02 November 2010

Pastéis de Nata (Portuguese Custard Tarts)

It's true... The Portuguese definitely have a sweet tooth!!! If you wander around Lisbon, chances are you will pass at least one or two pastry shops... And, when it comes to pastries, nothing is more traditional than pastéis de nata, sweet  egg-yolk and cream based custard tarts created by nuns in the seventeenth century. The most famous pastéis de nata in the world are the Pastéis de Belém. In 1837, the monks from the Jerónimos Monastery in Belém (a neighborhood of Lisbon), opened a little shop nearby to sell a variation of the delicious pastry, as a way to gather extra income for their upkeep. It quickly became a favorite destination, and today this bakery makes in excess of 12,000 pastéis every day!!! The recipe to these special pastries is said to be a secret, only fully known to 3 people!!

Mosteiro dos Jerónimos

When I googled recipes for pastéis de nata, I found many variations, both in ingredients and methods, so I settled on an easy recipe from M. Lourdes Modesto, a famous Portuguese cook and published writer. To simplify and save time, I replaced the dough recipe for puff pastry. Here is my adaptation:

PASTÉIS DE NATA (yields 12)

1 box (2 sheets) puff pastry
1 pint heavy whipping cream
2 tablespoons flour
1 cup sugar
7 egg yolks
1 cinnamon stick
lemon peel

First, let the puff pastry thaw out for about 40 minutes. Starting with the first sheet, unfold and, from the longer edge, start rolling all the way to the end. Then, add the second sheet and continue to roll. Once you have a rolled log, cut 12 slices about 3/4" thick. Each of these slices will be the base for our tarts (I used a 12-muffin pan). With your thumbs, spread the dough all the way up each muffin hole, making sure it remains fairly thin all throughout.

For the filling, mix all the remaining ingredients and bring to a boil, in medium low heat, stirring frequently. Remove from heat once the mixture comes to a boil (it will have thickened to a custard) and let cool, making sure to remove cinnamon stick and lemon peel. Fill the tart bases with this filling, and place in middle rack of a pre-heated oven at about 475 F.

Here is where I had to make some adjustments to the original recipe... First, all I have is non-stick pans (ideally these tarts should be cooked in regular silver tins), so I adjusted by lowering the temperature by about 20 - 25 degrees (it asks for about 500 F or 250-300 C). Also, to prevent the puff pastry from burning, I placed the muffin tin on top of a cookie sheet. If your oven has a setting where only the top burner is on, that may help prevent the puff pastry from burning. This is what I did: I cooked the tarts at 475 F for about 10-12 minutes, then, without removing from oven, switched from oven to broiler at 450 F for just a couple of minutes, in order to give it a browned look. Let cool in pan, then remove carefully with a knife. As with everything else, it's all about trial and error, as every oven is different! I promise you it is totally worth it!!

The best way to eat these pastries is still slightly warm (even though they are perfectly delicious when cold), sprinkled with powdered sugar and even some cinnamon...


  1. OMG they look so good. One of my dearest friends, Teresa is Portuguese. I have to forward your blog to her. She needs to see this recipe and follow your blog as well. Thank you for all the lovely things, thoughts and food. Carol Robinson

  2. Looks like the best way to eat these is with powdered sugar on your face! How do you say yummy in Portugeuse?

  3. Oh I will be right over...yumola!!
    I am going to have to make these and soon!
    They would be good to snack on while cooking Thanksgiving Dinner :)!

  4. Those look so YUMMY! I love sweets to, that why have trouble with my weight! Lol! Oh well! Live and a let live!

  5. Those look fabulous! Maybe they could pass for cookies at the cookie exchange, what do you think? :)

  6. Your family is lucky you spoil them so much! I love custard, as my mom would make it often when I was a little girl. Maybe I should give her a call, and share your recipe?

  7. Aqueles custard tart pasries parece tão bom


  8. Oh-me-oh-my . . . shouldn't have read THIS post before breakfast!! Looks incredibly delicious, Isabel.
    Gonna have to try that recipe for sure--thanks for sharing it and going to the extra trouble to make it easier too!

    ~ Debi

    P.S. I found a pair of lamps that remind me of YOU. Will try to post by tonight for 2nd Saturdayz.

  9. Mmmmm, they look divine, Isabel!!!! BUT 7 egg yolks????????

  10. Hi Isabelle, yum I love Portuguese custard tarts. A work mate from Portugal used to get a fresh shipment in from Sydney to bring in for afternoon tea..delicious. Tamara x

  11. I chuckled when I read Monica's comment. Sorry Monica....

    How about eighteen yolks for one recipe? Sounds overwhelming, doesn't it? Yet, this is the amount called for in the world's best desert in my home town of Guimaraes. Bacon from Heaven, literally translated. Perfectly named because when you bite into it, one is sure that we have indeed gone to heaven.

  12. What a delightful bakery. Thanks for the digital sugar rush!

  13. ok - you really got me with this one :) . . . as you know I love most anything from Portugal!!! And - these look sooo very, very yummy!!!

    So glad you shared this!! :) liz

  14. Oh my.... WHAT could be wrong with anything that has to do with PUFF PASTRY???? (Maybe I should have tried wrapping my ex-husband in that). I am going to definitely make these little cups-o-goodness at Christmas, to serve along side the palmiers! Thank you for sharing the story/recipe!

  15. I just discovered your blog today. My mother passed away nearly a year ago and your post was just like a treat from my mae. While I have lived in California nearly my whole life, I was born in Pico, Azores and my heart is pure Portuguese. You made my day.

  16. These are my absolute favorite!! I probably told you I grew up in a town with a lot of portuguese specialty stores and restaurants. My mom always brings these to us from the bakery by her house. They disappear in about 5 minutes!! I think we'll have to try the recipe. Thank you!

  17. juat wanted to say Hi...I was looking for this amazing receipe & luckly landed here.. making them tonight. xo Laura


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