Pastel de Nata is a type of tart from Portugal that is filled with a sweet egg custard then baked. The custard can be flavored with lemon zest or vanilla extract. After baking the tart is sometimes dusted with cinnamon powder.
Pastel means pastry and nata means cream in English. Since the first bakery to sell Pastel de Nata is named Pastéis de Belém the pastry is also known as Pastel de Belém.
Origin and Cultural Significance
Pastel de Nata originated over 300 years ago in the Belem district of Lisbon, Portugal. It’s believed that they were created by baking monks who lived in the Jeronimos Monastery who were trying to figure out how to use up excess amounts of egg yolks. The pastries became very popular, and people travelled far distances to taste them.
The recipe was eventually sold to the Pastéis de Belém bakery which has been making them according to the super-secret original recipe since 1837. Today this traditional pastry is still well loved by the Portuguese and sought out by tourists.
Portuguese Pastel de Nata Recipe
- All-purpose flour - 2 cups
- Salt - 1/2 tsp
- Cold Water - ¾ cup plus 2 tbsp
- Unsalted butter, softened at room temperature - 8 oz
- All-purpose flour - 3 tbsp
- Whole milk – 1 ¼ cups
- Granulated white sugar – 1 1/3 cups
- Cinnamon stick - 1
- Water – 2/3 cups
- Vanilla extract – ½ tsp
- Egg yolks - 6
If using store bought pastry dough, roll the dough into an 18 x 21-inch rectangle then proceed to step 13.
- Using a mixer, mix the flour, salt, and water until a soft dough that pulls away from the side of the bowl, about 30 seconds.
- Dust the work surface with flour. Roll the dough into a 6x6 inch square.
- Flour the top of the dough and cover with plastic wrap. Let it rest at room temperature for 15 minutes.
- Roll the dough out into an 18-inch square.
- Brush the excess flour off the top of the dough and trim off any uneven edges.
- Starting with the left side, spread butter on 2/3 of the square, leaving a one-inch unbuttered space at the 4 edges.
- Neatly fold the unbuttered right side of the dough over. Brush off any excess flour then fold over the left 1/3 of the dough, similar to a tri fold.
- Press the dough lightly from the top down to release
any trapped air bubbles.
- Pinch the unbuttered edges of the dough to seal it. Brush off any excess flour.
- Turn the dough so the fold is facing you. Lift the dough and flour the work surface.
- Once again roll the dough out into an 18-inch square, then repeat steps 5 to 9. This folding will create the flaky layers.
- Turn the dough again so the top fold faces you.
- Roll the dough out into 18-by-21-inch rectangle. Spread the remaining butter over the entire surface of the dough.
- Using a spatula as an aid, lift the edge of dough closest to you and roll the dough away from you into a tight log, brushing the excess flour from the underside as you go.
- Trim the ends and cut the log in half. Wrap each piece in plastic wrap and chill for 2 hours or preferably overnight.
- In a medium bowl, whisk the flour and 1/4 cup milk until smooth.
- In a saucepan, bring the sugar, cinnamon and water to a boil until it reaches 220°F.
- Do not stir, turn off the flame.
- In another small saucepan, scald the remaining 1 cup milk. Then whisk the hot milk into the flour mixture.
- Remove the cinnamon stick and then pour the sugar syrup in a thin stream into the milk-and-flour 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 aside. The custard will be thin.
Assemble and bake.
- Heat the oven to 550°F (290°C).
- Remove a pastry log from the refrigerator and roll it back and forth on a lightly floured surface until it's a thinner log about an inch thick and 16 inches long.
- Cut the log into ¾ inch pieces. Place one pastry dough disc, into each well of a nonstick mini muffin pan. Let the dough pieces to soften several minutes until pliable.
- Have a small cup of water nearby. Dip your thumbs in the water, then press down into the middle of the dough disc and flatten it against the bottom of the muffin tin then smooth the dough up the sides and create a raised lip about 1/8 inch above the pan. The pastry bottoms should be thinner than the tops.
- Fill each pastry cup 3/4 full of the cooled custard. Any fuller and the custard might overflow while baking.
- Bake the pastries until the edges of the dough are brown, about 8 to 9 minutes.
- Remove from the oven and allow the tarts to cool a few minutes in the pan, then transfer to a rack and cool until just warm.
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 417Total Fat: 22gSaturated Fat: 13gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 8gCholesterol: 162mgSodium: 138mgCarbohydrates: 49gFiber: 1gSugar: 28gProtein: 6g