When in Portugal is practically impossible not to stumble upon the famous Portuguese Pasteis de nata custards tarts, it is one of the most popular sweets and it is sold in every single bakery nationwide. On the other hand, the renowned Pastel de Belém can only be found in Lisbon at the Pasteis de Belém factory. Here, these sweets are confectioned daily and are served still warm, so you can sprinkle the cinnamon and sugar available at the table and enjoy it with a cup of coffee as per tradition.
To a non-connoisseur, custard tarts and pasteis de Belém may seem the same, but once savoured the difference is unequivocal. To this date, the pasteis de Belém recipe is passed through generations and kept exclusive to the factory. The Confectioner masters are the few holders of such secret and prior starting their job at the factory they have not only to sign a liability waiver but also take an oath not to disclose the recipe.
It is said that in 1837 in Belém Portugal, the monks of the Jerónimos Monastery or Hieronymites Monastery started to sell cream puffs as an attempt to gain some income. The Monastery location alongside with the Torre de Belém attracted numerous tourists that would buy and divulge the tarts. When the convent closed in 1834, the monks decided to sell the recipe to a Brazilian businessman that kept it in the family, patenting not only the recipe but also the name “Pastel de Belém”.
If you plan to visit Lisbon, when you map your adventures and obligatory sightseeing spots, don’t forget to stop in Pasteis de Belém factory before or after visiting the Jerónimos Monastery. The factory will be packed with people waiting to be seated or standing while their orders are being packed in the customary pillowcase boxes; so be sure you are in the correct queue and do not let the size of the line discourage you. There are several considerable large rooms with plenty of seats, making the wait not so lengthy.
Meanwhile I will share the Portuguese Custard tart recipe for your enjoyment while you book your well-deserved Lisbon holidays.
The custard tarts can be tasted not only in Portugal, but also in Brazil and Asian countries such as China where they are known as ‘dan ta’
Recipe for 24 servings
6 medium size eggs (4 egg yolks and 2 whole eggs)
230g caster sugar
4 tbsp cornflour
2 tsp vanilla extract
400g rolled puff pastry
1. Lightly grease two 12-hole 80ml muffin trays.
2. Cut the pastry dough sheet in half and set aside for 5 minutes
4. Pour the mixture into a pan and place it over a medium heat to cook, stirring, until it thickens and comes to a boiling point. Remove from the heat and stir in the vanilla extract. Transfer the custard to a bowl, cover the surface with cling film to prevent a skin forming and leave it to cool.
5. Preheat the oven to 200C.
6. Roll up the pastry tightly and cut it into 12 x 1cm rounds. Lay each pastry round on a lightly floured surface and use a rolling pin to roll out until each is approximately 10cm in diameter.
7. Gently Press the pastry discs into the muffin tin. With an ice cream server transfer the cooled custard into the pastry cases and bake it for 20-25 minutes, or until the pastry and custard are golden.
8. Leave the tarts in the tin for a couple of minutes to settle
9. Remove the tarts from the tin and place them on a wire rack to cool completely.
- For extra flavour add lemon or orange zest to the mixture
- For a golden pastry, prior transferring the mixture into the pastry cases you can use egg to glaze the pastry
- Sprinkle the tarts with cinnamon and icing sugar and try them while they are still warm