Food from the World: Pastel de Nata

There are days when we simply need to do something good for our souls: buy a beautiful dress, drive around the city, walk in the park or eat something sweet. I would always trade every brilliant idea for the last suggestion. Something sweet can give you the kind of happiness that only few things can bring. This time is Portugal’s time to come up with its best assets. You might have heard of the famous “pasteles de nata” or “pasteles de Belén.”

Today you will have the chance to discover their beautiful history and an easy recipe that can bring a piece of Portugal on your plate.

“Pastel de Nata”: a piece of history

Photo source: portuguesediner.com
Photo source: portuguesediner.com

Beginnings: ‘pastel de nata’ was born in Lisbon during the 19th century and has become a national brand promoting the deliciousness of Portugal all over the world.

In 1834, Portugal had gone through a liberal revolution (1820) that caused poverty and the closing down of the Jerónimos monastery. In an attempt to survive these harsh times, the monks here started to sell pasteles de nata. At the time, the area of Belén was far from Lisbon and it could only be reached by boat. But luck has it that this monastery and the Towers of Belén started to attract plenty of tourists who became accustomed to eating the delicious desserts. At first these were sold at a sugar factory that was close to the monastery but a few years later the “Old pastry of Belén” was opened.

Secret recipe: since the opening of the old pastry, the original recipe became a secret known only by the pastry chefs who have to make an oath to protect the recipe. Luckily for tourists, even though the origin of these divine treats is in Belén, these pasteles de nata are sold in every coffee house or pastry shop in Portugal.

In 2006 the pastel de nata represented Portugal at the European Union Cafe Europe phenomenon for Europe Day and it was ranked by the Guardian as the 15th most delicious dessert in the world. Can you argue with that?

Pastel de Nata Recipe

PastryCustard
2 cups all-purpose flour1 tablespoon cornstarch
1 teaspoon salt1 1/2 cups heavy cream
2 tablespoons sugar1 cup sugar
5 tablespoons ice water
10 tablespoons butter6 egg yolks

How to prepare?

Pastry: Start by combining the flour, salt and sugar in a food processor. Add the butter and then drizzle 5 tablespoons of ice water over the entire mixture. Pulse until the water works into the flour. Add the rest of the water, pulsing until everything is well incorporated.

Photo source: peipen.pt
Photo source: peipen.pt

Cover the dough with plastic wrap and let it in the refrigerator for one hour.

After this, roll the dough and cut small circles (approximately 4 inches depending on the forms you use). You can also use a jar that has a wide mouth if you don’t have a cookie cutter). Put the dough circles into a muffin tin and place everything in the freezer for about 5 minutes. Trim the overhang dough with the back of a knife and fill the dough cups with dried beans. Bake them at 350°F (180°C) for 10 minutes.

Custard: For the custard you have to dissolve the cornstarch in  1/4 cup of the cream. Add the sugar and the rest of the cream, stirring until the sugar dissolves. Make sure you have no sugar granules.

In a different bowl blend the yolks until they become smooth. Add them to the previous mixture and stir gently.

Use this cream mixture to fill the baked pastry cups at 2/3 of their capacity. Put them back into the oven at the same temperature until the middle of the custard is wiggly (20 minutes should be enough). When they are ready get them out of the oven but let them cool in the tin.

My whole mouth just filled with saliva. Portugal, here I come!

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