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These Portuguese Custard Tarts, or Pasteis de Nata, are often referred to simply as Natas. There is no denying that they are quite time consuming and fiddly to make, but the end result is delicious. The way the pastry is worked and rolled makes it especially flaky, and some of the cases end up with attractive spirals in them. The custard is not too rich, and is delicately flavoured with cinnamon, lemon and vanilla.

The Recipe

  • 375g butter puff pastry (shop bought is fine)
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • 250g caster sugar
  • The pared zest of 1/2 lemon (see picture)
  • 2 cinnamon sticks
  • 125ml water
  • 250ml milk
  • 30g flour
  • 20g cornflour
  • 1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 3 egg yolks
  • A 12 hole muffin tray

Put the sugar, water, lemon zest and cinnamon in a small pan and bring to the boil. Boil for a minute then leave to cool.

Take the pastry out of the fridge and leave it, in its wrapper, for 20 minutes. Using icing sugar rather than flour for dusting, roll the pastry out to a rectangle approximately 24x36cm. Brush the surface lightly all over with beaten egg (save the rest of the egg for the custard). Roll the pastry up tightly like a swiss roll, wrap it in cling film and chill it in the fridge while you make the custard.

In a large bowl, make a cream with the flour and cornflour, the vanilla extract and a little of the milk. Bring the rest of the milk to the boil, then pour it over the flour mixture, whisking all the time. While still whisking, add the cooled syrup, having first removed the lemon and cinnamon. Finally add the egg yolks and the whole beaten egg and whisk again. Return to the pan and cook over a medium heat, whisking all the time, until the mixture simmers and thickens. Put the custard in a bowl, press some cling film onto the surface, and leave to cool. If, like me, you end up with some lumps in your custard, then press it through a seive before chilling it.

When the custard is nearly cool, preheat the oven to 220C / 425F / Gas Mark 7 (adjust for fan oven) and put a heavy baking tray in to heat up. Butter the muffin tray (even if it is non-stick).

Take the puff pastry roll out of the fridge and cut into 12 slices, about 2cm long. Put the slices cut side up and roll out into disks about 10cm across, using icing sugar again for dusting. Place in the muffin tray and use your fingers and thumbs to press the pastry into and up the sides of the hollows. It helps if you dip your fingers in a bowl of cold water. Spoon the custard into the pastry cases.

Put the muffin tray on the pre-heated baking tray, and bake for 15-20 minutes, until the pastry is a rich brown colour. The custard will puff up and may develop some brown spots (this is a feature of the genuine article). Turn the tray half way through baking.

Allow the tarts to cool in the tin for 5 minutes or so before transferring carefully to a cooling rack.

When cool, dust lightly with icing sugar and cinnamon.

Notes

I adapted this recipe from the one on the BBC Good Food site, most of my changes coming from watching a charming video showing natas being made in a bakery in Brazil.

I am submitting this recipe to Tea Time Treats, where the challenge this month is Picnic Pies. Kate from What Kate Baked is the host this month, and she will publish the round-up of entries on the 1st September 2012. Thanks to Kate and Karen for their sterling work in running Tea Time Treats!