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Sunday, March 6, 2011

Portuguese Custard Tart - pasteis de nata - Accidental Dessert Hero

Throwing away food is something I find difficult to do, and as such, the very first time I made Portuguese custard tarts, it was because I had a heap of egg yolks left over from making a pavlova, the queen of Australian meringue desserts.

By browsing through cookbooks and online, I came across a tart that is the perfect candidate for the yolks, Portuguese custard tart. And now, the tart is a great way to use up the egg yolks from making all those macarons.

This Portuguese custard tart, Pasteis de Nata in Portuguese, is a favorite of many of my friends and family. My niece loves it, my workmates love it, my friends love it, they asked that I posted the recipe. Comes to think about it, I still haven't come across anyone who doesn't like custard tart. S' mum who isn’t a dessert fan, loves them. She occasionally requests them, and this makes me happy because she gets a treat and I find a good home for the orphan yolks.

The tart is also popular in Hong Kong, and even more so in Macau which used to be Portuguese colony (it explains why the tarts in Macau are so good). So, Asians love them, Australians love them, custard tarts are so universally appealing, in Bangkok last year, KFC (the fried chicken franchise) launched them which made them even more popular.

Custard and puff pastry, is everything you would want in a sweet snack, creamy custard with buttery crisp and flaky pastry.

I used the recipe from Australian Woman’s Weekly Cook Book: How to cook absolutely everything, but adapted the method from the food channel in UK, by baking blind the puff pastry before baking the custard.

Note: Apologies to UK food channel, I haven’t been able to locate the site I visited, hence I was unable to provide the link or gave credit where it’s due.  

The typical characteristic of this tart is the browning on the custards, which is, apparently, not easy to achieve. It’s a balancing act to get browning without the custard curdling. I have made this tart a number of times in the past two years. For reasons yet known, blind-baking the tart case leads to the custard browning and retaining a silky smooth texture.

This batch was baked without using blind-baking.
The tart was sligthly curdled and the brown spots were hardly there.

Not blind-baking the tart means having to bake the tart much longer to achieve the brown spot. Even so, there were only a tiny amount of browning and the custard slightly curdled. Therefore, blind-baking (filling the tart case with pie weights and bake for 10-15 minutes before putting the tart filling) is highly recommended if you want the true characteristics of Pasteis de Nata.

For the pastry, I used my home-made rough puff pastry. Rough puff pastry won't rise as much and gives as many layers as the classic puff pastry but tastes equally good. It’s so much simpler (and quicker) to make. You can also use store-bought ready-rolled puff pastry. However, I encourage you to give rough puff pastry a go, it's very easy and you'll love it. If you make your own puff pastry, you’ll need to prepare it about 4 hours in advance or even the day before. Puff pastry can be frozen for up to 4 weeks. Making a big batch and freezing it as portions will save you heaps of time later on if you want to make things like sausage rolls, pies, tart tartin, pissaladiere, etc. etc.

Here is the recipe...

Portuguese Custard Tart (Pasteis de Nata) recipe
adapted from Australian Woman Weekly's Cook: How to cook absolutely everything 

makes 12 tarts

4 egg yolks
1/2 cup (110 g) caster sugar
2 tablespoons (30 g) cornflour
1 cup (250ml) cream
1/2 cup (125ml) water
strip of lemon rind
2 teaspoons vanilla extrac
1 sheet ready-rolled buttered puff pastry or half of rough puff pastry recipe below 

Preheat oven to 220 c / 200 c fan-forced. Grease 12-hole (80ml) muffin pan. Whisk egg yolks, sugar, cornflour, cream and water in medium saucepan.

Add rind; stir over medium heat until mixture just comes to a boil (keep stirring to prevent custard become curdling). Remove from heat immediately. Remove rind; stir in vanilla extract.

Cut puff pastry sheet in half; stack halves on top of each other. Stand about 5 minutes or until thawed (you don't need to thaw your home-made puff pastry as long as it is not frozen). Roll pastry up tightly, from the short side; cut log into 12 x 1 cm rounds.

Lay pastry, cut-side up, on lightly floured work bench; roll each round out to about 10 cm. Push round into muffin pans.

Blind bake the tart case at 220C for 10 minutes. To blind-bake the tart, line each tart case with non-stick baking paper, fill the tart cases with pie weight (ceramic or steel weights) or dried rice or bean.

Remove pie weights or beans, and fill the tart with custard to about 0.5 cm from top.

Bake tarts about 20 minutes or until well browned. Transfer to wire rack to cool.

Crisp, flaky pastry. Slight swirl at the bottom of pastry.

Rough Puff Pastry recipe
from Michel Roux's Pastry: Savory and Sweet

make 600 g

250 g plain flour (all-purpose flour)
250 g cold butter, cut into small cubes
1/2 tsp salt
125 ml very cold water

Note: you need very cold water so that the butter won't melt when water is incorporated into the dough.

Heap the flour and salt together on the counter and make a well in the centre (you can also work this in a big mixing bowl).

Gently rub butter into the flour until the dough becomes grainy (rough breadcrumbs texture) and butter is roughly incorporate.  

Gradually add cold water and mix until it is all incorporated and comes together as a dough ball. Do not overwork the dough as we don't want any gluten development and a tough pastry as a result.

Roll the dough into a ball and wrap in a cling wrap. Chill for 30 minutes.

Dust the work bench with flour and roll the dough into 30 x 15 cm rectangle, approximately. Fold it into three, like a letter fold. Give the dough a quarter-turn (you will now roll the dough in a different direction from previously). Roll the dough into 30 x 15 cm rectangle and do the letter fold again (fold into three). These are the first two turns. Wrap the dough in cling wrap and chill for another 30 minutes.

Give the cold dough 2 more turns (these are the final two turns), rolling and folding as before. This makes a total of four turns, and the pastry is now ready to be used. Wrap it in a plastic wrap and chill for at least 30 minutes before using.

The left-over dough will last in the freezer up to 4 weeks. Freeze them in portions in a zip-lock bag or cling wrap.


  1. do you store the baked tarts in the fridge?

  2. I don't if it's consumed in 24 hours. If its kept longer than that, I will store in the fridge and reheat them at 175c for 5-10 mins, to regain the crispness of the pastry.