The Loaded Trunk was founded by Jonna Robison, an interior designer with a deep curiosity and passion for traveling the world, connecting with artisans in different cultures and sourcing unique and beautiful objets d’art. Published seasonally, the magazine features a curated collection of travel, lifestyle, nature, art and design inspiration for a life well lived.
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Pastel de nata, or pastéis de nata, if you’re referring to the plural (which is likely, since it’s impossible to eat just one) is one of the many culinary delights of Portugal. The melt-in-your-mouth Portuguese custard tart consists of a layered, buttery crust, which cradles a luscious egg custard center. When you take a bite, the crisp, flaky crust shatters into a hundred tiny pieces. They can be found at the many pastelarias (pastry shops) throughout Portugal.
Pastéis de nata originated in the Jerónimos Monastery in the Santa Maria parish in Belém, Lisbon, sometime during the 18th century. At the time, convents and monasteries used countless egg whites for starching clothing. With all the leftover egg yolks they concocted cakes and pastries. Following the revolution of 1820, religious orders were dissolved and many convents and monasteries faced closure. The monks from the Jerónimos Monastery began selling pastéis de nata at a local sugar refinery to earn some income. The monastery closed in 1834 and the recipe was sold to the refinery, where it remained a secret.
There are many versions of recipes for pastéis de nata circulating today. I adapted this recipe after testing some I found online and I’m happy with these little golden treasures.
2 cups all-purpose flour
¼ teaspoon sea salt
¾ cup ice cold water
1 cup unsalted butter, softened and stirred until smooth
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 ¼ cups milk, divided
1 ⅓ cups granulated sugar
1 cinnamon stick
⅔ cup water
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
6 large egg yolks, whisked
1. Using a stand or hand held mixer, mix the flour, salt and water for approximately 30 seconds, until a dough forms and pulls away from the side of the bowl.
2. Flour a work surface and pat the dough into a 6” square. Lightly flour the dough, cover with plastic wrap and let rest for 15 minutes.
3. Roll the dough into an 18” square. Use a pastry scraper to lift the dough as you work, to ensure it is not sticking to your work surface.
4. Using a rubber spatula, spread the left ⅔ surface of the dough with about ⅓ of the butter, making sure to leave a 1” unbuttered border around the edge of the dough.
5. Fold the unbuttered side of the dough over the middle third, then fold the left third over, as you would fold a letter. Gently pat down the dough to release any air bubbles, and straighten the edges..
6. Lift dough and flour work surface. Rotate dough so the shorter side is facing you. Roll out dough to an 18” square. Again, spread ⅓ of the butter onto the left ⅔ of dough. Fold the dough as previously done in steps 4 and 5.
7. Rotate the dough 90° to the left and, this time, roll the dough to an 18” x 21” rectangle, with the shorter edge facing you. Spread the remaining butter across the entire surface of the dough, leaving a 1” unbuttered border at the top edge furthest from you..
8. Lift the short edge of the dough nearest to you and roll it into a tight log, brushing the excess flour from the underside as you roll. Trim the ends and cut the log in half. Wrap each piece in plastic wrap and chill for 2 hours or overnight.
Note: If you want to make fewer tarts, freeze one log in a freezer bag (for up to 3 months) and halve the recipe for the custard.
1. Whisk flour and ¼ cup milk in a medium bowl until smooth.
2. In a small saucepan, bring sugar, cinnamon stick and water to a boil on medium heat, cooking (without stirring) until a candy thermometer reaches 215°.
3. Place the remaining 1 cup milk in a different small saucepan and heat to scalding. Then whisk the hot milk into the flour mixture.
4. Discard cinnamon stick and slowly pour the sugar syrup into the hot milk and flour mixture, whisking continuously until well combined. Add the vanilla and whisk until well combined. Let cool for 8 to 10 minutes until warm. Whisk in the yolks, strain into a large glass measuring cup, cover with plastic wrap and set aside. The custard will be runny.
1. Heat oven to 550° (make sure oven rack is in the top third position)
2. Roll a chilled pastry log with your hands, on a lightly floured surface, until it is 1” in diameter and approximately 16” long. Score log into 18 pieces, using a knife; cut through. Repeat with the second log. Place each piece, cut side down, into each well of a small Portugese tart pan (I purchased mine here).
Alternatively, you can use non-stick muffin tins (and if you do this, cut each dough log into 12 pieces, as muffin pans are deeper than the individual tart pans).
3. With a small bowl of water in front of you, dip your thumb in water. Press your thumb into the center of the swirl; push dough against the base and up the sides, creating a raised lip approximately ⅛” above the top edge of the tart pans.
4. Place individual tart pans onto a cookie sheet and fill each pan with custard to approximately ¼” below the rim of the pastry (or ¾ full if using muffin cups). Bake until the pastries are lightly browned and the tops of custard are bubbly and caramelized, approximately 12 minutes.
5. Remove from the oven and immediately slide the tarts (in their pans) onto a cooling rack. Cool for a few minutes, then remove each tart from its pan. Before serving, sprinkle the tarts with powdered sugar and cinnamon. The pastéis de nata are best eaten warm (make sure to consume within two days).
Recipe makes 3 dozen tarts, if using individual tart plans, or 2 dozen, if using muffin tins.
November 9, 2022
The Loaded Trunk is a travel and lifestyle magazine founded by Jonna Robison, an interior designer with a deep curiosity and passion for traveling the world, connecting with artisans in different cultures and sourcing unique and beautiful objets d’art. Published seasonally, the magazine features a curated collection of travel, lifestyle, nature, art and design inspiration for a life well lived.