Pasteis de Nata 葡式蛋挞
Pasteis de Nata, or Portuguese Custard Tart, is an irresistible dessert. They are creamy, sweet, flaky, buttery and simply scrumptious! During my past life as a software consultant where most of my day went to stressful debugging and coding, I could only attempt Custard Tart or Egg Tart in a quick and cheating way, that was to use store bought pie crust or puff pastry. Though they sort of soothed sweet tooth for a moment, they were never that splendid. Pasteis de Nata is the type of dessert that deserves plenty of patience, craftsmanship and love.
History of Pasteis de Nata
I have to admit, in the past, though I cook and bake, I usually just went directly to the recipes. Nowadays, I grew more and more interested in knowing the history of a certain food. It’s fascinating at times, like this one. Pasteis de Nata was “invented” out of necessity and “popularized” by misfortune. While egg whites were commonly used for starching clothes in convents and monasteries, they started to think of ways to use egg yolks in pastry and cakes. Many desserts, including Pasteis de Nata being one of them was made. And as a result of the 1820 liberal revolution, all convents and monasteries in Portugal were shut down in 1834, the clergy and laborers expelled. Some people from the monastery started to sell the pastry in an attempt for survival. And, thus, we have this most wonderful pastry from Portugal to indulge.
Pasteis de Nata vs. Egg Tart Hong Kong Style
I was confused by the two for a long while. They look sort alike, but then different on closer inspection. After doing much reading and research, I found out they are actually very different desserts and each had a pretty long history. While Pasteis de Nata is a quite fancy dessert, I would hardly call Egg Tart dessert, it’s more like a snack. First of all, they use totally different dough. Pasteis de Nata uses rough puff pastry, and Egg Tart uses shortcrust, or pie crust. Thus they offer a very different feel and taste. The fillings are not the same either. Pasteis de Nata uses a thicker, creamier custard made with egg, sugar and cream; while Egg Tart filling is more like a jello with just egg and sugar. Because of their different texture, they brown very differently. Egg Tart are usually bright yellow, and Pasteis de Nata has blackened spots on the surface.
Making My Own Pasteis de Nata
I bought a Pasteis de Nata from a pretty decent bakery in Chinatown over the weekend. It was $1, while Egg Tart sells for 80 cents. By inspecting the pastry, it wasn’t up to par of a great Pasteis de Nata. The bottom was translucent, and had no visible circles. It was under-baked and soggy. The side of the pastry was okay, quite flaky, but still felt under-baked and no clear lamination. I am going to make my own Pasteis de Nata. This is also part of my adventure following GBBO challenges (2017, Pastry week).
After lots of research, I settled with the recipe below, which was a combination of several recipes from credible sources including Paul Hollywood’s along with my own adjustments during making and baking. Since the dough needs proper cooling and setting, I decided to make it a two day project. On day one, I made the dough. It’s quite critical to let the dough fully rest after the initial forming, as I needed it be so relaxed I can roll it out to very thin layer.
Also, remember to flour the work surface really well. I learnt it the hard way. As I had to press rolling pin pretty hard to achieve an 18*18 inch square, the dough ended up stuck to the work surface and I wasn’t able to lift the dough without over stretching or even damaging the very delicate pastry. I ended up knead it back to a ball and rest for another 20 minutes.
Okay, I was watching Mary Berry on GBBO Master Class in the background, LOL!
While spreading butter, I found soft spatula works really well if you don’t have a icing knife. Spread very thinly and evenly. Folding the dough takes some patience. Remember to press out bubbles along the way.
After final spread of butter and rolling the pastry to a log and cut it, the lamination was incredible. My day one concluded with very successful looking pastry. They were wrapped tightly with cling wrap and tucked away in the refrigerator till tomorrow.
It’s a beautiful and sunny day. I was up early getting started with my Pasteis de Nata. Honestly I was very nervous. I had an oven mishap over the weekend making pizza at 500F and the house was almost on fire. I decided to bake at a lower temperature of 475F, but honestly was very afraid the crust would be underbaked. Also, about the mold. I don’t have authentic tart molds and I don’t want to use muffin tins as they are too deep and difficult to remove from mold (I only thought of the metal full size muffin tin at the time, read on…). I happen to have these aluminum disposable egg tart molds. The shape and size were good, but they were flimsy. OH well, that’s all I have on hands and decided to go with them.
I took one of the pasty log out of the refrigerator and let it warm up a little so it’s workable. While waiting, I made the custard filling which you can read the instructions in the recipe. It’s covered and being cooled down.
Now the pastry log is soft enough to be rolled out to 16 inches long. I cut a piece of 3/4 inch in length to check if the amount of dough is good for the mold before cutting all the pieces out. Place the dough cut side down. Dip thumb in water and press the bottom flat onto the bottom of the mold, then push up toward the rim until it’s a little above the rim. Turn the mold slightly and repeat the motion till the mold is covered with thin layer of dough. It takes some practice to get used to the motion.
The size of the dough is perfect. I cut the rest of the log into 19 pieces and as planned, 20 tarts out of half of the pastry. Put them all on a baking sheet and back to refrigerator to firm and maintain lamination.
The tart molds were put back into the refrigerator for at least half an hour. I went to the gym to burn some calories so that I can eat these little gems. An hour and half later, the dough was firm again. Fill the base with custard and bake at 475F for 15 minutes.
The bottom looks great and it’s crispy, NO SOGGY BOTTOM! The lamination is beautifully showing through and there is no leakage. However, there is no clear definition of the bottom, it’s too flat.
The cut side. The pastry was nice and thin, but the filling was too thin. I don’t think the disposable mold is a good choice because they are just too flimsy. As I was working my way to build the wall, the mold gets flatter and lost both height and the definition of the bottom ?
I still have the other half of the pastry and custard left and I just remembered I have a silicon mini muffin tin. That might be a better option than disposable molds.
With the same amount of the dough, I made 24 tarts in the mini tin. I tried to roll the pastry to a circle then fit it into the indent. That doesn’t seem to be any easier, and it’s hard to completely remove the air between dough and mold. I then used the same method as yesterday. Place the dough cut side down, press the center to the bottom then push up to the rim. Other than accidentally poking in the dough in the adjacent spots, it was an easier process for me. Again, place the tin in the refrigerator for half an hour before filling with custard. Bake at 475F for 15 minutes, and broiled for 1 minute to get some burn spots on top.
The bottom looks much more defined with beautiful lamination.
The custard pastry ratio is much better as well. Even though it’s the same dough and custard as yesterday, these taste creamier.
Here is the end of this GBBO Challenge. Before I buy actual tart molds, I will stick with the mini muffin tin. They are bite size, no crumbs everywhere. The recipe below works really well. Custard is a bit on the sweet side for my taste, but my son thinks it’s perfect. So you can take out 10-15% of sugar if you wish. I hope you will make these yourself, though daunting, they are far better than what a normal bakery would offer.
Pasteis de Nata
For the dough
- 275 g Flour and some extra for dusting work surface
- 1 g Salt
- 160 ml Cold Water
- 200 g Butter, Room temperature
For the custard
- 25 g Flour
- 300 ml Milk
- 250 g Sugar
- 1 Cinnamon Stick
- 160 ml Water
- 3 ml Vanilla extract
- 6 Egg Yolks
Make the Dough
Mix dough ingredient except butter in a stand mixer with a dough hook and let it run till dough forms a ball and pull away from the side of the bowl
Flour the work surface, gently push the dough into a 6 inch square, cover and let it rest for 20 minutes.
In the meantime, whip the butter till smooth, and easily spreadable, almost like texture of mayonnaise
Roll the dough out to 18 inch square. Use a palette knife or spatula to spread 1/3 of the butter on left 2/3 of the square, leaving 1 inch around the edge un-buttered. Fold the right 1/3 of the dough over toward left. Then fold the left 1/3 over to cover the un-buttered dough. The result is 6 * 18 inch rectangle. Brush off excessive flour along the way. Also remove as much air as possible while folding. If it’s warm, place the dough in frig for 10-15 minutes to harden the butter.
Place the dough long side toward you, roll from center to make an 18 inch square. Repeat the previous step to create 6 * 18 rectangle. Place the dough in refrigerator if necessary.
Roll the dough out to 18 * 22 inch. Spread remaining butter over the entire surface leaving 1 inch around un-buttered.
Starting with the shorter edge, roll the pastry into a tight log. Trim ends so the edges are even. Cut the log in half, and wrap with cling wrap tightly. Refrigerate at least 3 hours or overnight.
Take the chilled pastry log out of the frig and let it rest for 10 minutes. Roll the log to thinner and longer log, about 1 inch in diameter and 16 inches long. Cut 3/4 inch discs and place them cut side down in egg tart mold.
Once the pastry dough is workable, dip thumb in water, flatter the dough spiral into the bottom to about 1/16 inches thick and push the dough up to slightly above the rim.
Place the tart molds in frig again for about 15 minutes.
Make the Custard
In a small saucepan, bring sugar, cinnamon and water to a boil and cook until the mixture reaches 220F (100C). Remove from heat and let cool
In a medium bowl, mix flour and 1/4 cup of milk until very smooth.
In another small saucepan, bring 1 cup of milk to a near boil. Gradually add milk into flour mixture and whisk continuously.
Remove cinnamon stick and pour the sugar syrup slowly into the milk-flour mixture, whisking briskly. Pour hot mixture into the bowl holding egg yolks and whisk to combine. Strain the custard mixture and cover the surface with cling film and let it cool. Mixture can be made 3 days in advance.
Assemble and Bake
Preheat over to 475F. Place pizza stone or cast iron pan on the top rack.
Fill tart with custard mixture to just below the rim.
Bake until the edges are golden brown and custard top shows small dark spots. For my relatively small tarts, it took 15 minutes.
Let cool in mold for 5 minutes before taking them out to cool on cooling rack.
The custard is sweet on its own, but with pastry which is not sweetened, the whole tart isn’t terribly sweet. However, if you want, you can cut sugar by another 10-15%, which should be pretty acceptable as well.