Portuguese Custard Tarts (pastéis de nata)

This is one of the recipes which I learned at John Whaite’s Kitchen. A bank holiday Monday offered a prime opportunity to see if I could make it work away from his supervision.

The first step is to make the rough puff pastry.

  • 125g plain flour
  • 125g unsalted butter
  • 75ml water
  • 1g salt, dissolved in the water

Cube the butter (~1cm), and rub half of it into the flour until it’s like breadcrumbs. Then add the remaining half, but only rub it in ever so slightly – one or two squeezes per cube. Add most of the water and bring the mixture together using a dough scraper, pressing it with the scraper rather than your hands. You may not need all the water.

The resulting mixture goes into the fridge for half an hour, and is then rolled out on a floured surface, folded, turned, rolled out again and folded again before going back into the fridge for another 20-30 minutes. You then repeat the folding and rolling process and chill it again for the same amount of time.

In the meantime, you make your creme patissiere.

  • 6 egg yolks
  • 120g caster sugar
  • 2 teaspoons of vanilla extract
  • 500ml whole milk
  • 40g cornflour

Put the milk, vanilla and half the sugar in a big pan on the hob and heat until it just starts to boil. Meanwhile, whisk 6 egg yolks with the other half of the sugar until pale and aerated, then whisk in the cornflower. As the milk starts to boil, pour half of it into the egg mixture and whisk vigorously, then transfer the mixture back into the pan with the remaining milk, whisking all the time over a high heat. The mixture will thicken. Pour it onto a plate and cover with cling film to cool.

Meanwhile, roll out your puff pastry once more and roll tightly like a swiss roll. Cut it into 12 pieces, and then turn each one on its end so that as you look down onto it you can see the spiral of pastry layers. Roll each one out flat, dusting with icing sugar to stop them from sticking. Use the pieces to line a muffin tray, and then pipe your cooled creme patissiere into each one (although I just used a teaspoon!).

Bake in the oven – I was aiming for 25 minutes at 200C (fan oven), but found they were just starting to burn after 20 minutes so your mileage may vary.

The end result is, frankly, delicious. They look great and taste amazing.