Ah pastry. The week that always manages to make me flashback to my 12 year old self, overworking a lump of shortcrust until it was like an old boot. So naturally I avoid making pastry regularly. That may change now, as I’ve finally got a proper rolling out space on my counter, and it’s stone to help keep things cool – butter bleeding from pastry is my arch-nemesis. I also need to have a little more confidence as all my recent brushes with pastry making have been at worst, edible, and often are rather tasty ™.
So a few years ago I went to Lisbon on holidays for the first time, and discovered the insanely delicious custard tarts, pastéis de nata. I ate quite a lot of these, from coffee shops, bakeries and supermarkets. Even the less impressive ones were delicious. Crispy pastry, with lots of lamination in a beautiful swirl, and sweet, cinnamon and lemon scented custard, blistered on top from the oven. Heaven with a cuppa.
I even dragged people to the neighbourhood of Belém to visit custard tart central Pastéis de Bélem, which is a beautiful bakery shop that would be worth seeing even if you weren’t, for some crazy reason, buying tarts there. They’ve been baking pastéis since the 1800s and during peak season, people queue for literally hours to get some treats there. No wonder – they produce truly amazing baked goods.
For a little bit of holidays-at-home, I wanted to recreate these to the best of my ability for pastry week. I’ve never made puff or rough puff from scratch, so that’s a new technical challenge for me, and I’ve only dabbled in custard-making.
A small amount of chilled butter, with flour and chilled water start things off.
Some rolling, and then grated frozen butter, then folding.
Followed by more rolling, and more grated frozen butter, and more folding, and then chilling.
By the time I got to the end of round one, I suspected that the recipe guidelines of “1 active hour, plus chilling” might be absolute fairytales.
The dough needs three rounds of roll-fold-chill, then is rolled out into a rectangle, and then rolled up like a snail, before being sliced in 12.
The recipe calls for use of a muffin tin, which was actually handy as the actual tarts are made in tiny, individual, custom-shaped tart tins. Greasing the tins was not mentioned at all, but given the amount of sugar in the custard I made an executive decision to butter them. Then future-me was very pleased with this decision.
The snails go into the bottom of the muffin tin cavity, and is then teased up the sides with wet fingers. The first two were a pretty big learning curve – the pastry didn’t like being told what to do and would try to form layers and peel away from the sides at every opportunity.
By tart three, I’d started to get a method going, and by six I was flying along. I have no idea how bakers do this by the hundred every day.
Done, and into the fridge again.
Custard started. Milk, flour, lemon zest strips and a cinnamon stick in one pot, and sugar syrup in the other. Lots of separated egg yolks (seven seems excessive for 12 tarts, honestly). The milk and flour mixture needs constant and relentless stirring/whisking as it really wants to turn into a horrible lumpy roux-like thing. Combine slowly, again whisking constantly.
Strain through a sieve, leave to cool.
The recipe requires a very hot oven – 240C- with the fan off, which I’m amazed didn’t set off my smoke alarm.
Custard into cases, and 15-20 minutes later you have tarts!
They need five minutes in the tin, then removing.
I’m really pleased with how these came out. Only one had a slight leak through too-thin pastry, and it stuck to the tin on one side. That was the first to be scoffed.
While I should have squished the pastry a little further up the sides of the moulds, there was almost half of the custard left over, which seems excessive. It’s gone in the freezer for round 2 in a few weeks.
The puff section of the recipe worked really well for me and I got some nice lamination, which I was very happy with. I got some nice swirling too as a bonus. Absolutely not perfect, but delicious and pretty and I’ll be adding these to the baking rotation for sure.
Might even invest in a set of pastéis tins yet…