Arguably one of my all-time favourite desserts, other than that isn’t my Mom’s lemon pound cake (that I still love in the face of my current disdain for lemons), my Mom’s Rice Krispie squares, or really anything my Mom bakes, is a Portuguese Custard Tart or pastéis de nata. Sadly I’ve never been to Portugal and tried an authentic pastéis de nata but I have sampled as many as I can get my hands on from various bakeries and they are all delicious. The bright yellow egg custard is lightly flavoured with cinnamon and perfectly bruleed on top.
Now that I’ve got you salivating over Portuguese Custard Tarts it’s time for me to tell you these are not the same. As sad as I was to learn that I wasn’t going to be mastering the Portuguese classic I did find out that the UK Egg Custard Tarts have a following of their own. And who doesn’t love a bit of food history with their baking? These tarts date back to the middle ages! Although I would have to wait to try my hand at the Portuguese version I was happy to be moving onto another British classic.
One of the neat things about this recipe is the pastry. What I thought was a regular sweet pastry (or short crust….I really must sort out what the different pastries are called) had a surprise ingredient. Ground almonds. I sifted the almond and flour together and used my food processor to make the pastry. I love my food processor! The pastry went from this
In three or four pulses! And my camera didn’t get covered in flour and butter because my hands stayed clean.
After a few hours (I mean, definitely not longer than the 30 minutes the recipe says) I took my dough out of the fridge. I rolled it out, and found a bowl I could use for my cutter and got to work. And then quickly stopped working.
Major problems in the pastry department. The dough was so soft! It was beautiful to roll out but a nightmare to get off my counter. I ended up beating the poor ball of dough senseless trying to get something to line my tray. It was the definition of over werked. After all the rolling and re-rolling I only had one muffin cup lined. I put rest of the dough back in the fridge and decided to watch the episode to see how the real bakers managed. After watching the technical I started again with my chilled dough between parchment and things when along swimmingly. And if anyone asks I will say that was my idea from the start and it certainly didn’t take me an hour to line my tray.
The recipe doesn’t say to put the lined tray back in the fridge but I did. Actually, the recipe doesn’t say a lot, like how warm the milk should be before adding it to the egg mixture and how full the tarts should be. Part of me felt like I really was on a technical with the bare bones instructions. I did my best impression of an experienced baker and made my custard.
I warmed the milk until it was just steaming and mixed it into my yolks and sugar. I might have been a bit too vigorous with my mixing because the top got quite frothy but again I have no idea. Then I filled my tarts right to the brim and sprinkled them with nutmeg.
I set two timers once the tarts went in the oven which felt very bake off appropriate. One so I could check them after 15 minutes to possibly lower the oven temp and the other to know when they were done. After the first fifteen minutes, I could see I had over filled my tarts, thanks for the tip Paul! I lowered the temp and just hoped the overflow would be minimal. 8 minutes later I took them out.
Despite the fact that these were not pastéis de nata I managed to make a pretty good doppelganger. The brulee top is not in keeping with the neat and tidy UK treat but I think the taste was all English. The custard was really light and creamy, I would be so bold as to call it silky. And the pastry was just sweet enough with a good crumb. I had one soggy bottom in the bunch, don’t ask me how I managed that, but the rest were golden. In the end, it wasn’t the Portuguese tart I was dreaming of but it was a pretty good bake.