So THIS month (September ’09) I spent a week or so in Lisbon Portugal at the International Bioacoustics Society Conference.
Having never been to Lisbon before, you can imagine my delight when I arrived to find that there were little pies and tarts for sale EVERYWHERE.
I even picked up a little roll of cheese-based sweet mini pies wrapped in a tube of paper. Brilliant.
But without any question the most delicious pie/tart I ate were the world famous Pastéis de Belém, from the bakery of the same name, which has been cranking out these amazing little custard tarts since 1837 (google ‘em). The tarts were originally made by the monks of the Jerónimos Monastery in Belem, as a way to support themselves after the revolution of 1820. The recipe is a closely guarded secret, and any similar custard tarts are not allowed to be called a Pastéis de Belém, but instead are called Pastéis de nata.
However, David Leite writing for the LA Times did some SERIOUS research to try and crack the secret. This is adapted from his best attempt at a reproduction of these amazing custard tarts (warm… super flakey… ooooohhhh…) Good luck. It will be SO worth it.
Pastéis de nata (custard pastries)
1 pound of puff pastry dough, rolled into a 16-by-24-inch rectangle, then rolled the dough away from you into a tight log, brushing the excess flour off as you go. Wrap tightly in plastic wrap and chill overnight (2 hours min).
3 TB flour
1 1/4 cups milk
1 1/3 cups sugar
1 cinnamon stick
2/3 cup water
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
6 egg yolks, whisked until creamy looking.
Powdered sugar & cinnamon for dusting
Preheat oven as hot as possible (ideally somewhere between 500-700 degrees F… seriously. Don’t be scared. go as HOT as you can make it)
Whisk the flour and ¼ C of the milk until smooth. Set aside. Bring the sugar, cinnamon and water to a boil in a saucepan and cook until an thermometer registers 220°F. Do not stir. Meanwhile, in another small saucepan, scald the 1 C milk. Whisk the hot milk into the flour-milk mixture.
Pour the sugar syrup in a thin stream into the hot milk mixture, whisking briskly. Add the vanilla and stir for a minute until very warm but not hot. Whisk in the yolks, strain the mixture into a bowl, cover with plastic wrap and set side. (Makes two-thirds cup custard.)
Remove a pastry log from fridge. Cut it into ~3/4 inch thick slices. Place spiral piece cut side down in each well of a non-stick muffin pan. Let rest a bit until dough is pliable. Dip your thumbs into the water, then straight down into the middle of the dough spiral. Flatten it against the bottom of the cup to a thickness of about one-eighth inch, then smooth the dough up the sides and create a raised lip about one-eighth inch above the pan. The pastry sides should be thinner than the bottom. Fill each cup ¾ full with the slightly warm custard. Bake until the edges of the dough are frilly and brown, about 8 to 15 min, depending on muffin tin size. Remove to a rack and cool until just warm. Sprinkle generously with and cinnamon and serve still slightly warm.
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