Pasteis de natas are truly a national treasure. These magnificent little pastry tarts can be found in every bakery, café, and restaurant in Portugal. Their flaky crusts, custardy centers, and caramelized tops all combine to make them utterly irresistible.
Where they came from and how the same tart ended up with two names is another story. The term pasteis de nata is Portuguese for “cream pastries”. This is the name they are known by all over the world, except in Lisbon where they are referred to as pasteis de Belem. The district of Santa Maria de Belem is where it all started and the home of the most famous place to eat them, Fabrica de Pasteis de Belem.
The monks of the Jeronimos Monastery in Belem were the first to make and distribute the iconic tarts. At the time, egg whites were used to starch clothing and fabrics, leaving the yolks unused. Instead of wasting them, they got sugar from a local refinery and used them instead to make and sell cakes and pastries to raise money for the monastery. As a result of the liberal revolution of 1820, all convents and monasteries were shut down by 1834, the clergy and laborers expelled. The monks sold the recipe to the local sugar refinery in 1837 where the owners opened Fabrica de Pasteis de Belem where they are still sold to this day.
Pasteis de Natas – Custard Tartelettes
- Whisk and bowl
- Medium saucepan
- Muffin tins
- ⅓ cup Water
- 1⅓ cup Sugar
- 1 Lemon peel, cut in strips
- 1 tsp Vanilla extract
- 1 Cinnamon stick
- ⅓ cup Flour
- 1½ cup Whole milk
- ¼ tsp Kosher salt
- ½ lb Puff pastry, store bought, frozen
- 1 tbsp Each; ground cinnamon and powdered sugar
- 6 large Egg yolks
- Preheat oven to 550°F (290°C). Lightly grease either a 12-cup or two 6-cup muffin tins.
- In a saucepan, bring sugar, water, vanilla, lemon zest, and cinnamon stick to a boil. Cook until it reaches 220°F (100°C) on a thermometer. DON'T STIR during this process.
- Whisk milk, salt, and flour together and whisking constantly, cook over medium heat until the milk has thickened, around 5 minutes. Take off burner and let cool in saucepan.
- Once milk has cooled down a little, whisk in egg yolks. Whisk in sugar mixture until completely blended. Strain into a bowl.
- Take sheet of defrosted puff pastry dough and cut it in half. Place one half over the other with the shorter side towards you. Roll up the sheets away from you into a cylinder. Cut the cylinder into 12 equal slices.
- Lay a piece over the muffin wells. With a wet thumb, push down the center of each and then push the sides out to fit the well, leaving the pastry cut a tiny bit higher than the wells. Fill each pastry ¾ of the way up with custard.
- Put the tins in the oven and bake until the custard starts to caramelize and blister on the top and the pastry starts to brown, 10-12 minutes.
- Remove from oven and place on a serving tray or basket. Sprinkle with a little powdered sugar and ground cinnamon. Serve warm and try to eat just one.