In Lisbon every pastelaria is judged by the quality of its pastels de nata. This crunchy pastry with its creamy custard filling was baked for the first time in the 17th century by the monks from the Jerónimos monastery in Belém near Lisbon. At that time egg whites were used to starch the habits of monks and wimples of nuns. The remaining egg yolks were used to bake cakes and pastries that were sold for some extra money. When the monastery closed in the middle of the 19th century the by then famous recipe for pastéis de Belém was bought by a sugar refinery. The refinery opened the Fábrica de Pastéis de Belém to bake and sell the popular pastries. From the day of the opening until now there have always been long lines of sweet toothed customers forming in front of the shop. When I visited Lisbon last week, climbing all the city’s hills gave me the perfect excuse to try as many pastels de nata as I possibly could. And yes, the ones from Belém are still the best…. When I came back home I immediately started to bake my own pastels. This recipe comes closest to the pastries I tasted at the Fábrica de Pastéis de Belém. I tried baking with both shop-bought puff pastry and a slightly rougher homemade dough. The last gives a slightly crunchier shell, but does take some extra time. The size of a proper pastel is somewhere in the middle between a muffin and a mini muffin. I did not bring home a pastels tin and made mine in mini muffin tins. It does give you a good excuse to pop even more crunchy, creamy pastries in your mouth. If you like this pastry, try my own variation: pastel de nata with port raisins.
Pastel de nata from Portugal
for about 12 small pastels
140 grams (5 oz) puff pastry cut into 3 pieces of 12×12 cm (5×5 inches)*
20 grams(2 tablespoons) flour
225 milliliter (1 cup) whipping cream
140 grams sugar (⅔ cup)
1 cinnamon stick
¼ teaspoon vanilla extract
3 egg yolks
butter for greasing
extra: mini muffin tins
Stack the pieces of puff pastry on top of each other and roll them up tight. Keep in the fridge until needed.
In a bowl whisk the flour with about 30 milliliters of the cream until smooth.
Heat the rest of the cream with the sugar and the cinnamon stick in a saucepan and leave to simmer on the lowest possible heat for about 15 mins.
Take the cinnamon stick out of the cream and whisk into the flour-cream mixture. Leave to cool for a few minutes and whisk in the slightly beaten egg yolks and the vanilla extract. Scoop off the foam.
Preheat the oven to the highest setting. The oven should be as hot as possible! Grease the muffin tins. Cut the pastry roll in 12 thick slices.
Cut the pastry roll in 12 thick slices. Press them flat into 10 cm (4 inch) disks. Press them into the muffin tins.
Pour the custard mixture into the shells and bake in the middle of the oven for 20-30 mins. until done. Check regularly. A few nice dark caramelized spots should appear on the top.
Take out of the oven and leave to cool a few minutes. Serve them warm dusted with icing sugar and cinnamon.
*or make your own dough
(enough for a double batch)
130 grams of flour + extra for sprinkling
pinch of salt
100 milliliters water
125 grams very cold butter
Knead the flour with the salt and the water into a soft dough. Cover and leave to rest for about 20 mins.
Sprinkle flour on your work surface and roll out to 20×30 cm (8×11 inches).
Cut the butter into very thin slices.
Cover ⅔ of the dough with ⅓ of the butter and fold the unbuttered part to the middle of the buttered part. Then fold over the part with the butter still visible. Roll out again to 20×30 cm (8×11 inches) and repeat the process. Roll out the dough to 20×40 cm (8x16inches) cover with the rest of the butter and roll up from the shorter side. Wrap in cling film and leave to rest for at least 2 hours.
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