if necessary, then roll it up lengthways into a tight sausage shape about 5cm in diameter. Slice this into 6 discs 1–2cm thick (any leftover pastry can be frozen to use another day). Press the discs into the tins with your fingers, stretching or rolling them out to fit, making sure they come to just below the top of the tins. Chill them while you make the custard.
  3. To make the custard — Heat 150ml of the milk in a pan over a medium heat with the cinnamon, lemon zest and half the butter, bringing it to just below boiling point. Leave it to infuse for 10 minutes.
  4. Remove the cinnamon and lemon zest. In a bowl, mix the flour and cornflour to a thin paste with the remaining milk, adding the milk gradually to prevent lumps. Pour the warm infused milk over the paste, stirring well, then pour the mixture back into the pan. Cook, stirring gently, over a low heat for a few minutes, or until it thickens to a double cream consistency. Whisk in the remaining butter and remove from the heat.
  5. To make the sugar syrup — Put the ingredients in a pan with 75ml water and cook over a medium heat for 5 minutes, until the sugar dissolves. Cook over a low heat until you have a light brown, fragrant caramel, swirling the pan occasionally.
  6. Carefully add 75ml water and return the pan to a gentle heat to dissolve any solid caramel, then strain it into a heatproof bowl. Pour half the syrup into the custard and whisk well. (The leftover syrup will keep in the fridge in an airtight container for 4 weeks, and can be used to make the egg cream).
  7. Preheat the oven to its highest setting and put a baking sheet on the top shelf. Just before cooking the tarts, pour the custard into a measuring jug and stir in the egg yolks. Add a splash of milk to bring the quantity up to 300ml, if necessary. Pour the custard into the pastry-lined muffin tins and bake on the hot baking sheet for 9-13 minutes, or until the tops are quite dark, rotating them if necessary to make sure they colour evenly.
  8. Brush the tarts with a little of the remaining sugar syrup, then leave to cool slightly in the tins before removing and cooling on a wire rack. The custard will continue to set as it cools but should still be creamy and quite soft in the centre. Sprinkle with sugar and cinnamon just before serving, as we do in Portugal.
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