This chilly weather calls for cinnamon custard and flaky pastry. # 141: Pastéis de Nata
Pastéis de Nata (or Pastéis de Belém) are a traditional pastry from Portugal and man are they delicious. Crispy, buttery crust filled with thick cinnamon-y egg custard.
This was another gem I discovered watching the Great British Bake Off. It was a 2017 technical challenge so I knew it wouldn’t be super easy . . . but I’m a sucker for custard! I immediately added it to my baking goals list, and promptly took over a year and a half to actually make them. Huzzah!
Love a good pastry backstory:
Monks at a monastery in Lisbon in the 1830s used egg whites to starch their clothes, leaving behind a whole bunch of egg yolks. Being brilliant, they decided to make a rich custard tart. A few years later, they began selling the tarts to raise money for the monastery and eventually sold off the recipe. The new owners opened the Fábrica de Pastéis de Belém in 1837 and popularized the dessert commercially. It’s known for it’s characteristic swirl of pastry on the bottom (which I almost accomplished!)
Gently mixed with a dough hook on the lowest speed.
All rolled out and ready for some buttah.
Whipped it up to a spreadable texture.
I think next time, I’ll roll out the dough thinner so the butter layer isn’t as thick. Hindsight is 20/20.
The last step of the dough prep is to roll it up so it makes a swirl when sliced.
Voila, a swirl! As you can see, the butter layers are too thick. Once baked, a lot of it melted out into the tray instead of helping the dough fluff up to great heights. Still tasted fabulous, but not the intended texture.
The cinnamon flavor comes from a sugar syrup infused with a cinnamon stick. It made the kitchen smell like Christmas! I might make some more and use it as simple syrup in cocktails . . .
This custard was different than any I’ve made before – it started with a roux like a gravy! Mixed together some milk and flour, added in scalding milk and the cinnamon sugar syrup and whisked like mad over low heat.
Ten minutes later, it’s thickened and smells like pancake batter (heaven!) Enter egg yolks to work their delicious magic. The proteins in the yolks denature when heated, re-structuring in a way that helps transform the custard from a liquid to a rich pudding.
Then used a sieve to catch all of the tiny bits of egg that went overboard and scrambled themselves. Similar to a curd, the custard thickens more with time so it is still thin enough to strain at this stage.
I tried both a regular muffin tin and a mini muffin tin, and the regular one won by a mile! The mini muffin crusts didn’t fully cook despite their smaller size.
They don’t puff up very much so it’s best to fill them almost to the brim.
The craziest part for me was cooking them at 500F degrees to get the characteristic burned spots on top. My poor oven was working over time, but the custard texture came out perfectly! Sprinkle on some ground cinnamon and eat them warm. I’m making a case for these to be considered breakfast – flour, eggs, milk and cinnamon sounds like the base of french toast to me. Do with that what you will!